For Olaoluwa and Advocacy, it was love at first sight. At the tender age of 13, she became a member of the Youth Parliament and had never looked back since then. In this interview, she talks about, the Girls Pride Circle, and her heartbeat for health, right and wellbeing of girls and women in Nigeria and Africa at large. Excerpts:

Tell us more about Girl Pride Circle Initiative and what has been some of your major successes?

I have been an advocate for girls’ rights for as long as I can remember. This was fueled by my exposure to advocacy and community organizing for child rights when I was selected to join the Nigerian Children’s Parliament at the tender age of 13. After being exposed to the peculiar issues that the average Nigerian girl child confronts, it did not take long before I realized that my heart beats for the health, rights and well-being of girls and women. In 2014, as an undergraduate law student with no funding, team or partnership, I decided to take the bold step to establish Girl Pride Circle Initiative. Essentially, the organization was birthed as a result of my commitment to raising a dynamic generation of adolescent girls who are unapologetic about advocating for their rights and are equipped with the requisite leadership skills to transform their communities.

Girl Pride Circle is a registered NGO in Nigeria, geared towards advocating for girls’ rights to education, equal opportunities and violence-free communities. Through our after-school education clubs and community workshops, we also educate girls about leadership, sexual and reproductive health/rights and advocacy, reaching over 1,700 adolescent girls across Southwest Nigeria. A major achievement was mobilizing 270 adolescent girls to draft an unprecedented community action plan for the prevention of sexual violence in Alimosho – the largest Local Government Area in Lagos Nigeria with up to 2,000,000 inhabitants. This action plan was adopted by the Sole Administrator of the Local Government in 2017 and is currently in the hands of over 1,500 community leaders, guiding local interventions for the prevention of sexual violence against adolescent girls. We have also produced an advocacy documentary “Echoes of Hope” which brings forward the voices of young survivors of sexual violence in Lagos State. This documentary has reached over 11,000 individuals in Lagos, including members of the Lagos State House of Assembly, officers of the Lagos State Police Command and the Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.

Nigeria’s patriarchal systems sometimes wittingly or otherwise promote gender-based violence; what has been your experience working in the country?

In engaging with community members and policy makers, I have found that patriarchy is so deeply rooted in the Nigerian society and sometimes propagated by women who should be standing against it and protecting the dignity of other women/girls. For instance, during an advocacy meeting with some high-level police officers, I was shocked to hear a female officer allude to the dressing of some adolescent girls as an indication that they are “asking to be violated” because men are “moved by what they see”. I was eventually relieved when a male officer challenged her statement and vehemently disagreed with her. Also, when my organization launched basic taekwondo classes at our education clubs to boost our girls’ confidence and build their self-defense skills, we received backlash from some male teachers at one school. They felt girls had no business learning Taekwondo due to the widely accepted stereotype that girls should be seen and not heard. It took a lot of compromise and negotiation for my team to ensure that the school authorities did not put a stop to the classes. Any modicum of belief that women and girls are in any way inferior is an endorsement of gender-based violence. It is these kinds of stereotypes that make room for harmful and distasteful practices like child marriage, female genital mutilation and domestic/sexual violence. Shattering patriarchal beliefs and systems is the silver bullet to ending GBV.

Working with 270 Adolescent girls, you drafted an Action Plan for the prevention of Sexual Violence against girls and young women in a community; do you intend to promote this at a national level?

The community action plan drafted by our girls for Alimosho Local Government remains a proud milestone in my advocacy journey. Even though adolescent girls are a vulnerable population susceptible to sexual violence, advocacy efforts and solutions do not usually capture their unique and relevant perspectives. We were able to show that adolescent girls’ have the full capacity to lead and that listening to girls’ authentic voices holds a lot of potentials for development. The project (Safe Kicks Initiative: Adolescent Girls Against Sexual Violence) was a huge success due to the seed funding allocated to us by Women Deliver – an advocacy organization based in New York. With the requisite support, it is a project that my team is ready to scale nationally.

With the near absence of dependable data that can help in tracking progress, how do we measure the successes thus far of the Sustainable Development Goals in the continent?

Really, to measure our success in achieving the SDGs, there are no shortcuts. The continent needs to invest in collecting data, through diverse and creative ways. Apart from quantitative data, we also need to measure beliefs and attitudes across communities. In terms of health, gender equality, economic participation and justice we need to pay attention to gaps in our systems and assess our performance from a place of integrity. To do this effectively, it is important for every individual to take responsibility for the success of the SDGs. Thankfully, all the goals have specific targets and indicators. A great starting point is for us to actively engage in holding our governments accountable for them.

Africa is home to the world’s youngest population with about 60% of her young people within the ages of 18-25, and projected to double by the year 2050; what do you think is the implication of a growing population without a commensurate growth in jobs and employment opportunities?

Widespread poverty, unemployment, inequality and a widening youth bulge is a recipe for disaster. Across the continent, we already feel the devastating effects of fraud (Online scams in particular) violent crimes and terrorism. We also know that a large number of youths are gravitating towards several social vices, like drug abuse. Rather than investing in quick fixes, the time has come for Africa to be intentional about empowering young people and supporting us with youth-friendly economic policies as well as the resources we need to thrive.

What are the talking points for you during EDD program for 2018?

At EDD 2018, I will be speaking on Plan Internationals auditorium session “Amplifying girls’ and women’s voices in the global movement for gender equality”. For me, it will definitely not be a “talk shop” where we come together to simply rehash the unwholesome statistics on women/girls’ human rights – the world is already familiar with that. Rather, my focus will be on putting a spotlight on the opportunities to include girls’ dynamic voices in the global feminist movement. Drawing from my work in Nigeria, I will be putting forward recommendations that the global community can adopt to ensure that girls and young women are at the centre of advocacy efforts and interventions to protect their health, rights and well-being. Many thanks to the European Commission for the opportunity to participate in EDD 2018 as a Young Leader for Development.

How would you say your project is helping to favorably influence policies and also create awareness in Nigeria?

In our advocacy work, Girl Pride Circle engages community gatekeepers and other strategic agencies that influence policy and decision making for girls’ rights – such as the Police, Local Government, and Legislature. We provide these individuals and agencies with recommendations and input from adolescent girls, who are routinely excluded from these decision-making platforms. Most importantly, we support adolescent girls to engage in advocacy for their rights within their small pockets of influence.

There has been a clamor for opening up of the space for more young people in Africa’s political scene; do you see this as part of the solution to the continents’ leadership challenge?

With the energy, innovation and vibrancy that the African youth represents, there is no gain saying that youth inclusion in political leadership is the way to go. Also, inclusion is a core democratic principle and the continent cannot boast of true Democracy without making room for young people at the table. As young people, we also have to be clear that being trusted to lead our communities in any capacity is not a “favor” done for us. Hence, it is up to us to reject all forms of tokenism and rise up to leadership with a huge sense of responsibility and integrity.