About the Author

A Nigerian-American who earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in the United States, Onyinye is returning to her native Nigeria to examine the urgent issue of girls health, education, early marriage and, most of all, girls empowerment. Onyinye holds a Masters of Public Health degree from University of Washington-Seattle, as well as graduate-level certificates in the Global Health of Women, Adolescents and Children, and in Sexual and Reproductive Health Research. Describing the impetus for her project, Onyinye points out that, “Niger is presently ranked as the country with the highest percentage of child brides in the world with 76% of girls married before age 18. Nigeria holds the number 14 position with 43% of girls married before age 18. As a trained global health practitioner and advocate for adolescent sexual and reproductive health, I understand the power in a girl’s voice and the dangers associated with silencing that voice. During my ICWA Fellowship I intend to work with young people and their communities to understand the factors that propel child marriage and hinder girls education. My aim is to identify culturally-sensitive ways to address these critical problems.” In addition to her academic credentials, she brings field experience in project design and implementation, monitoring and evaluation, maternal and child nutrition and adolescent sexual and reproductive health; Onyinye has worked in both urban and rural/remote locations in Africa and in the US. An emerging young leader, Onyinye has been recognized by the Clinton Global Foundation as a Commitment Maker, was awarded a prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship as well as a Global Opportunities Health Fellowship. Onyinye’s ICWA Fellowship began in August 2016 and will continue until August 2018.

It’s tradition: Female genital mutilation in Nigeria

ABUJA, Nigeria — Fourteen-year-old Chioma just recently began menstruating. Her father sits in his village compound with five male friends who happen to be local chiefs to discuss her coming of age and make plans for a special ceremony. “Finally my daughter will be welcomed fully into womanhood and I can start entertaining suitors,” he says of expectations she will undergo the ritual cutting of her genitalia, a practice called female genital mutilation. His friends congratulate him on the milestone and one says, “so your tiny daughter of yesterday will soon become a fully grown woman, that’s good—oh, the gods be praised!”

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Empowering girls in schools

DUTSE, Nigeria — On a hot Saturday morning, I visited a government girls’ secondary school in this town on the outskirts of Abuja. There is not much to see except for the market and people selling food and goods along the unpaved, bumpy roads. I traveled there with Bella Ndubuisi, the founder of a leadership development program—Girl Lead Hub—that

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An afternoon in Waru

Waru is an impoverished neighborhood in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. In Waru, homes lack latrines, leading residents to use a community latrine outside or relieve themselves in the bush. The community also deals with high amounts of trash. I met a woman with three children, none of them in school. Although the mother worked full time as a housekeeper,

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Advancing women’s rights in Nigeria: conversations with female leaders

ABUJA—Nigerian women have held the fabric of their society together for decades. From the likes of Fumilayo Ransome Kuti, who fought for women’s access to education and political representation, and against dictatorship—and was the country’s first woman to drive a car—to Dora Akunyili, who served as director of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control and ardently fought to eradicate the production and sale of counterfeit drugs and unsafe food, they have been at the front of societal transformation and progress. But women in Nigeria still lag hugely behind in quality of life, health and political leadership. How is it possible to achieve a developed and sustainable nation when half the population is left behind?

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Creating Possibilities for Girls’ Voices: My Speaking Appearance in Seattle

Celebrate. Innovate. Make Possible.  was the theme for PATH’s 40th anniversary celebration, which took place on Friday, May 12, 2017 in Seattle, Washington. PATH is a global health innovation organization that works to improve the health of the most marginalized groups of people, notably women and girls. I had the privilege to speak as a panelist at the event and share about the work I do in Nigeria as an ICWA Fellow and girls’ rights advocate. The experience was surreal and I have been able to reflect on the importance of such a dynamic program and my personal growth.

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Human Trafficking and Migration: Awareness and Training for Nigerian Children

“Trafficking in Persons (TIP) is the third most lucrative business in the world, after drugs and arms sales,” an official from the Nigerian National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) told students during a three-day training workshop held from May 22-24 in Abuja. The workshop aimed to increase the awareness of in-school students on migration and trafficking. For three days, students from five junior secondary schools (two girls and one boy per school) gathered for the workshop at the newly launched Abuja office of Girls’ Power Initiative, an organization dedicated to empowering girls in Nigeria. The workshop discussed topics including values, self-esteem, and assertiveness. The students were trained to understand the difference between migration and trafficking; and how to identify a trafficking situation.

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A Medical Outreach on Children’s Day

Millions of children live in poverty in Nigeria;lacking access to clean water, food, health care services, and education. Two and a half million children suffer from severe acute malnutrition, “defined by a very low weight for height (below -3z scores of the median WHO growth standards), by visible severe wasting, or by the presence of nutritional oedema.” In Nigeria, 430,000 children live with HIV/AIDS.1  In April, I attended a wedding reception where I saw masses of children scramble for leftover food from the guests’ plates. It was an awful sight, to witness and a reminder of the plight of Nigeria’s children. Where are their parents? Why do they look so unkempt? When was their last meal? These were all questions that ran across through my mind as I reflected on their pitiful condition.

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Forced into Marriage at 17, Now Fighting for Divorce: A Tale of a Child Bride in Nigeria

In developing countries, one in every three girls is married before reaching age 18. One in nine is married under age 15. – [1]

In Africa, Nigeria is expected to have the largest absolute number of child brides. The country has seen a decline in child marriage of about 1 percent per year over the past three decades. At this pace, the total number of child brides is expected to double by 2050. – UNICEF[2]

“I was a slave in my husband’s house,” said 17-year-old Rahma. “My pregnancy had complications and my husband sent me back to my parents when I was diagnosed with fistula,” added 19-year-old Fatima. As I listened to these girls share their experiences as child brides, I struggled to keep the at bay as I wondered why on earth anyone would want to deprive these girls of their childhood and livelihoods. Yet, many men (often much older) in countries like Nigeria choose to marry teenage girls, some pre-teens. Forty-three (43) percent of Nigerian girls are given in marriage before the age of 18,;17% are married before their 15th birthday.[3] As Africa’s largest growing population with over 180 million residents, it is anticipated that Nigeria will have the largest absolute number of child brides by 2050.1 In response to this alarming news, the Nigerian government in November 2016 launched a campaign with a pledge to end child marriage by the year 2030. In line with the African Union’s resolution to eliminate the practice in the African continent; Nigeria joins 15 other African countries that have made this a national commitment. Despite this, achieving an end to child marriage is a long way ahead.

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