Youth in Nigeria: networked for change

Campaigners’ forums have been buzzing this week with discussion about a new report, Networked Change: How progressive campaigns are won in the 21st Century’, which looks at the ingredients of successful social change campaigns. Although it focuses on examples from North America, we’ve been reflecting on findings in relation to our work with members and partners, most of who are across the African continent, to galvanise the global movement to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).  Here, our Global Director Dr. Faith Mwangi-Powell talks to Kelechukwu Lucky  Nwachukwu, our Programme Officer in Nigeria, to hear more about our approach in Nigeria, and see how it measures up to the tactics of successful campaigns described in the report.

 

Faith: Lucky, we want to talk to you about your work in Nigeria. Let’s start with an update of what The Girl Generation is doing in Nigeria and what we hope to achieve.

Lucky: OK. In Nigeria, like other countries that The Girl Generation is working in, we are aiming to galvanise the national social movement to end FGM – so that there is a critical mass of people, working together. It’s only by bringing people together with a shared vision and belief that we will be able to make the changes necessary to end FGM in a generation.

When we started work in Nigeria, we really felt that the youth was the missing piece of the puzzle. For a long time the voices of young people have not been heard in Nigeria especially on issues relating to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Of course, I am a young man myself, so I just knew that we could be such a powerful force for change. Our role is very critical because we are the future parents who have the power to say no to FGM.

We are also doing other things like working with journalists and training our members in communicating for social change to end FGM – but when you talk about networking for social change then really it’s our work with young people that is very exciting.

 

Faith: So tell us about The Girl Generation’s approach to bringing the young people on board.

Lucky: In fact they are not just on board. Young people in Nigeria have really taken ownership of the call to abandon the practice. We wanted to create a national and formidable force of young people who are speaking out and calling for the abandonment of the practice through the power of communication. So we launched the Youth Anti-FGM Network Nigeria, in September 2016.  It can be described as the very first organised platform where young people who desire change work together to intensify efforts to end FGM in one generation. By now, the network has about 25 member organisations and close to 100 individual members spread around Imo, Abia, Osun, Oyo, Ebonyi, Lagos, and Delta states.

 

Faith: What motivates all these young people to get involved and give up their free time to work on ending FGM?   

Lucky: Many of the youth start to get interested for personal reasons, like their mother or sister has been affected by FGM. But then you start to learn more and you realise that it is so widely practiced in Nigeria: 25% of women have been through it. When you think about the size of our population, that is a vast number of women and girls affected.

 

Faith: One of the success factors in the Networked Change Report is that campaigns direct their power towards concrete policy outcomes. Is this something that the youth network is working on?

Lucky: Of course – even before the network was launched, many of our members were involved trying to attain these sorts of goals – some of them were very vocal and active in the passing of the Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Act of 2015, which was the first federal law banning FGM. A lot more are currently implementing activities around advocacy in our focal states in order to domesticate the law at state levels and raise awareness of the law. For example through engaging with policy makers the network has secured an agreement to mass produce copies of the Act to help drive advocacy and awareness creation at state levels.

The Network has successfully organised seven high-level meetings with key stakeholders like DFID, Embassies and High Commissions, Ministry of Health and Development partners among others. The whole essence of these meetings is to draw attention to, and state in one voice what young people are calling for in Nigeria: a total abandonment of FGM. The other important reason is to build and call for the administrative will from politicians and policy makers to take clear and strong stance against FGM. There have been similar meetings in Abia, Imo and Ebonyi states in south-east Nigeria.

There have been denials from some states where youth network members are working. Politicians deny that such practices exist in their states, even when they are presented with data about the level of FGM in their states. So members of the Youth Network have devised to work with gatekeepers who are influential members of the community, acting as liaisons between the Youth Network and the policy makers in communities and states. We also use The Girl Generation country profile for Nigeria – which is very short and simple and full of quick facts and figures about FGM. In fact we have found that in most of our meetings with policy makers they are now bringing this country profile to meetings and referring to it all of the time!

 

Faith: And what lessons have you learned from working with these types of people?

Lucky: Engaging with the Ministry of Health was a huge lesson, as partnership with them gave the Youth Network a kind of backing and recognition. Going forward, members of the Youth Network will strive to collaborate with Ministries of Health at state level so as to increase impact and visibility of the network in the focal states.

 

Faith: That sounds great. Let me ask you about another conclusion of the report. I will read to you: the most successful campaigns were “typically led by a central body that frames the issues and coordinates energies towards shared milestones, but also leaves a fair amount of freedom and agency to grassroots supporters”. How are we measuring up to this?  

Lucky: That is interesting. I think that is what we are trying to do. Of course The Girl Generation has its team, most of you are in Kenya but then we have our Programme Officers like me across our focal countries, now including Nigeria. And The Girl Generation has framed the issue of ending FGM in very positive and uplifting way that is compelling to us as young people in Nigeria. The team provides certain trainings and resources – but the Youth Network is free to set its own course.

For example, we have the social change communications training conducted by The Girl Generation, which many of the Youth Network members took part in. The idea of this training is to give people the skills and confidence to go out and start conversations about ending FGM in their own communities – in a safe and effective way. They learn to create key messages that are specific and compatible in specific communities.

Let me give you an example of what Youth Network members did after the training. The Network’s Communications Advisor, Nnamdi Eseme and Uzomba Chiamaka, who leads on advocacy, were inspired by the training to go and talk to the National Association of Circumcisers in Nigeria. This might seem like an unlikely ally but the patron of this association gave his support to the cause. His position is a hereditary one, and he does not agree with FGM. He agreed to share this message with his partners across the country, and gave a gift of an ‘End FGM’ wrapper- which is a dozen of End FGM fabrics to be shared among youth network members to form part of advocacy.

 

Faith: It’s great to hear about young people taking the initiative to work towards ending FGM. How about at other levels – with the media, with social media. Is that part of their strategy?

Lucky: Definitely. It is a must if we are going to build the movement to a critical mass. Through various media engagements across the geopolitical zones in Nigeria, young people have taken the ‘End FGM’ national motto to various channels of communications. Raymond, our End FGM Youth Ambassador, has demonstrated the power of social media, in collaboration with other members of the Youth Network. With over 25 social media meet-ups and chats, with over 200,000 impressions, the young people and members of the youth network are driving and pushing the conversations online. Members of the Youth Network are very active on social media and commemorate key international days, like the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM and International Women’s Day.  

 

Faith: You will have to help me out here Lucky, 200,000 impressions? What does that mean?

“It was a thumbs-up for The Girl Generation. A lot more of anti-FGM activities have been lined up and we will carry them out one after the other, together.”

Michael Anabaraonye, World United Youth Against Terrorism (WUYAT), Building a Zero FGM Society

Lucky: That means our messages showed up on 200,000 people’s social media feeds. But we are getting some great traction with traditional media as well. Media engagements have been a veritable means through which the Youth Network has made a case for the abandonment of FGM. We have over seven finalised partnerships with media outlets – this means that they have committed to covering the issue, and that we will provide them with content. We have also taken part in ten radio and TV interviews, meaning that members of the Youth Network have passed the message clearly to both policy makers and the entire society on the harmful effects of FGM. Media engagements have a strong way of supporting changing norms and value system. This is essential, in that members of the public can call in and ask specific questions, that way dialogue is created and public discussions around the ending FGM are triggered.

More so, radio interviews and programmes at community radio stations which encourage community dialogue are very effective level of community engagement as learnt from Ekiti State, where our Youth Network members have facilitated over 10 community dialogues about ending FGM. These came about as a result of media engagements with community media outlets, and the social change communications training.

 

Faith: So The Girl Generation supported the formation of the Youth Network, and we’ve given some support with training and resources – but it sounds like now the network has really taken on a life of its own. Is that right?

Lucky: We can say that the Youth Network has developed its own work plans and action points, and it really is taking off. Campus Networks are being established as members of the Youth Network, over 300 students have been taking part in various campus events and activities geared towards promoting the ending FGM narrative among the campus students. This is being organised by the Youth Network member WUYAT. Their big idea is to have over 200,000 students make pledges that FGM ends in their generation, so we will keep you posted with that campaign.

We also have students working with the Church to maximise their reach. For example, OAU Students and Osun State Community Youths Anti-FGM Get Together have successfully partnered with St Peter Claver Catholic Church. They have pledged their support and co-operation to promote the movement and spread the message in the wider and remotest places around their communities.

 

Faith: This all sounds great!  But I am sure there are several challenges which these networks face.  Can you please share some of them?!

Lucky: There are indeed challenges for the network.  Firstly, we have new members of the Youth Network who were not part of the social change communications training offered by The Girl Generation last year.  It is difficult for the new members to communicate effectively in the community so the next training for the Youth Network in May this year will be very important. We will also bring along other partners from state levels to boost their understanding of communication for social change to end FGM, which should make our advocacy for ending FGM easier.

The other big challenge is funding for our members at the grassroots level – there is demand far beyond the current funds available. Grassroots organisations have little or no finances to implement activities in villages and sub regions. There are also very few organisations working at grassroots level which makes it difficult to link up our members with these organisations. We are making progress though – now the Youth Network has a small grant from The Girl Generation End FGM Grants Programme and it will start full implementation of this project in the coming months.

 

Faith: We hear that challenge, Lucky, and we are delighted to have been able to contribute in a small way but we will continue to look for new opportunities to help support the youth in Nigeria.  I must say I am inspired by all the work and youth engagement in Nigeria and congratulations to you and to all those who have been involved in the work-Do you have any final thoughts around what we have discussed.

Lucky: I can say that there has never been such a time as this, when there is a growing sense of enthusiasm amongst young people to end FGM. The Girl Generation gave young people in Nigeria an opportunity to work together and speak in one voice boldly towards the abandonment of FGM. Youths have owned the movement in Nigeria and in the other focal countries. There is also growth in the number of cross-regional partnerships among young people through the Youth Network. More hands must be on deck and more financial support and capacity building is needed for the vibrant Youth Network. So we call on The Girl Generation to continue to support the Youth Network – and of course we call on other partners to support them in the great work that they do!

Kelechukwu Lucky Nwachukwu

Programme Officer - Nigeria

Lucky is a member of The Girl Generation's technical team, driving our end FGM efforts in Nigeria. As Programme Officer he contributes towards developing the social movement to end FGM and enabling the scaling up of social change communication. In doing so Lucky facilitates The Girl Generation's in-country capacity building; membership and partner engagement; and our partnerships and resource leveraging work.

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