FROM February 27th, 2020
Thank you to the Independent Midwives Association of Namibia and the ICM Board Members for the Africa region, who as our hosts have accorded us the warmest welcome here in Namibia.
I am delighted to offer my own welcome to you all, as ICM’s inaugural Global Goodwill Ambassador, to the Africa Regional Conference of the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM).
I would like to pay tribute to the work done by my dear friends Sally and Franka, at the leadership of level of ICM, who along with their team, work tirelessly with and for midwives all around the world.
In fact, the numbers increase every time I give a speech for ICM. I believe that ICM now supports and represents an incredible 140 Members Associations, representing 121 countries. Thank you for all that you do, and for bringing us here together, with the support of generous partners and sponsors.
Most of all, of course, welcome and thank you to our midwives. It is a real pleasure to see many familiar faces here today, and I look forward to meeting more of you over the duration of this conference.
The theme here today, ‘midwives leading the way for quality and equity in Africa,’ is striking in its simplicity and accuracy. As we share our experiences and knowledge here in Namibia,
I know that we will focus on how midwives already lead the way across Africa in so many different respects. I look forward to strategizing how we overcome barriers that prevent midwives from providing the very best of care to women, newborns, families and communities wherever they may be – from a small village in Namibia to the bustling streets of Lagos.
I have always operated according to the central belief that a women-centred, midwife-led model of care – one that follows normal physiologic labour and childbirth with no unnecessary or excessive interventions – saves lives and allows women and their infants to stay alive and thrive. That is, of course, essential. But midwife-led care is also transformative beyond the labour room.
At the World Health Assembly in Geneva earlier this year, I welcomed the launch of the report ‘Strengthening quality midwifery education for Universal Health Coverage 2030: A transformative approach to improving quality of care,’ produced by ICM, alongside WHO, UNFPA and UNICEF.
Wherever they work, midwives are the community leaders and interlocutors who are best placed to advocate for and ensure safe environments including, but also beyond, pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. In many instances rural midwives represent the sole point of access to health care in remote and under-served areas. When midwives are safe and able to carry out their full range of services, we will have a real opportunity to drive forward Universal Health Coverage.
That means providing whole-system support for midwives, including the adequate tools, equipment, and medicine to provide the full scope of timely, high-quality care; and the capacity to carry out the WHO-recommended 8 antenatal visits.
That can only be achieved through effective supply chain management and procurement. By that I mean we must overcome challenges related to drug selection, registration, quantification, procurement, storage and distribution, quality assurance, and information systems.
Where midwives’ human resources metrics are not tracked, they cannot be managed. Thus, more data on midwives is needed: from midwifery schools on graduate profiles; to professional associations on licensure, registration, and continuing professional development. We need routine, robust, and up-to-date human resource information systems.
Midwife-generated data streams can provide valuable feedback on how services are delivered. With accurate information we can advocate for service improvements. A comprehensive civil registration and vital statistics system must form the foundation of health services and personnel decision making. Metrics provide the evidence needed to understand and advocate for how midwives’ enhanced leadership roles can optimize health systems.
We also know, and demand that a midwife’s workplace must be free from sexual harassment and gender discrimination. This as an absolute essential element of a functioning, decent and dignified health system. According to a global survey conducted by the ICM and the WHO, 37% of midwives reported that they have experienced harassment at work, whether from colleagues or patients. Effective interprofessional collaboration is important to keeping midwives’ workplaces safe. Midwifery must have its own ‘MeToo’ moment – and the harassment must end. Respect for both Midwives and their work in maternity care is a non-negotiable necessity.
At the Wellbeing Foundation Africa, of which I am the Founder-President, I have seen the remarkable effect that midwifery-led care has on equity in relationships and communities. Our ‘MamaCare’ midwives deliver their antenatal classes to women, but are also counsellors on issues as diverse as domestic violence and financial access. Men may attend some classes, and I have seen them sit quietly at the back of the room taking notes. Quite right too. I know that this is an experience mirrored by midwives across Africa, who act as strong role models and champions for women.
I am delighted to be here with you all in Namibia and I look forward to our shared learning and growth. Next year the Year of the Nurse and Midwife will be upon us. The Africa Regional Conference is going to be an important event for midwifery, it is an opportunity for us to lay the groundwork to drive progress forward. It is a space that allows us not only to share the latest developments in midwifery knowledge but also to build new partnerships that strengthen our networks within the region. A space we can exchange learning experiences and professional realities, and work together on solutions to the challenges we must overcome.
FROM September 25th, 2019
The Honourable Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole;
The Executive Director of the UNFPA, Dr Natalia Kanem;
The Executive Director, FP2020, Beth Schlachter;
President of Global Development at The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr Chris Elias;
Distinguished Colleagues and Partners;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is an honour and a privilege to welcome you all, especially our visitors, to Nigeria, on this occasion of the Family Planning 2020 Reference Group (FP2020 RG) meeting sessions in Nigeria. The FP2020 is a global movement that we all are very proud of – a catalyst of contributions, innovations, advocacy, policy action, equity, and wellbeing. We salute your individual and collective participation, for the ideals of improved human welfare and economic empowerment, through greater access to the high-quality contraceptive choices for the women and families who desire such, and in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
This year, the global health community lost my dear brother, Babatunde Osotimehin. Professor Osotimehin was an indefatigable ally in his role as Executive Director of UNFPA, especially in our shared goal of improving the conditions and outcomes of pregnant mothers, newborns, children, adolescents, and their communities. He also served tirelessly, of course, as a co-chair of the FP2020 Reference Group. Our thoughts and prayers have been with his family, friends and colleagues since we heard the terrible news in June. The new Executive Director of UNFPA and FP2020 Reference Group Co-Chair Dr. Natalia Kanem, is the right person to carry on the legacy of Professor Osotimehin and, alongside Dr. Chris Elias of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, she is superbly placed to help realise our vision for a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe, and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.
We are all united by the principle on which FP2020 was created in London, back in 2012 – that all women, no matter where they live, should have access to life-saving contraceptives. I founded the Wellbeing Foundation Africa (WBFA) in 2004 to improve the reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health and nutrition (RMNCAH+N) indices of Nigeria, as well as much of sub-Saharan Africa; and to eliminate all forms of gender-based discrimination, neglect, abuse and violence. Despite being rich in human and natural resources, estimates from 2013 stated that Nigeria accounted for almost 13% of global maternal deaths, with close to 40,000 women dying due to pregnancy- and birth-related complications, every year. The evidence of the life-saving effects of family planning for mothers and children is irrefutable, including potentially averting 32% of all maternal deaths and nearly 10% of childhood deaths, if it were available to all those who wanted it.
If we are to achieve the FP2020 goal, and ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services and rights by 2030, as laid out in Sustainable Development Goals 3 and 5, the work of the Performance Monitoring & Evidence Working Group will be absolutely crucial. I am a strong believer in promoting the use of data and investments in proven tools such as the WBFA client-held Personal Health Records (PHRs), a family planning health information delivery platform for women, as well as an accountability tool that can identify gaps in their reproductive care. The move towards the Expert Advisory Community expanding its role to become a two-way channel between the Secretariat and the family planning community of experts is welcome for the same reason – not only to better share information but also to hear back from those who have the evidence from the frontline. The emphasis on supporting and reinforcing country-level activities is one that the WBFA is fully in support of, so that we can play our part in increasing access to information, services and family planning supplies.
At the Family Planning Summit in London this July, the WBFA team and I were encouraged to learn the results of the scaled deployment and accessibility of the innovative Sayana Press Uniject injectable contraceptive device, for which I led the advocacy for, from its acceptance into Nigeria’s National Council on Health’s approval for the Task-Shifting and Task-Sharing Policy in 2012, to its scaled implementation as an affordable solution in diverse humanitarian settings from crisis, to development in the Ouagadogou Partnership, the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend Project, and within the developing strategy for Nigeria’s Lake Chad Basin.
I call on all global and national leaders to honor their FP2020 commitments to improve family planning funding and services; partner with donors and other NGOs to increase financial backing for family planning at all levels; and join with the relevant agencies to build the capacities of healthcare providers. Such leaders and other stakeholders (as in the private sector) must also strengthen primary health care facilities to provide family planning counselling and services for increased access and better coverage, while improving their forecasting capacities.
FROM June 23rd, 2019
Good morning. It is a pleasure to join you to present the Goodwill Message of Mrs Toyin Ojora Saraki, Founder-President of the Wellbeing Foundation Africa (WBFA), Global Goodwill Ambassador for the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) and Special Adviser to the Independent Advisory Group to the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa.
Thank you to Dr Tunde Segun, Country Director for MamaYe! Evidence for Action, for the kind invitation to join you today on this 7th MamaYe Day, to discuss such an elemental and yet crucial aspect of health care service deliver: accountability.
According to the Global Strategy For Women and Children’s Health, the tracked indicators in Nigeria are some of the worst in Africa, with one of the fastest growing populations globally: our population is likely to reach 440 million people by 2050. We know the key issues Nigeria faces: from having the second largest number of people living with HIV, the highest burden of malaria globally – which remains the top cause of child illness and death – to having the second highest burden of stunted and malnourished children in the world.
To achieve accountability in health service delivery, we must be able to accurately assess the demographic need for health: which necessitates a well-designed civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) system. Only with the collection and dissemination of accurate data can we hope to ensure effective delivery, evaluation and monitoring of sustainable, effective public health strategies.
In the late 1950s, Professor David Morley developed the ‘Road to Health’ chart in Nigeria for monitoring the growth of infants and young children. This home-based chart was originally designed to monitor growth in resource-poor countries, but developed into a record of a child’s growth and development, kept by parents – it was revolutionary in its time. At the Wellbeing Foundation Africa, we took that concept and designed the Personal Health Record (PHR), a book in which the medical records of each mother and child are recorded and stored for future reference and analysis. The PHR evolved from a child immunisation and growth record to a comprehensive CRVS tool.
This forms part of what I call the value of a statistical life. Without a centralised health database for many families to rely upon and keep them informed of the necessary health processes in a child’s first thousand days of life, the PHR came as an innovation that placed this knowledge directly into the mothers’ hands, and empowered her to provide, analyse and follow-up on her own data – to be in control of her own situational analysis. Home-based records have since been successfully deployed in countries like the UK and Japan.
Registering births and linking birth registration to vaccinations is an important part of CRVS and social accountability. Nigeria is currently battling with a situation where only 1 in 4 children, of our population of 198 million citizens, is immunised against preventable diseases. The Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunisation
(GAVI) has revealed that despite considerable investment – of about $700 million – we only have total immunization coverage of around 30%. CRVS would allow us to hold Governments accountable for their policy, spending and distribution decisions – including in cases such as this.
At the United Nations General Assembly in New York last September I attended the launch of the IAP report ‘Private Sector: Who is Accountable.’ That report rightly called on governments, parliaments, private sector partners and multilateral agencies to establish effective accountability systems. As I noted at the time, only two countries in Africa have met the Abuja declaration to pledge 15% of their government budgets to health. Meanwhile, tuberculosis kills more than 4,000 people every single day. This can be avoided – and there are five key interventions which would take us far closer to delivering the 2030 Agenda and achieving universal health coverage:
We know that the road to universal health coverage does not rest upon singular interventions, but rather on a plethora of interconnected interventions and initiatives; from water, sanitation and hygiene standards in healthcare facilities to breastfeeding education and training for healthcare workers. In a country as large as Nigeria, resilience throughout the whole nation’s system is necessary if we are going to be able to tackle critical health emergencies in fragile settings, for example in the north-east. That is why a strengthened primary health care system is imperative as the foundation and bedrock of achieving health for all and should be a focal point for investment.
Thank you once again for the kind invitation to join you today, and I look forward to working with all of you for stronger, more accountable, and safer health systems.
FROM June 1st, 2019
UN Deputy Secretary-General, H. E. Dr. Amina Mohammed [NB possible video address]
Executive Director, UN Women – Ms. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka [NB possible video address]
Mme. Bineta Diop AU Special Envoy on Women, Peace & Security
Ms. Glory Ohagwu, OAP, Voice of Nigeria
Ms. Comfort Lamptey, AWLN Nigeria Steering Committee by the UN Women Country Representativ
Country Representative, African Union Mr. Edward Kallon
UN Resident Coordinator Senior Special Adviser to the President on SDGs
Honourable Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development
Excellencies, Honourable Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you to Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo, Chairperson of the Steering Committee of AWLN Nigeria, for your presentation and for your leadership.
Thank you also to the Federal Government of Germany, the African Union, UN Women, and all partners and stakeholders who have made this historic moment possible.
As we mark the launch of the African Women Leaders’ Network Nigeria Chapter, I urge all of you to look around at the women who have joined us today. We are surrounded by women leaders: role models for women all around the country. As we navigate the way forward, which will sometimes be arduous, I know that we can look to this strong network of sisters to forge onwards together.
All of us here know, however, that leaders are not bred in a day. Over the next year, and beyond, it will be essential for us to map and demonstrate the talent that we have in this country – superbly talented women leaders – but also to communicate the challenges and barriers faced by women which must be overcome for us to stand shoulder to shoulder with men at every level, in every country, in every region around the world. That is why the national and regional consultations which will be undertaken by AWLN are so important, as part of a wider effort to identify the true demographics of Nigeria. If we can discern the population for the purposes of an election, we must also be able to establish a comprehensive civil registration and vital statistics system, which allows us to allocate resources accordingly for health, community-engagement and infrastructure.
Only with that understanding can we effectively implement the necessary investments through the life course of a girl and woman. Gender development, if done effectively and led by local communities, will breed women leaders.
Since 2006, Nigeria’s National Gender Policy has outlined women’s right to equality in economic, social and political life, and seeks to increase women in elected and appointed positions to 35%. We know that we are far from that goal – indeed, going into February’s elections 1668 men and 232 women were vying for 109 senatorial seats, whilst 4,139 men and 560 women were aiming for 360 seats in the House of Representatives.
Political aspirants must be empowered to take part in elections, and as we look to the future, we must also ensure that all citizens can stand and safely vote in elections. In Nigeria today, that is made all the more difficult by displacement and violence. The alarm was rightly sounded by the UN last year regarding the displacement of thousands of Nigerians – 80,000 people were displaced from North East Nigeria between last November and February, in addition to the two million people who had already been displaced by violence or forced across Nigeria’s borders as refugees. All of us here today know the detrimental effect that fragile humanitarian settings have on our citizens, particularly on young people and women, regarding their health, education, chances of realising their potential and ability to engage in the democratic process.
Given the detrimental effect of conflict and other structural issues on women’s participation in politics, it is no surprise that one of the EU’s seven priority recommendations following its observance of the elections this year was to introduce a legal requirement for political parties to have a minimum representation of women among candidates, and for parties to be required to have policies and provide regular information on the promotion of women’s political participation within parties, as candidates, and more widely. The EU also recommended that INEC publishes a framework for the electoral participation of internally displaced persons before the start of any voter registration exercise and ensure its full and consistent implementation, and that INEC undertakes regular consultation with displaced persons and provide updates on plans for their inclusion.
We have much to be positive about, however. I recently returned from delivering a series of high-level interventions at Women Deliver 2019 in Vancouver, the world’s largest conference on gender equality and the health and rights of girls and women in the 21st century, bringing together thousands of advocates to explore the solutions to achieve a more gender-equal world. I was inspired by my African sisters, from the President of Ethiopia Sahle-Work Zewde to Rwandan Minister of Health Dr Diane Gashumba; to the young female activists from around the world, as we shared our experiences, hopes and determinations for the future. Africa is leading the way – Nigeria must step up and take its rightful place.
There are also many ways to carve that future and many ways for us to serve. I have, for example, accepted the invitation to serve on the steering committee of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action, which will be held in Nairobi, Kenya, from 12-14 November, 2019. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the ground-breaking International Conference on Population and Development, which took place in Cairo in 1994. We will bring together heads of state and ministers, parliamentarians, thought-leaders, technical experts, civil society organizations, young people and people with disabilities, business and community leaders, faith-based organizations, international financial institutions, academics and thousands of others interested in the pursuit of reproductive health and rights. Our goal is to achieve a world where no woman or girl dies from preventable complications in pregnancy or childbirth: where no woman has to give birth without the help of a midwife, nurse or doctor. We must forge a world where no one is subjected to violence because of their gender, where no girl is forced to marry, where no girl or woman is subjected to female genital mutilation or other harmful practices.
In conclusion, I will return briefly to politics. This year, despite its challenges, was in many ways unprecedented. Both main parties had very strong, women led campaigns – Her Excellency Aisha Buhari’s 700-women-strong campaign for the APC and the grassroots women for Atiku campaign were historic, and noted for their calls to end election violence. Let us build on that, remove the barriers to women’s leadership, and restore the bridges to Nigeria’s productivity. Thank you.
FROM January 16th, 2019
Distinguished guests, members of the media, Daily Trust Journalists, Ladies and Gentlemen, my fellow Africans: good evening.
We are here to celebrate and honour the extraordinary endeavours of a group of young Africans this evening, who serve as an inspiration to us all.
It is auspicious that we do so at the invitation of the Daily Trust. Indeed, this evening serves to remind us of the importance of a free, fair and inquisitive press to a thriving democracy and a healthy society.
The events of recent weeks have brought to my mind Nelson Mandela’s address to the International Press Institute Congress in Cape Town on 14th February 1994 – and I quote:
“A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favour. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens.”
“It is only such a free press that can temper the appetite of any government to amass power at the expense of the citizen. It is only such a free press that can be the vigilant watchdog of the public interest against the temptation on the part of those who wield it to abuse that power. It is only such a free press that can have the capacity to relentlessly expose excesses and corruption on the part of government, state officials and other institutions that hold power in society.”
At a pivotal time for democracy and freedom in our country I commend the Daily Trust for hosting us this evening as we celebrate African excellence – and for tempering the appetite of any government for power at the expense of the citizen, for exposing excesses and corruption and holding authority to account. It is not an easy task, nor free of danger, as we have seen so recently. I know that you will continue to be the mirror Mandela spoke of that day in Cape Town.
The winners of this evening’s award – Stacy Owino, Purity Achieng, Ivy Akinyi, Synthia Otieno and Macrine Atieno from Kisumu, Kenya – have also sought to rebalance power structures for the good of citizens. They have bravely put agency in the hands of women and girls, restoring not only hope but establishing a concrete link to medical and legal assistance.
We know that FGM has no health benefits for girls and women, and in fact can cause severe bleeding, cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths. This human rights violation has affected more than 200 million girls and women alive today.
I have long been inspired by the work of young women in Kenya, who promote the alternative rite of passage to bring the whole community on board with the health and choices of girls and women. In 2017 I joined Amref Health Africa as it launched its vision to eradicate FGM by 2030. By then the alternative rite of passage method had already saved more than 10,000 girls and women from FGM. Most recently, at the family planning conference in Kigali in November, I met with young Kenyans who, like our award-winners this evening, had a passion to empower their fellow African women, girls and communities.
Here in Nigeria, we also have talented and passionate young people who can overcome the obstacles faced by our fellow citizens. But they can only do so if we end gender violence and the intimidation which threatens to throttle democracy.
We must raise awareness on the urgent need to stem the apparently rising rate of politically motivated violence that is occurring as the various parties conduct their campaigns across our beloved nation.
In the last week alone, we have seen reports of campaign violence occurring in Lagos State, Imo State, Kogi State, and Kwara State, with many cases of grievous injuries and deaths.
In all these cases, the violence was reportedly wrought by APC supporters, on civilian citizens, and sometimes even on themselves.
We have heard directly from women in Kwara State, who cried out to the public and religious leaders, that when they were attacked in their homes at the Agbaji, Ilorin West LGA Ancestral Quarters of the Senate President, these attacks were evidently carried out by “supporters” of an APC factional candidate, while the nearby Federal Government security forces simply watched with folded arms.
We have followed with consternation, a similar eye witness account from Kogi State where a supporter of an SDP Senatorial candidate Natasha Akpoti was killed, again allegedly following APC Supporters campaign violence while security officials did nothing.
This gives us great concern for the safety and security, and indeed the human right to democratic suffrage of civilian citizens as an extremely worrying cascade of wilful impunity, which may affect voter turnout particularly for women and youth.
As Nigeria prepares to choose its next leaders, gender-based violence and election violence should be firmly condemned by all, citizens and observers alike.
I therefore call on all to immediately adopt an End Election Violence Advocacy, as a prerequisite to free and fair elections, and to guarantee citizens rights to live and choose their leaders, in dignity, safety and security without fear of intimidation, suppression or retribution from desperate power-seekers.
Many of those power-seekers have failed Nigeria. Since 2015, 9.9 million Nigerians have lost their jobs. 2 million have been affected by Boko Haram and Herdsmen crises, making us the most terrorised country in the world.
We now have the highest number of road fatalities in Africa and are the poverty capital of the world. Our direction of travel should cause consternation to anyone who believes in the dignity of human life. On our current path, by 2021 we will overtake India as the world capital for infant deaths. Meanwhile, our electricity supply is the second worst in the world – only Yemen is worse. And what of the future? 13.5 million Nigerian schoolchildren are currently out of school, as investors flee Nigeria, taking $2 billion with them. Our debt has grown by $11.47 billion over the past three years. What a legacy for our children to inherit. It is a legacy we must all work to change.
My call for an end to election violence comes from the knowledge that we have been cursed quite recently with this plague. More than 800 people were killed in northern Nigeria in three days of rioting, started by supporters of the main opposition candidate at the time. The protests degenerated into violent riots and sectarian killings in the northern states of Adamawa “Land of Beauty, Sunshine and Hospitality”, Bauchi “Pearl of Tourism”, Borno “Home of Peace”, Gombe “Jewel in the Savannah”, Jigawa “The New World”, Kaduna “Centre of Learning”, Kano “Centre of Commerce”, Katsina “Home of Hospitality”, Niger “The Power State”, Sokoto “The Seat of the Caliphate”, Yobe “The Young Shall Grow”, and Zamfara “Home of Agricultural Products”.
Relief officials estimated that more than 65,000 people were displaced.
One would have thought that the violence would make us all vow to avoid any chance of a repetition of those disgraceful scenes. I fear that that has not been the case, however. Only a year later of that same candidate stated: “If what happened in 2011 should again happen in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood.’’
Today I say something quite different – if what happened in 2011 should happen again in 2019, Nigeria will need the grace of God to heal the land.
Regardless of party affiliation, election violence is never acceptable and will never solve the issues we face as a nation. As President Jonathan so rightly said, electoral success is not worth the blood of any Nigerian.
Let us work together for a healthier, safer and freer Nigeria. Congratulations once again to the awardees this evening and thank you for your inspirational work.
FROM November 7th, 2018
Thank you to the United Nations in Nigeria and to the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development for the invitation to join you here today. More importantly, as we reach the end of the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence against Women and Girls, thank you for the work that you do every day of the year to foster better and safer lives for all of us.
Since 1991, we have marked this period, from 25 November – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day. We learn from our sisters around the world and apply those lessons to our own communities and countries.
All around the world, women and girls are coming together. We come together to share stories – sometimes to say, “Me Too” – and to support each other.
We also come together to say: enough. It is time to end the violence.
Globally, conversations are changing and women are taking the lead. Just look at the #MeToo, #TimesUp, #Niunamenos, #NotOneMore campaigns – the level of anger and recrimination barely scrapes the surface of the endemic and institutionalised dangers that we face and have always faced.
In Nigeria, we are blessed with brilliant women who, despite significant hurdles, are entrepreneurs, doctors, teachers, politicians, and care-givers. The midwives of the Wellbeing Foundation Africa, of which I am the Founder-President, constantly inspire me with their dedication and impact. We are also, however, not under any illusions about how far we have to go to ensure that we as women, and our daughters, are safe and free to achieve whatever our potential may be.
Two days ago at the UN Women Conference in Lagos, Edward Kallon, UN Resident Coordinator in Nigeria, announced that Nigeria ranks 11th among the twenty countries in the world with highest prevalence of child marriage. Mr Kallon pointed out that 700 million women alive today were married as children, of whom 17 per cent of them, or 125 million, live in Africa. Inaction will lead to the number of child bridges in Africa doubling by 2050.
We know that ending child marriage and investing instead in girls is not only a moral obligation, but benefits all of society. A girl who is married is almost always taken out of education and can never reach her full potential. Better educated women are healthier, earn higher incomes, have fewer children, and enable better health care and education for their own children. In turn, education for girls helps lift families, communities, and nations out of poverty. The UN estimates that gender inequality costs sub-Saharan Africa on average $US95 billion a year.
Girls’ education goes beyond getting girls into school. It is also about ensuring that girls learn and feel safe while in school; are able to attend schools which have the right water, sanitation and hygiene standards to cater to their needs, and are able to contribute to their communities and the world.
In 2014 I attended the first Girl Summit, hosted by the United Kingdom, which aimed at mobilising domestic and international efforts to end female genital mutilation (FGM) and child, early and forced marriage within a generation. That first Girl Summit was predicated on the fundamental belief that girls and women have the right to live free from violence and discrimination. That same year, as a recent signatory of the Girl Declaration, I hosted a panel in Lagos entitled ‘Our Future: This is the moment to invest in girls. It has always been clear to me that girls’ education must be a priority for all Governments, NGOs and private partners.
The battle does not stop once a girl reaches adulthood, of course. Close to a third of all Nigerian women have experienced physical violence, which encompasses battery, marital rape and murder, at the hands of their partners. But due to social conditioning, 43% of women believe a husband is justified in beating his wife for a number of reasons, including going out without telling him. Thousands of women and girls who survived the brutal rule of Boko Haram have since been further abused by the Nigerian security forces, as exposed by Amnesty International earlier this year. Midwives and nurses who go to help those most in need have been kidnapped – some have been executed.
As we reach the end of the year, it is inevitably a time for reflection. If any sorry tale from 2018 has epitomised how vulnerable our girls are and the fragility of our social contract, it is the story of Ochanya Elizabeth Ogbanje. Ochanya had allegedly been abused by her guardian and his son since she was eight years old. She developed Vesicovaginal Fistula (VVF) and attendant complications. Ochanya died at the age of 13 years old.
Gathering here today, as we seek to bring about the end of such violence, we have to ask ourselves some tough questions. How many Ochanyas do we have in Nigeria, suffering in open sight, yet unseen, unmet and unprotected? What value do we attach to a standard Nigerian life from birth to age let alone the value of a female life? What is Nigeria’s VSL or value of a statistical life?
The answer to finding and helping our Ochanya’s lies in the full commitment to a comprehensive Civil Registrations and Vital Statistics Framework, from which information and actions could flow, from birth to age.
What are the social safety actions that would flow if an appropriate CRVS protocol was in force?
If Ochanya had been registered at birth, immunised and recorded as such, registered in school, if the persons appointed as her loco parentis had been registered, wouldn’t her disappearance from formal education have been noticed? If we had an active social service framework rather than the instalment beneficiary system, would a trained social worker not have called on the foster family to check on Ochanya? Would they not have noticed sudden maturation of physical mannerisms that is a marked symptom of sexual molestation of a minor?
When we pray for Ochanya, we do so because her suffering was cruel and because it deprived her of her rights: a happy and safe childhood, the right of a warm family life, the right to become an adult at the appropriate time. The right to be a girl. The right to become a woman.
We also pray for Ochanya because we know that there are countless girls like her across Nigeria. Girls who are not allowed to be children, who are treated not even as second-class citizens.
I will close today by alluding to the work of the Wellbeing Foundation Africa, whose midwives I mentioned earlier. The health for mothers and infants was the key objective of the Foundation at its inception. Its scope rapidly expanded however, as I soon realised that we cannot confine our actions to our supposed speciality; legislative change, gender equality, maternal health, education and health security are so closely interconnected. To make a sustainable impact and truly open up opportunities for women in Africa, we must reach across borders, knowledge-bases and cultures.
That is exactly what the Foundation achieves through its pioneering ‘MamaCare Classes’ led by our qualified midwives. Some of those classes take place in IDP camps, a frontline for women and their infants. Despite dire mortality rates here in Nigeria – where women face around a one in thirteen risk of maternal mortality in their lifetime – we have not lost even one of our over 250,000 MamaCare mothers during childbirth. Our MamaCare midwives have achieved this not only by providing classes to a global standard – and achieving the new WHO benchmark recommendation of at least 8 antenatal visits – but also because they act as even more than lifesavers. They provide safe spaces and safe conversations: no subject is taboo or off-limits. To unlock the potential for women and girls, our first obligation is to ensure that they are safe and healthy. The Foundation campaigns, advocates and teaches, with global partners, across a wide range of issues which are all essential for women, from water, sanitation and hygiene to accessing STEM subjects and personal development.
It is by breaking down the sense of a taboo, opening up new conversations and investing in women and girls that we will finally end the violence and create a brighter, safer world for us all.
Thank you again for the kind invitation to join you here today.