FORWARD-Nigeria (1998 to 2010)
Lack of education is both a result and cause of poverty in the northern region of Nigeria where FORWARD carried out most of its work. Many poor families send young girls to work at an early age so that they can contribute financially to the household. While, marriage is illegal before the age of 18, not all states have adopted this law and some areas allow marriage from the age of 12.
Some cultural beliefs suggest that women who have not undergone FGM are promiscuous and unclean. While the prevalence of FGM is 27% nationwide, it can be as high as 56.9% in some regions of Nigeria.
FORWARD worked in Nigeria between 1998 to 2010 to improve the service delivery for maternal and child health and to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and other STIs in Northern Nigeria This programme was undertaken with our then sister organisation FORWARD-Nigeria and was funded by Big Lottery Fund (UK).
The FORWARD-Nigeria project aimed to strengthen the capacity of existing health workers and systems, including traditional birth attendants, by providing them with the necessary training, facilities, and equipment. Well Women and Children’s Centres (WWCCs) were set up in Kano and Jigawa states and where trained staff provided ante and post-natal care and general health services to women and children under five. WWCC staff activities included the provision of immunisations, antimalarials and iron supplements as well as giving health talks to clients on a broad range of maternal and child health topics such as food preparation, nutrition in pregnancy and, sexual health and general child health.
Advocacy, networking and awareness-raising
Advocacy, networking and awareness-raising activities were carried out by project staff at both State and local government level as well as with traditional community leaders and local communities who gave their full support to the project. By building upon existing maternal and child health services rather than creating new ones, the project is more likely to achieve its goal of sustainable improvements in Maternal and Child Health.
As part of its advocacy and awareness-raising activities, the project has launched a media campaign using radio as an effective means of reaching the widest audience. Based on a survey conducted within target communities to ascertain a) the health problems affecting girls and women, b) the most suitable times for airing the programme (to ensure a wide audience, particularly of girls and women) and c) a suitable name for the programme, “Tsarabar Mata”, “A Gift for Women”, was a weekly Hausa discussion program, aired on Radio Freedom (99.5 FM), which explores a diverse range of sexual and reproductive health issues. A different topic is explored each week and listeners may participate in the discussion by sending in their questions and comments via text message, emails or post. The program was first aired on the 3rd March 2005 and has since become a popular and extremely valuable tool for information sharing and responding to the information needs of women and children.
Obstetric Fistula Centers
The project also supported FORWARD’s ongoing campaign to prevent obstetric fistula among young women in Kano and Jigawa states. In addition to advocacy and awareness-raising activities, two fistula centers (one in Kano and one in Jigawa) provided surgical repair and rehabilitation services to women suffering from obstetric fistula.
Through experience, FORWARD has learned that the provision of surgical repair to fistula sufferers is not enough. A holistic approach, addressing issues of economic empowerment, education and rights, as well as reproductive health issues, is needed in order to ensure a long-lasting impact. This is why FORWARD works with local partners to provide vocational and literacy education, rehabilitation and emotional support services to fistula sufferers alongside the surgical repair.