By Simileoluwa Ashimolowo, Ibrahim Hamza Ibrahim, Roselyn Odeh, Foluwakemi Ogunkua
Nigeria is a nation with a large youthful population and a high fertility rate. As per the 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, the adolescent birth rate is 122 per 1,000 women, with 19% of women aged 15-19 years having begun childbearing. Furthermore, young girls in Nigeria face a host of social, cultural, and economic challenges which limit their access to adolescent sexual and reproductive health (ASRH) services. The Adolescent 360 (A360) Project is a bold initiative that aims to address these challenges by increasing the demand for and the uptake of ASRH services among adolescent girls in both Southern and Northern Nigeria. The project is implemented by the Society for Family Health (SFH) in partnership with Population Services International (PSI) and is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Children’s Investment Fund Foundation.
Adolescents and youth bear enormous potential to shape and influence the policy decisions that affect their future. The A360 Project is one such initiative that recognizes and leverages the untapped potential of young people to drive positive change in ASRH programming which is implemented in 5 States in Nigeria namely Ogun, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Jigawa and Kano. The project employs a multi-sectoral approach by engaging young people themselves as well as health professionals, community members, policymakers and state stakeholders. On the project, young people are engaged through its Young Designer and Youth Innovation Officer (YIO) program which launched in 2017- 2020 and 2020 till date respectively, it involves training and empowering young people to become leaders in their communities, implementing innovative projects that promote SRH, and advocating for policies that promote adolescent health to ensure that meaningful adolescent and youth engagement (MAYE) is incorporated into programmatic experience. One of the key strategies employed by the Adolescent 360 Project to achieve its objectives is MAYE.
MAYE refers to the active and meaningful participation of adolescents and young people in the design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of ASRH programs. It is an approach that prioritizes the voices and experiences of young people, recognizing them as key stakeholders and co-creators of solutions to address the challenges they face. MAYE is particularly critical in contexts like Nigeria where young people face numerous barriers to accessing ASRH services.
The incorporation of MAYE in the A360 Project has significantly contributed to the success of the program. YIOs who are young people themselves have been instrumental in ensuring that the voices of adolescents and young people are heard and are key decision-makers in the project’s implementation. The YIOs are a team of young people who work directly with A360 to ensure that the MAYE strategy is incorporated into programmatic experience. YIOs also serve as a bridge between A360 and the younger generation, facilitating communication, feedback, and active participation from young people. They are responsible for leading community outreach efforts, organizing community events, and providing peer education. YIOs also act as ASRH ambassadors working with other young people and community influencers to break the stigma surrounding ASRH services.
Moreover, the YIOs have played a critical role in advancing the goals of the A360 project’s MAYE strategy. Their active involvement in program implementation has enabled A360 to more effectively reach young people where they are in schools, communities, online and also helped to break down barriers to access, enabling young people to benefit from ASRH services without fear of stigmatization or discrimination. The YIOs have also helped to shift the power dynamic from adults to young people, empowering young people to take charge of their own sexual and reproductive health outcomes. MAYE has also helped build the capacity of 1,472 young people across the 5 States of implementation to become leaders in their communities. By training and empowering YIOs, the A360 Project has created a pool of young leaders who can influence their peers and drive positive change in their communities.
In conclusion, MAYE is an essential strategy for achieving impactful ASRH programming, particularly in contexts where adolescents and young people face numerous barriers to accessing these services. The A360 Project, through the engagement of YIOs has demonstrated the impact of MAYE in increasing the uptake of ASRH services in Nigeria. The YIOs have been instrumental in ensuring that the voices of adolescents and young people are heard and that they are key decision-makers in the project’s implementation. Their work through the incorporation of MAYE has contributed significantly to the success of the project and serves as an excellent model for future ASRH programming in Nigeria and beyond.