The Day of the Girl Child otherwise known as International Day of the Girl Child is commemorated on October 11 every year with a theme that spells out the challenges girls face in every sphere of their lives. The theme for this year’s commemoration was, “With Her: A Skilled GirlForce”, focusing on mobilising partners to advocate for, and draw attention to the most pressing needs and opportunities for girls to attain skills for employability.
The reality is, no girl child can ever acquire employability skills when she cannot freely exercise her rights, particularly, her sexual and reproductive health and rights. Adolescent girls and young women (AGYW), especially girls living with HIV, living with disability, and from poor households have limited access to health care services that can improve the quality of their lives. They often face stigma and discrimination at the point of accessing services that involve shaming, disrespect and rejection. These challenges and more prevent girls from being part of the girl workforce.
On Thursday, October 11, Education as a Vaccine (EVA) and partners in the Partnership to Inspire, Transform and Connect the HIV Response (PITCH) AGYW Project organized a Press conference to draw the attention of policy-makers to some of these challenges girls still face in Nigeria, especially, in relation to their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
Addressing the press, Mauret Aimufia, a girl child and a Youth Advocate in the PITCH-AGYW project pointed out that Nigerian girls face great challenges that constitute major threats to the gains and outstanding opportunities to end the AIDS epidemic.
“We call on all stakeholders to embrace the Family Life and HIV Education (FLHE) Curriculum that will improve their sexual and reproductive health and general well-being. Specifically, we call on government at all levels to initiate and implement programs that will ensure that teachers and youth-friendly/healthcare service providers are trained on the Curriculum and supported to implement it”.
Meeting adolescents and young people (AYP), especially AGYW’s SRH needs in Nigeria that ensures that they remain healthy and able to improve their skills to contribute to the improvement of the socio-economic situation of their families is not just government’s responsibility. She added that “for us to get it right for our AYP, especially AGYW, all stakeholders, including parents are urged to ensure that a proper framework and foundation is drafted and laid for them right from the stage of pre-adolescence, manage their reproductive health needs and improve the overall quality of life of the girl child”.
During a panel discussion, Grace Iho, a Youth Advocate with EVA stated that age of consent is a major barrier that further restricts young people from exercising their full sexual and reproductive health and rights. According to her, adolescents and young people often do not adopt positive health-seeking behaviours because of such restriction.
“We call on all policy and decision makers to ensure that adolescents and young people have access to HIV Testing Services (HTS) and also get on treatment to make sure that those infected are not infecting more AYP. We can start by reducing the age of consent in the HTS Guidelines to 14 years”, she said.
Also speaking on the panel, Ms Esther James, Advocacy Manager with the Association of Women Living with HIV and AIDS in Nigeria (ASHWAN) said that most girls who are supposed to be in schools are hawking on the street with a worrying disconnection between advocacy efforts, teachers and the in-school girls.
“There is a gap that exists about the girl child and sex education because people hoard vital information about sex from them; the young people have gone ahead of their parents to learn about sex through smartphones as parents failed to give their children purposeful sex education. All stakeholders ought to embrace FLHE in efforts to educate the girl child”, James said.
Behind all of our work is a strong commitment to girls’ SRHR. EVA and partners are resolute to keep drawing attention to girl-child needs, as well as continue advocacy to advance laws, policies, and practices that uphold their rights, and hold stakeholders accountable to their promises and commitments.
Other partners in the PITCH-AGYW project include Association of the Positive Youths Living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (APYIN) and Association of Women Living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (ASHWAN).
Written By: Bayo O. Ewuola