Jennifer Amadi never met her grandmother, but growing up her parents told her stories of the discrimination she faced from her family after she became pregnant as an unmarried woman. At the time, having children out of wedlock was considered taboo in Nigeria—as is still the case in many places around the globe.
“It became her own hidden shame and negatively affected my dad’s life till his death and of course our own lives too,” Amadi, now 31, told Global Citizen.
Her grandmother was ultimately forced to marry the man whose child she carried, though she did not want to. Her struggle is what inspired Amadi to become a reproductive health advocate.
“The way I see it, if my grandmum had access to reproductive healthcare services, perhaps she may have made another choice,” says Amadi, a Women Deliver Young Leader.
Amadi is one of 15 inspiring recipients of a small grant from Women Deliver, a global advocacy organization, and is part of a cohort of Women Deliver Young Leaders using technology provided by HP to improve access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education in Nigeria.
Amadi has helped build a brighter future for girls in Nigeria. Her advocacy work contributed to the passing of important legislation, including policies prohibiting all forms of violence in both private and public life and legislation banning female genital mutilation, a harmful cultural practice. She is also a co-founder of the Knit Together Initiative, an advocacy organization focused on empowering Nigeria’s youth.
But Amadi is not alone in her fight to empower Nigerian young women, in particular.
Chukwudera Bridget Okeke, who goes by Bridget, says she her work as a sexual and reproductive health rights advocate stems from her belief that “all girls and women have an inherent right to dignity and a life free from violence.”
For much of her career, Okeke, who is also a Women Deliver Young Leader, has worked to change cultural attitudes and beliefs that hold women and girls back. Okeke says some of the biggest challenges she’s had to overcome in her work are a general lack of sexual and reproductive health information, harmful cultural and religious practices like child marriage, and stubborn perception of women and girls having “lower status” than men.
In one community where Okeke worked, women were not allowed to go out in public during a festival known as Adawiya. This meant that pregnant women due to deliver could not travel to hospitals and were forced to give birth with the help of traditional birth attendants and herbalists, who Okeke says did not always adhere to the safety and hygiene best practices. And in some cases, this led to maternal mortality.
“After painstaking discussions and consultation meetings with the traditional rulers of the community, the chief and members of his cabinet resolved to review the sanction [on women going out during Adawiya],” says Okeke, a board member of the Concern Women International Development Initiative, a Nigerian gender equality NGO.
Though Nigeria’s maternal mortality rate dropped over 30% between 2000 and 2015, the number of maternal deaths in the country remains high with 814 deaths per 100,000 live births.
Propelled by need and inspired by progress, Okeke and Amadi — along with their fellow Women Deliver Young Leaders — are continuing to fight for change.
“With greater access to information about reproductive health, contraceptives and services, this generation of young people can plan their pregnancies, stay in school, join the workforce and keep their jobs,” Amadi says. So that they can become, “the next generation of productive adults rearing healthy families and fueling prosperous economies.”