Host: Welcome to the Indigenius podcast, a podcast series using creative oral storytelling to document and share real-life experiences of grassroots family planning leaders in Nigeria and the Republic of Niger, with the aim of facilitating knowledge exchange and highlighting what works and what doesn’t in reproductive health programming. I am your host, Seyi Bolaji. It’s another super episode and today we are on a journey to the city of Makurdi, Benue State, Northern Nigeria where we get to listen to the story of our youth champion, Ameh Queen. This is Queen’s story, follow me.
Queen: I welcome you all to the Demikpe community. My community is known for having so many children because it is believed that children are their investments. My name is Ameh Queen Okah, I am from Markudi, Benue State Nigeria, West Africa. I am a gender advocate as well as a sexual reproductive health and rights advocate.
I said children are their investments, Why? Because they use them as extra manpower. Most of the parents in my community feel children are strictly for work, no education, and no parental guidance, all they want is for farm ambition or their personal ambition. Again they believe that it is God’s wish for them to have so many children, after all the Bible said go and multiply.
In having these children, they don’t give the women enough time to heal before getting them pregnant. Why do I say so? It is believed that women do not have a voice of their own. Women cannot decide on their own. Everything they do is strictly based on their husband’s instructions because they want to bear the name “I am an obedient wife’. So women don’t have a voice at home and this has led to so many things that are not good for society.
You will see a young mother of 24-25 years, already having 8-9 children, making them look older and mentally unstable. Of course, lack of spacing impacts maternal mortality rates.
In December 2019, myself and my team, we were in the demikpe community for our normal outreach where we go to sensitize young women and girls on menstrual health hygiene. We teach them to make reusable pads, we sensitize them and then at the end, we distribute non-reusable pads.
So I met this little girl, she’s timid, she’s reserved, under a tree and her reserved nature attracted me to her.
When I got to her place I said, ” Hey my friend, why are you all by yourself, why are you seated here, why are you not with us in the program?” Before I could finish my questions, she burst into tears. This little girl cried uncontrollably. I couldn’t say anything so I allowed her to cry. Because I know that crying reduces stress. When you cry, you are a bit stable and your mental health is a bit calm.
So after crying, I asked her again, “Why are you all here by yourself?” and she said, “My name is Eboh, I am 14 years old, and my mother just died”.
I said, ” Oh, so sorry about that, so why did your mother die?” She said “I don’t know”, but one day, she was washing clothes outside and her mother called her, “Eboh, Eboh”, then she ran into the room. When she got there, she saw so much blood on the floor. Her mum was weak and her eyes were closing up. She didn’t know what to do so she ran to call her dad who was in the backyard playing draft with his friend.
That’s what the men do. All they do is to put these women in the situation and concentrate more on themselves. All they do is impregnate them and continue what they are doing. So after calling the father, he came and they rushed the woman to the hospital. But before they could reach there, she already died.
I said “oh, sorry about that, so can I meet your father? I want to know the full story about why your mother died”, she said yes. So I said, “okay, let us go to your house.” I followed her to the house, and then we met the father and I introduced myself and he welcomed me because he saw me with the daughter and he had this confidence and there is already this thing in his mind, I don’t know. Like he is feeling bad he did something to his wife, so he felt free to share the story.
He said yes, his wife just died, he said his name is John and he is a very young, energetic man, and already has like 9 children. He said his wife died because she gave birth to a lot of children and in giving birth, she didn’t space the children. They visited a health care facility and the nurse asked them not to give birth to any child soon but that they wait for some time before giving birth to more children. Mr John got upset and took his wife home and warned her never to go back to that facility again.
Reasons being that in the olden days, the parents used to give birth to 14-15 children, and they were still strong and healthy, why will his case be different?. So he said his wife will keep giving birth and he wasn’t concerned. They went back home and because the wife wants to be a submissive wife, a good wife, she listened to the husband. She didn’t go back to the hospital, she didn’t even go to ask people what it means or what is happening. Then before the year could run out, she took in again. When she got pregnant, she gave birth to the last baby girl. Two days after the birth, she bled and died, and when they got to the hospital, the nurse said, ” but I warned you people and you didn’t hear.” So since then Mr John had that guilt.
That was the situation that prompted my journey to where I am today, into becoming a champion for young women and girls. Luckily for me, the Scriptural Union of West Africa, they are a faith-based organisation that is based in Jos. They came and we were selected, they trained us on sexual health and reproductive health and even Family planning.
After the training, we went straight into the community. While in the community we started dialogue sessions. These dialogue sessions run for 10 weeks and our participants are adult males, adult females and even youths. And then these youths are comprised of males and females. These people and their classes are held differently because we want people to express themselves. So on the 10th week of the dialogue session, we bring everybody together and get their feedback.
Before the 10th week, we were even getting success stories because some women were coming and were thanking us that at least their husbands can listen to them now, at least they can make a little choice, a little decision in the home now, at least things are moving well, they have a better rapport with their husbands now and then we continued the dialogue sessions from community to community.
It is not enough that we are doing this work, more work needs to be done. The government, the International partners, other CSOs, and other CBOs, need to do more work, there is more work to be done. Children and young women, young girls, even the male, the ignorance is too much. We need to enlighten them more.
So today I want to call on the government, ministry of education, CSOs, and CBOs, to establish youth-friendly services or centres in schools and communities. Like the formation of family planning or reproductive health clubs. If these clubs are formed in schools, you will see that young students will be able to share their views. If the clubs are formed in the community, young women and young mothers would be free also to share their views without fear, shame, without stigmatization.
Another thing is there are policies everywhere but are we implementing these policies? I am still calling on the government, this is something we should take seriously. The government should ensure that these policies are well implemented down to the grassroots, the family level. This needs to start from the family because every child learns from home. So we need to start from the grassroots. Also government and international partners, I think they should encourage young CSOs, they should encourage young CBOs, these young people that have the zeal, they have the fire still burning in them to do this work, they should encourage them to do this work.
Also, critical stakeholders like religious leaders, school owners or heads, security personnel, health practitioners or service providers should be properly trained on family planning and reproductive health to reduce the stigmatization. When you go to the hospital to tell your story as a young mother, or as a young child, you see people looking at you in a certain way, that makes you feel like you are doing a bad thing. “I will not come to this place again”. It is very wrong, if these people are trained, if they are aware I’m sure they will not be seeing those people like that. Or if they see their children in that kind of situation, I’m sure they will not put themselves, they will not make those people feel that bad.
Finally, I wish to appreciate SEGEI, Strong Enough Girls’ Empowerment Initiative and her partners for a job well done. Programs like this will go a long way. I wish that we will do it with other young people because there are other young vibrant ladies and men out there that are willing to do this work we are also doing. So I wish to encourage them to continue in this light and make the world a better place.
Host: Wow! This is a powerful story, Queen.
Women must be empowered to speak out and make informed decisions. Family Planning is very essential because it improves the health of women and reduces the maternal mortality rate. Investment in women’s health is the smartest thing to do.
Dear listener, we want to hear from you, what have you learned from today’s story? Please share your comments and questions in the chat box.
Thank you for listening to the Indigenius podcast.
This podcast is brought to you by Strong Enough Girls’ Empowerment Initiative in partnership with the Young Ambassadors for Reproductive Health and Family planning network in Niger. It is made possible by the support of the American People, through The Pitch season 2, a competition co-sponsored by the US Agency for International Development(USAID) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The pitch is created and managed by the knowledge success project with Johns Hopkins University. Information provided in this podcast is the sole responsibility of Strong Enough Girls’ Empowerment Initiative and the Young Ambassadors for Reproductive Health and Family planning network and does not necessarily represent the views of USAID, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundations, the US government or John a Hopkins University.
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Take action messages
- Dear young person, you have a voice, own and use it. You have the right to make decisions about your sexual and reproductive health. Know your rights.
- Become a sexual and reproductive health advocate in your community.
- Government should organize sensitization programs for health workers in rural communities for better and more friendly service deliveries.
Government can set up youth-friendly centres were young people visit to access family planning services and information for free