Zainab, was 13 years old when she saw her first menstrual cycle. She remembers having cramps in her abdomen but that was overshadowed by her mother’s joy, “you are now a woman”, her mother said, shouting and dancing for Joy. When her father returned that night, his goal was to find her a suitor and he did. A few days later Zainab was ceremoniously married to her husband and given bags of clothes, a chest of drawers and a big bed. “I loved the gifts” she said, “but I miss being in school”.
Northern Nigeria, has the highest rates of female illiteracy in the country and account for negative health outcomes which include, the highest maternal mortality ratio (MMR) and infant mortality. It also accounts for the highest rate of early marriage. The national median age for first marriage in the North is 16.9.
The Adolescent Girls Initiative in Northern Nigeria, is a UNFPA-supported programme that teaches vulnerable girls about their rights, their bodies and health. The goal of the Initiative is to improve the social, economic and health wellbeing of rural and low-income urban adolescent girls and secure their future through increased access to education (make them stay in school), sexual reproductive health information/services and life-skills that will positively impact on health choices.
The pilot programme in Kaduna State began in September 2014, and currently reaches 400 girls. In 2016, it will be expanded to cover two more states – Kebbi and Sokoto – with plans to reach 131,000 girls.