I am Alabi Tawakalt Omolara, an entrepreneur from Iwo in Osun State. I am the executive director, Beembz creationz and events, a multi events outfit that caters to everything about events: planning and management, decorations, bridal accessories, catering, baking and confectioneries, professional makeup artistry, bead making, sales and training. I studied French and International Studies at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN). I have a certificate in Journalism from.the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) Training School, Lagos. I am 2017 YALI RLC Fellow; program director, YALI Network Kwara, an on air personality, and a certified digital marketer. I founded the Girls2women Initiatives, a non governmental organization committed to creating safe spaces for women and young girls with a focus on menstrual hygiene management, breast cancer awareness, sexual and reproductive health and rights, skills acquisitions and provision to access to quality education.
Sexual reproductive health is a little broad. We would love you give us a more detailed overview of what it entails and your work in this area.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights is a very vast topic that spans across many sub topics. Within the framework of the World Health Organization’s (WHO), health is defined as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not just the absence of disease or infirmity. Reproductive health, or sexual health/hygiene addresses the reproductive processes, functions and system at all stages of the human life. Reproductive health implies that people are able to have a responsible, satisfying and safer sex life devoid of any form of violence or cohesions and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often they want to do so. This simply implies that men and women should be informed and should have easy access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of birth control; access to appropriate health care services of sexual, reproductive medicine; and implementation of health education programs which will stress the importance of women safely going through pregnancy and childbirth would provide couples with the best chance of having healthy child(ren). But looking at our health care system in Nigeria and especially in the rural communities, we face inequalities in reproductive health services. These Inequalities varies based on socio-economic status, education level, age, ethnicity, religion, and resources available in our environment. It is common knowledge that a low income individual would not have access to the same health care facility as someone from a rich home, the low income earners lacks the resources for accessing appropriate health services and the knowledge to know what is appropriate for maintaining their sexual and reproductive health.
My passion for the girl child led me into working on SRHR and menstrual hygiene mangement, especially those in the rural communities. Many young girls are being sexually molested against their wishes and this is against their sexual rights which gives them the power to decide when they want to copulate with the opposite sex and the right to say NO and be respected. Many are forced into early marriages, with no say in decision making on their reproductive choices. Many do not even know they have such rights; they do not have the knowledge of getting what they want and saying NO to what they do not want. Also, there’s the issue of menstrual hygiene where many of the young girls use unhygienic products for their monthly flow, some have gotten different degrees of infections from this practice and this is really eating deep as a silent problem.
What was your inspiration behind your advocacy for sexual reproductive health and Girls empowerment?.
My Inspiration stems from the fact that i was once a little girl, innocent, ignorant without any knowledge. As a grown up lady who is opportune to be educated and enlightened enough to know there are many young girls out there who are still very ignorant about a lot of things, many just live by the day without any viable plans, no access to education, sound healthcare, employment or handiwork, they end up becoming sex toys for men in exchange for peanuts and in short time, they turn to something different. I have encountered different girls with different problems and all these experiences has helped me chart a course of action, I identified what the problems are, proffer solutions and sustainable measures that would help us keep the solutions in place for a longer period of time. We sensitize the women and girls on SRHR, menstrual hygiene management, train some of them on how to make the reusable sanitary pads, sell to them at a very affordable price, then we engage them in skills acquisitions, after this, we encourage them to learn to save money as a group and as an individual, we get interested sponsors who are willing to empower the trainees with grants to kick start their businesses and projects as the case may be,this helps keep them occupied and productive, they in turn also transfer their knowledge and train other interested women an girls.
You are the Founder of Girls2Women Initiative and also an event planner by profession. How do you juggle your work as an event planner with the demands of your initiative?
Event management and planning is very taxing job. It requires too much commitment and timing, but then, when you are doing something you are passionate about, working aound it will be so easy. Thankfully, I train women and girls on everything I do, so it makes navigation very easy for me while training them, I engage them on social outings for them to also learn much faster in real time settings, each manning their areas of expertise, and, when we are not on the field for any engagements, we are in our training rooms. it’s not been easy but dedication and commitment has kept me going. Also, I have wonderful G2win team members who are capable of holding the forth even in my absence. They are a group of selfless volunteers who share my vision and are committed to working with me all the way; this also makes things way easier for me to navigate.
What are the biggest challenges, you’ve faced with the girl child?
During the course of my advocacy journey, I have been faced with numerous challenges, simple ones and very hard ones that, sometimes, the thought of quiting flashes. Sometimes I get strict oppositions from the people we are trying to help, Due to their beliefs or religion, tribe and age, and when this happens, it can be very frustrating.
There was a particular incident that happened some time last year. We went to a remote village to sensitize them on menstrual hygiene management. On getting there, we discovered 80% of the girls are not educated. Asking why, we were told it’s because the fathers felt they will eventually end up in a man’s kitchen so educating them is a waste of resources, so by the age of 8, they are betrothed to a man they will marry. While trying to reach out to the girls, one of them said it is their tradition and asked why we want to change it. These girls vehemently refused to even listen to what my team and I had to say. A young girl around the age of 10 was heavily pregnant and had never even been to a hospital. She was on herbs and local concoctions. One of our volunteer doctors offered to conduct a test for her but she refused. We tried all we could to get through to them but nothing worked. Sadly, a few days later, the girl died due to complications during childbirth. One of the mothers re-invited us and we went back. We were able to get through to a few of them, got them admitted in school with scholarships, trained them to be self-sustained, and also sensitized them on SRHR. Sometimes challenges come from the parents and even the host communities who sometimes feels like we trying to turn their daughters/wives against them.
You said you have impacted over 2,000 girls. With a number that large, is there a means for follow up to ensure the impact actually lasts and isn’t only momentary? If yes, how do you do this?
When I first started the advocacy journey, I knew nothing about sustainability or impacts evaluation. I just went on outreaches and left. The YALI RLC training and other capacity programs I took part in opened my eyes and helped me structure my organization’s activities. Currently, we do not just sensitize and train. We engage in various follow up activities that helps us ensure we have long term impact. After the health sensitizations, we launched girls health clubs in schools and local commmunities, where this young girls come together once a week with the presence of one or two volunteers. The health clubs initiative has helped us achieve more with the girls and other participants. The platform helps them become more aware of their health and needs, also strengthening bonds and relationship between the participants.
Also, in the empowerment scheme, there are proper follow ups with each and everyone of the participants and beneficiaries. After projects, we still keep a check on the implentation of resources and the knowledge they’ve gained.
How can the opposite sex become more involved in this work?
Last week, I was having a conversation with a mentor where she spoke about the neglect of the boy child, forgetting the boy child has a central role in making the girl child advocacy a successful one. Now, we are engaging the opposite sex as well. There is a plan to have a arm under G2win which will focus on issues affecting the boy child and we intend to raise ambaasadors and boy child advocates. So yes, men are also getting involved now and hopefully very soon we will have a safer community where we can all co-habit without any form of fear, intimidation or acts of violence whatsoever.
What’s your message to the Girl Child?