Blessing Timidi-Digha: Advocating for Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights in NigeriaBy Radiant Health
Published: December 21, 2017
At 17, Blessing Timidi-Digha was pregnant, single, and overcome with shame. Nigeria remains largely conservative and religious; sex is hardly discussed, and sex education is absent from many homes and schools. Blessing quickly became the subject of finger-pointing. It was the lowest ebb of her life, and even led her to two suicide attempts. But with her parents’ support, she gave birth and returned to school.
Her experience made Blessing realize the dearth of available information on sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) in Nigeria. In 2005, she started the African Girl Child Development and Support Initiative (AGCDSI) in response to the deafening silence on SRHR.
Blessing’s parents supported her, but many girls are not so lucky; they are disowned by their families and become castaways in their communities. Such girls must struggle just to survive, and receive little in the way of prenatal services. Abortions remain illegal in Nigeria, so some girls turn to quacks for unsafe abortions that can lead to death. And in a country where the adoption policy remains unclear, infanticide and the trashing of newborns is all too common.
The AGCDSI aims to change this bleak landscape by focusing on advocacy, research, and community engagement and mobilization on SRHR issues.
“Teenagers contribute immensely to statistics on maternal mortality and unsafe abortions,” says Blessing. “We need to be realistic about adolescent-friendly services so that teenagers can make informed choices.”
To accomplish this, Blessing runs separate sexual education classes for teenagers and parents in collaboration with educational and religious organizations. These no-holds-barred sessions open up spaces where teenagers can talk about their experiences and become informed about their sexual health and rights. The sessions help dispel common myths and misconceptions about sexual health through frank conversations about contraceptives, rape, abortion, female genital mutilation, early pregnancy, and more. In the 12 years that her organization has been in existence, Blessing has reached thousands.
Blessing has also been part of several advocacy collectives dedicated to pushing for increased sexual and reproductive rights in Nigeria. Among these are #Choice4Life, a group of young Nigerian professionals working with several organizations online and offline to mobilize support for bills such as the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP).
Blessing is at her happiest whenever her advocacy work has an immediate impact, as in late 2016, when she convinced a young couple not to subject their daughter to genital mutilation. Or in early 2017, when she followed up on the case of a young male university student in Ondo State who boasted about rape on social media. Blessing made a report to the police and the student apologized for what turned out to be an empty boast about raping a girl. Daily victories such as these keep this pastor’s daughter spreading her gospel of sexual and reproductive health rights.
Learn more about African Girl Child Development and Support Initiative (AGCDSI) at www.blessingtimidi.com.
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