By Emma Beck, Associate Communications Manager, PSI
“Girls,” the 9ja Girls provider’s voice radiates with energy. “What does it mean to have a crush?”
It’s a big question for a Saturday morning.
A small giggle emerges from a table in the back of the Bole Primary Care Facility.
Abiola, a youth-friendly health mobilizer, smiles – it’s always like this, she says. In Nigeria, girls don’t always have spaces to make their voices heard. And especially not when it comes to topics as taboo as crushes… or contraception.
Girls, she explains, simply need a little prodding.
“Mmm?” the provider challenges with a warm smile.
A young girl clad in an orange sundress moves her chair back. She stands up, hesitantly.
“A crush is the attraction you have for someone,” she says softly.
“Yes!” the provider nods emphatically. “Let’s give Deborah a 9ja Girls cheer!”
Abiola taps her foot in rhythm with the chorus of claps. With more than 20 girls in attendance, she feels good calling today a success. After all, she played a role in making that happen.
As a health mobilizer, Abiola dives deep into her community, rallying young unmarried girls aged 15-19 each Saturday to join 9ja Girls’ Life, Love and Health class, a girls-only space for girls to gain skills to achieve their life goals.
But it’s not without its challenges.
Filling a Health System Need
Girls in Abiola’s neighborhood – and among other communities across Nigeria – navigate a complex web of socio-cultural barriers that limit their access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) information and services. Myths and misperceptions around contraception remain rampant and public health facilities often lack SRH services dedicated to youth.
The repercussions run deep.
According to the Demographic Health Survey, 23 percent of girls in southern Nigeria will give birth by age 19. Some three in 10 girls aged 15-19 want but, for a myriad of reasons, don’t have access to modern contraception. And across the nation, one in four pregnancies among this age group will end in an abortion, many of which are unsafe.
The need to pave pathways for young people to access SRH services remains imperative.
Adolescents 360 (A360)’s 9ja Girls – an adolescent and youth SRH program powered by PSI and implemented by the Society for Family Health— helps fill a critical gap in programming for young people within the public health system.
The project, which works alongside young people and in partnership with public health facilities, breaks down the misperceptions surrounding contraception and delivers girl-defined spaces for unmarried girls aged 15-19 to make their health and life choices on their own terms.
And it works.
From January 2018 through July 2019, 9ja Girls has worked in nine Nigerian states to serve more than 58,300 15- to 19-year-old girls with modern contraception.
Roughly six in 10 girls who engage with 9ja Girls voluntarily adopts a method, and about seven in 10 choose a long-acting method.
Girls with Plans
Abiola chuckles as another girl shoots up from her seat.
“What is love? Love is a deep feeling you have for someone,” a girl says.
“Yes! There is no right time to fall in love,” the provider responds.
Some 20 girls nod their heads.
Abiola leans over and says, “This is the Spice Talk.”
The Spice Talk sparks dialogue about everything from contraception to crushes. Girls partake in a Life Mapping exercise that prompts them to consider their life dreams and how contraception can serve as a tool in service of those goals.
A Method Talk follows, introducing girls to a range of contraceptive options, reinforcing the safety and reversibility of all methods all while noting that girls always have a choice.
Vocational skills training comes next, where girls learn how to bead or make soap. The inclusion came from girls’ own insights and a desire to learn how to work toward financial independence.
9ja Girls closes with girls meeting one-on-one for contraceptive counseling with a 9ja Girls trained youth-friendly provider.
All counseling, and content, supports girls to identify their dreams, priorities and needs.
For Abiola, this is everything.
She starts her rounds each Saturday morning, going door-to-door to meet with girls’ parents to secure their interest and consent before encouraging girls themselves to attend a 9ja Girls session.
“It’s amazing relating to girls,” Abiola says. “We talk to them as adults. And they find the content interesting once they are here.”
On cue, a ring of giggles echoes from the room. An IUD dangles from the providers’ grip, her other hand clutching onto a wooden box displaying a medley of contraceptive options.
“This is safe. This is reversible. It is your choice, whichever you use” the provider says.
Abiola smiles, “I love everything about this work.”