Every day, millions of people are denied the right to decide whether and when to have children. Girls in 117 countries can legally become child brides. 360 million women of reproductive age live in countries where abortion is banned in all cases except to save the life of the mother – and another 90 million live in countries where it is banned entirely.
This is why Pathfinder advocates locally, nationally, and globally for robust donor funding and domestic resources as well as strong policies to improve access to and quality of sexual and reproductive health care for women and youth. In Nigeria, part of this work means conducting trainings with youth advocates who then become voices for improved sexual and reproductive health outcomes in their own communities.
We recently sat down with Rashidat Sanusi and Seyi Bolaji, participants in recent Pathfinder trainings, to discuss what this work looks like, day to day, and what inspires them to take this challenge on.
What made you become interested in this work? Why is it important to you?
Rashidat: When I was growing up, I didn’t have access to this information… I didn’t receive a sexual and reproductive health talk. I didn’t have access to options of family planning, and even when I heard about family planning, it was just the parents that had access. There was nothing about family planning for adolescents and youth… And it dawned on me… these adolescents would grow up, and still wouldn’t have access to this information. And you can’t give what you don’t have. So it was very important to me to tap into this knowledge and to share it. I feel like there is a ripple effect of me being an advocate. If I can tell people around me the information, they will be able to share it to those around them. Its why I wanted to be an advocate. To make sure that people have this information.
What are some of the ultimate goals you have? What would you like to achieve with your advocacy?
Seyi: I try and make (the content) SMART advocacy, so they see what I put out there, and they want to take action! When we had our first training, immediately after, Twitter was (temporarily) banned in Nigeria. It was a big blow. But we still needed to reach decision makers. So we had to use Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Calling out decision makers is important. My goal, what I want to achieve, is that when they see what I put out there, they want to respond. That they pay attention to these issues. And that ultimately, the government and decision makers actually respond to issues around family planning in Nigeria. That’s why I do what I do!
Rashidat: For my short term goals, it’s for the government to be more inclusive of adolescents and youth for service delivery in family planning. Currently there are some policies that grant family planning (access) for elders, but adolescents and youth are usually the ‘left behind’ group. That’s why we are advocating for policies to be more inclusive. For the long term, I would want to see not just the government to make these policies, but for health workers, people supplying family planning, to become more accessible.
What are your hopes for the future of family planning?
Seyi: For me, the hope is that young people take over. For me, it’s not just ‘family planning,’ it’s ‘future planning.’ I want family planning to be a social norm! I look forward to a time when young people take over and can talk about these health needs, especially those around family planning. It (will just be) a normal thing, and everyone can talk about it.
Rashidat: The future of family planning I want to see is more policies by the government, more family planning friendly facilities. I believe that, to a large extent, a lot of people have done advocacy. People have been advocating. A lot of people have put in the work, people know they need family planning. But the government is still not doing enough. We need more facilities, more policies, more funding, and more accessibility!
What does this work look like day-to-day?
Rashidat: I had to make sure I was up to date with every bylaw, every reform…everything that is happening. If you put something on social media, and you are advocating for family planning, people will reach out to you. Some people come solely with the intention to fight you and tell you it is wrong. So you have to have the facts, to gently guide them to the right idea about what you are talking about. So it’s not always easy. Somedays you might be tired…but that might be the day your audience will listen. The person that needs this information might be there at that particular moment. So you have to keep talking about it.
Listen to Seyi’s response
What would you tell people who aren’t involved, or who feel they can’t make a difference?
Seyi: One person can make a difference. You just need to be willing to start small, and be diligent and consistent…You can leverage existing platforms. When we had the training with Pathfinder, I already had my social media platform, I just needed to incorporate the messages on family planning. You have the tools already. You don’t need to create something entirely new. You can leverage what people are already doing… Results will come. Advocacy takes time. Just be persistent and consistent.
Rashidat: For friends, I let them know even if an action is small, it can go a long way. Even if I put in all my efforts, every day, for years, I might not personally achieve everything I hope for. But I’m sure that I’m laying the foundation for the next person after me. And I know that person won’t be starting from the beginning again. Because I’m following the groundwork from what people before me laid. There is no work going to waste.
What have you learned, and what does change mean to you?
Rashidat: First off, I learned a lot! Before Pathfinder’s training, I did not know how to create infographics, designs. I didn’t know how to construct information to be precise, to reach a target audience. The training basically was a steppingstone for me. It opened a lot of things. After this training, I applied for other jobs, and I got (one), because I was trained and I knew what I could do. The training opened opportunities for me – and it really strengthened my advocacy.
Seyi: What has helped me is to focus on the data. I had to do the research. And I had to look at the data. I don’t just do advocacy without the facts. Now I have more knowledge. I learned about consistency. I got new skills, meeting with other advocates. This training helped me, showing me how to do this work better. I was able to put all of this together. Now I find it less difficult to do advocacy work.