An Interview with Francesca Adeola Abiola, a Youth Champion for Women and Girls

Rise Up is pleased to launch our Impact Blog Series for the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. This series highlights the work of two Champions for Change (C4C) leaders in Nigeria and one Youth Champions Initiative (YCI) leader from India. C4C’s Champions in Nigeria are working together to save the lives of mothers, children and young women through innovative advocacy and leadership development. YCI’s Champion in India is working to lead the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) movement for the next generation.

This series brings a diversity of perspectives to the table to discuss their critical work in driving the progress in maternal, sexual, and reproductive health and rights, as well as sharing the impact they have made through partnerships, awareness raising and innovation.

We are featuring an interactive discussion with Francesca Adeola Abiola, a C4C Champion and Program Officer for Rise Up, and an assistant for Action Health Inc. (AHI), an NGO in Nigeria dedicated to promoting young people’s health and development to ensure their successful transition to healthy and productive adulthood; Wale Adeleye of Civil Society for Family Planning, an NGO in Nigeria dedicated to addressing various aspects of reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health advocacy (RMNCH), with a special interest in family planning; and Gayatri Parameswaran of Love Matters, a global platform about love, sex, relationships, and everything in between for young adults in India.

In the second part of this series, Rise Up speaks with Francesca Adeola Abiola, Program Officer, Action Health Inc., Lagos, Nigeria and C4C Champion, Rise Up

Action Health Inc. envisions a world in which young people are guaranteed access to the basic information, education, skills and services they need to promote and protect their sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as achieve their full potential. Over the last 25 years, AHI has worked to assure that both private and public sector programs include comprehensive, gender-sensitive, life skills and rights-based approaches to sexuality education and clinical services for youths.

Image 5-11-16 at 6.23 PMRISE UP: Why are you a Champion for women’s and children’s health issues in Nigeria?

Francesca: I was driven to become an advocate when I heard the case of a very young girl who had been raped, but the perpetrators were set free. A desire to help ensure that girls’ rights were upheld and the perpetrators brought to book inspired my work in advocating for women and children.

RISE UP: What’s the most innovative aspect of your work?

Francesca: AHI takes a multifaceted approach to ensuring that these public and private sector programs include comprehensive, gender sensitive, life skills and rights-based approaches to sexuality education for young people. Our advocacy for RMNCH is really important for communities and states in Nigeria because we are committed to ensuring that the lives of women and children are treated as “front burner issues” and receive the attention they deserve.

RISE UP: What is the biggest challenge you face as an advocate for women and children’s health?

Francesca: Low political will in addressing developmental issues is also a challenge we encounter in our work here in Nigeria, as we struggle to ensure government bureaucracy responds to the needs of women and children.

RISE UP: What’s your vision for the future of health care in Nigeria?

Francesca: I want to see quality, efficient, low-cost health care that is accessible and affordable to everyone, particularly women and children, regardless of their economic status. If women, children and newborns have access to good and quality health services and information we will see maternal and infant mortality reduced dramatically.

RISE UP: Advocating for women’s rights can be a difficult job; what’s one of your most positive memories from your work?

Francesca: One of my favorite and uplifting moments from work was during an international conference where a female student I worked with was presented with an award. Participants from the audience came congratulating me as well for my work, and that felt really great. It motivated me to do more for girls.

RISE UP: The most fun thing I’ve done in the last year is…

Francesca: I would say the most fun thing I did in the past year was attend a live concert with a friend. It was both an interesting and exciting experience. Generally when I want to relax I listen to gospel music — my favorite song is “I Need You to Survive,” by Hezekiah Walker.

RISE UP: What has been the impact of your work?

Francesca: Since the beginning of implementation, 20 girls were trained on sexual and reproductive health, six women are part of the community accountability watch group, and 13 women are part of the training on Youth Friendly Health Services. An estimate of total women and/or girls to be impacted by the end of the project would be 500 girls directly, and 700 girls reached by their peers and health provider interventions.

We invite you to follow us on Twitter at @RiseUp_Together and use the hashtag #WD2016 to engage more closely with the Impact Blog Series for Women Deliver, the work of the three leaders whose work is being highlighted, and the larger conversation surrounding reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health in Nigeria as well as sexual and reproductive health and rights in India.

Champions for Change is a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-supported program of Rise Up and improves the lives of women and children in Nigeria by empowering local leaders and organizations to advance reproductive, maternal, newborn, adolescent and child health through advocacy, education, storytelling and strategic partnerships. Champions for Change leverages a program model developed by its sister initiative, Let Girls Lead, which contributes to improved health, education, livelihood and rights for nearly 40 million girls globally. This powerful model drives change through the passage of laws and policies, implementation of programs and distribution of funds to ensure access to quality healthcare, education and economic opportunity. Rise Up is headquartered at the Public Health Institute in Oakland, CA, a leader in global health and development for 50 years.

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