Bridget Okeke Chukwudera: Board Member Concern Women International Development Initiative
The #SheInnovates stories team sat down with Bridget Okeke Chukwudera to discuss the role of women in innovation. Get involved at She Innovates Global.
#SheInnovates Stories: Innovation is solving the world's problems. What problem are you solving?
Bridget Okeke Chukwudera: Advancing the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people in Gwagwalada, FCT, Nigeria. Nigeria is the most populous country in sub-Saharan Africa. It also has a very young population. The majority of the population is below the age of 25 years, with 22% of the country’s population between the ages of 10-19 years. Data on sexual and reproductive health (SRH) outcomes in Nigeria highlight the importance of focusing on adolescents. Unsafe sex is a common practice among adolescents, including inconsistent and incorrect condom use, resulting in unintended pregnancy that ends in unsafe abortion and its complications. This practice also exposes them to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV with a prevalence of 17% among adolescents in the southeastern part and 14% in the northern part of the country. Adolescent pregnancy is a daunting problem in Nigeria. The inability of adolescents to access contraception when needed has also been found to be responsible for unintended pregnancy among adolescents and also lack of menstrual cycle knowledge. This in most instances ends in unsafe abortion. Nigeria reports a yearly abortion rate of 25 abortions/1000 women—more than a quarter of which are from adolescents resulting from unintended pregnancy.
It is against this backdrop that Concern Women International Development Initiative and partners with support from Women Deliver are promoting the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people in Gwagwalada FCT. Through information, education and communication (IEC) materials, we provide information on the sexual and reproductive health needs of young people, make bi-weekly visits to the outposts (such as clubs, restaurants, football view centers) where youth congregate in the community, and provide them with sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) information and services, such as family planning services, HIV/AIDs test, PMTC services, and STIs.
We are also using social media such as Twitter, blogging and WhatsApp platforms to share sexual and reproductive health information and key messages, stimulate conversation, and respond to the health needs of members. We also support Federal Ministry of Health in revising SRHR framework and ensuring proper strategies to monitor the implementation of policies, frameworks, guidelines, and protocols in providing youth-friendly health services, both in federal and state levels.
#SheInnovates: When did you realize your innovation was a breakthrough?
BOC: Through innovative ways including the use of technology, such as infographic, radio phone-in programs, Twitter, blogging, WhatsApp platform, young people were exposed to sexual reproductive health information. Through social media, especially Twitter, CWIDI and her partners were able to create a vast global network building collaborations, spreading information quickly and mobilizing large numbers of people to facilitate greater progress toward promoting SRHR for young people. This has given CWIDI the opportunity to engage our target audience using different communication channel.
#SheInnovates: What were some unexpected obstacles you overcame in the innovation process?
BOC: Most parents/guardians of the girls insisted on being on the WhatsApp platform in order to be able to monitor the kind of messages and information given to their children/wards. This was a big challenge because one of the purposes of establishing the WhatsApp platform was for young people to have a free environment where they could discuss issues relating to their sexuality. However, knowing that their parents are reading their messages will not allow for a frank and open discussion. To address this challenge, after several meetings, we resolved it by creating another WhatsApp group for parents.
The WhatsApp platform is open for both boys and girls so when discussing issues on menstrual period, ovulation and vaginal discharge, the majority of the boys expressed their dissatisfaction because they felt that it was strictly for women/girls. This led to some controversy in the group; however, to ensure stability, CWIDI had a two-day education on how knowledge about menstruation and ovulation can help to maintain a healthy relationship.
#SheInnovates: What inspires you to love your work?
BOC: What motivates me is seeing young girls achieving their potentials in life, finishing schools, building a career without being lured into unplanned pregnancy, and not deterred by harmful cultural practices. I am also inspired when I receive positive feedback from women, girls and key influencers on how our activities/programmes have helped to improve their SRHR thereby leading to behavioral change. The need to touch lives and improve the living condition of women and girls in disadvantaged communities, inspire me every day.
#SheInnovates: What do you hope that young women coming behind you take from your work?
BOC: I hope to see young women being able to make informed decisions about their bodies and lives; such as to choose when and whom to have sex with; decide if and with whom to get married; choose when and if to have children, including the number of children; and determine when and what health and other information and services they require and access them. Acquire leadership skills, education skills, negotiation, communication, and dialogue skills to be able to question some of the harmful cultural practices that affect their lives.
#SheInnovates: Why are women in innovation important?
BOC: About 60% of the Nigeria population is made up of women, facing the most challenging problems in society. Supposing all 40% of these women are into innovation, eventually, there will be creative solutions through technology in addressing problems rural, poor women face, including solutions in achieving the SDGs. Women in innovation are very crucial in achieving sustainable development goals. With more women in innovation the more solutions we will have in achieving gender equality, climate change, service delivery, elimination of violence against women, women’s economic participation, access to fertilizer, technology, credit women empowerment, ICT problem, and parity in political participation. Women are multi-tasking and empathetic. Also, women will be able to use the tools available to disrupt, to upset and to challenge inequalities and to accelerate human development as well as gender equality.
Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length.