NIAMEY, NIGER – “You are the future of Niger, and there is no reason why UNFPA should not support you,” said UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin during a visit to the country on 6 November.
His visit took place in the context of a historic trip to the Sahel region by leaders from five international organizations – the United Nations, the World Bank, the African Union, the African Development Bank, and the European Union – during which UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim pledged to support women’s reproductive health and girls’ education in the region, and to invest $200 million in a new Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographics Project.
On this occasion, Dr. Osotimehin visited a ‘safe space’ for adolescent girls on the outskirts of the capital Niamey, part of UNFPA Niger’s Adolescent Girl Initiative. The initiative empowers vulnerable girls aged 10-19 through an 8-month programme designed to delay child marriage and prevent adolescent pregnancy.
This ‘safe space’ is part of a pilot programme that started in August 2013 with 1600 girls in 40 communities in the regions of Zinder, Maradi, Tillabery and Niamey.
The strategy uses mentors – young women aged 20-40 with at least a secondary education level – who serve as role models in their communities. The adolescent girls go through a comprehensive programme of 31 sessions on topics such as life skills, hygiene, reproductive health, and financial skills, all aimed at empowering them with self-esteem, leadership skills, and the ability to protect themselves from violence, peer pressure, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Trained facilitators organize monthly community dialogues about girls’ rights and protection to create a supportive environment. The young girls are also offered health check-ups and literacy classes.
The lessons learned from this pilot phase will be used to scaled-up the programme to all eight regions of Niger in 2014-2018, ultimately targeting a total of 248,000 vulnerable girls.