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I started advocacy when I got pregnant as a teenager – Blessing Timidi Digha

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Blessing Timidi Digha

Blessing Timidi Digha is the Executive Director and also works as the Community Mobilization and Advocacy Officer at African Girl Child Development and Support Initiative, a non-governmental, not for profit organization that advocates and works towards the advancement and development of the Nigerian Girl Child through Advocacy, Research and Interventions. Her Foray into activism began actively during her stint with pregnancy as a teenager where her eyes were opened to the plights girl children faced when it came to Sexuality Education, Teenage Pregnancy and Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights. Today, she has dedicated at least ten years of her life working on issues and interventions as it relates to the girl child particularly in the Nigerian and African context and with much bias to Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights, Feminism and Gender Equality. She shares her story in this inspiring interview.

Growing up
My childhood and teenage years prepared me a lot for what I do now, in fact I will say my experiences shaped me for all I do. My experiences growing up in my family, church, my personal experiences especially with sexual debut and experimentation as a teenager , getting pregnant as a teenager, seeking for love in the wrong places, quest for knowledge and a whole lot prepared and shaped me with mostly first hand experiences and witnessing the experiences of others.

30 and daring
My name is Blessing Timidi Digha, I clocked 30 on the 5th of March, I am a mother to three beautiful children (two girls and a boy) and I advocate on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) especially as it affects young girls and women and also consult on advocacy and community Mobilization/engagement. I run African Girl Child Development and Support Initiative. I identify as a feminist because I believe and advocate for EQUAL opportunities politically, economically, socially, educationally etc for both Male’s and Females. I am an ambivert with my introvert side more domineering except of course while I am at work where I can be very chatty and in your face but I like my privacy and quiet a lot. I am a Women Deliver Young Leader, a ONE Champion, a #Choice4Life advocate which are a few of the platforms where I contribute towards the rights of girls and SRHR. I love colours and can paint, draw and do some calligraphy, I also play with simple graphic designs, I am a creative in my own right who has also learnt do different many things *thanks to my mom*. I have a strong support system in my Family and partner who supports all my work when I have to be away and need someone to take care of my kids, someone to talk to at any time or advice me. I am a polyglot (I speak a couple of Nigerian languages and learning to speak some foreign ones at the moment). I cry a lot (whether I am happy, sad, depressed, confused, disappointed, tired, anything, crying is the outlet for me). I love travelling.

Going into Advocacy
I started advocacy when I got pregnant as a teenager. My eyes got opened to the issues that girls face as a result of lack of inadequate sexuality education which leads /can lead to teenage pregnancy among other things. So I started with Sexuality education which was strictly abstinence based. Along the line while developing myself and interacting with young girls, I realised no one is thinking of the young girls that have already debuted sex and how they will wade off unintended pregnancies or unsafe abortions amongst others or just make informed choices.. Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights covers a whole of issues especially issues that we especially as Africans/Nigerians don’t like to talk about or don’t see as an issue such as Menstruation, Female Genital Mutilation, Family Planning, WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene), Consent, Child /Early/Forced Marriage, Rape, Unsafe Abortions and a whole lot. I also work also with individuals and organisations on issues that surround the rights and SRHR of girls and women and policies.

What inspires me
Nature abhors vacuum and a lot of things and people fill the vacuum. A lot of things and people inspire me. I am inspired by positive events as they affect the lives of girls and women Eg policy changes, structures etc. I am inspired by people who are doing something worthwhile and impacting lives positively. I am inspired by children especially their tenacity and persistence. I am inspired by colours

Greatest reward
The greatest reward I have ever gotten for what I do is when I get feedback that what I have taught helped girls and women to make informed choices as it regards their SRHR.

Challenges
In the line of work I have faced and still face criticism from people, brick walls from girls and women whose rights especially their SRHR has been violated when I try to step in, opposition from men who feel they should have the final say in the health and life of women even when the acts are obviously endangering the girls and women involved, , opposition from many religious institutions and leaders who feel some of ‘these’ things should not be talked about by religious leaders or on religious platforms when we seek to include them in sensitization, challenges in getting the police to act swiftly while trying to educate them on existing laws or policies that cover the issues at hand which they tend to mostly see as domestic issues, challenges in interacting with cultures that refuse to see certain acts as issues that violate the rights and SRHR of girls and women and lastly insults from some family members from time to time who always still bring up my experience with teenage pregnancy to judge my work.

My projects
a. A reusable pad sewing hub- teenagers, young mothers are taught how to make reusable pads from clothing materials which are still neat but are no longer used to allow for dignity in periods especially as the price of sanitary pads keep skyrocketing. This way every girl and woman can manage her menstruation hygienically. We also work on issues surrounding menstruation Eg the possibility of Menstrual Leave, engaging policy makers in issues of Menstruation (WASH, availability of menstrual management products etc)

b. Girls Support Club under the umbrella of African Girl Child Development and Support Initiative where girls and recently we have had boys join us to learn and talk about issues that affect girls and boys while growing up and how they can avoid these issues. We run self defence classes against sexual assault, keep a toilet clean, One pack of pad One Girl, Counselling etc as activities under this club. Safe spaces!!!!! This is one project I really really love. As the name implies it is a safe space for women and girls fleeing any form of abuse and a need a space void of judgement and forced opinions to get themselves together or decide on what next to do. I have had to use a safe space myself for sometime to evaluate my options and the way forward. This was born out of the inadequate support people face in abuse especially women where they are expected to stay and pray it out, stay for the kids etc when even as little as small space would have gone a long way to rectifying a lot or saving the person’s life. Presently we use the spare room in my apartment but a place in a highly secured area is being set up for official safe spaces residence and a few friends have also offered their residences as support safe spaces. . Storytelling – recently trained by The Moth on Storytelling, I have began exploring Storytelling in Advocacy and how we can use stories to tell issues in advocacy and SRHR in a bid to reach stakeholders/gatekeepers, policy makers, organizations, individuals and the entire public.

I felt like giving up several times
A time? A time is too small to quantify when I have wanted to give up. I have felt like giving up MANY times, when my finances don’t add up, when all the things I hear on the field keep ringing in my head, when I feel I am not spending enough time with my kids, so many times I have thought of it but then the next day I am at it all over again, Infact most times in the midst of my thoughts, something will just come up and I am back to doing I love doing. I also get encouraged by people.

My view on feminism
Feminism in Nigeria has always been here since the days of our mothers who led and sought out equal opportunities in all areas. Women like Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Margaret Ekpo, Flora Nwapa, Queen Amina, Buchi Emecheta, were all feminists. Despite the misinterpretation and ignorance oof Feminism in Nigeria by many people and its portrayal as women being rebels and not wanting to cook or wanting to put the men under their feet by men and women alike, Feminism in Nigeria is here to stay and we will eventually get it right. Patriarchy and sadly religion has portrayed women as weaker vessels and Nigerians use religion to justify everything, good or bad but eventually we will get it right with adequate sensitization and education of concepts in demanding equal opportunities for females and males in all sectors.

Being a woman of rubies
My contribution to the society advocating for Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights of girls and women and talking about topics that won’t be discussed in my own little corner.

Final word
Women’s rights are human rights. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.



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