By Abdulrazaq Alkali, Rise Up Leader since 2016 and Co-founder of Young Mothers Forum
In this series of stories celebrating 10 years of rising up for global impact, Rise Up Leaders discuss Rise Up’s role in their personal journeys as advocates for the rights of girls, youth, and women.
I was born and brought up in a conservative Muslim society in Kano City where issues of reproductive health services are not freely discussed, and access to these services for women in the community is limited by religious and cultural misconceptions. Early in my career, I joined a NGO working on youth-friendly reproductive health services and modern contraceptives. I started as the internal auditor of the organization due to my educational background in finance. I was also the management information system officer for the organization supporting the project manager with data collection at the health facility level. I visited health facilities every month to collect statistics on clients who received our services and to spend time with the service providers to help identify their challenges. My visits usually involved reviewing referrals for family planning as well as prenatal and postnatal sessions. This work exposed me to difficulties that women went through during and after pregnancy.
I was inspired by the strength, courage, and positivity of the women demanding the family planning services they dearly need for their own health, children, and the wellbeing of their family. The challenges they faced and the good sense of humor they displayed when forced to follow the established protocol of bringing a consent letter signed by their husband, even though the protocol violated their fundamental human rights, was a real lesson and turning point in my life, and I felt I had to do something to change the situation. I have since been inspired to pursue advocacy and other community interventions to support women’s voices in the community and in family decision making.
Being a Rise Up Leader has been a game-changer for me in how I approach challenges around social issues. I am now more energized, passionate, and focused on creating high impact advocacy. I learned that addressing the challenges of women’s reproductive health rights cannot be achieved without addressing the root causes and policy gaps in our system. That was exactly what the Rise Up Leadership and Advocacy Accelerator taught me. I now better understand that policies do not succeed or fail on their own merits; rather their progress depends upon the process of implementation and strategy adopted by its advocates.
Currently, I am working to increase the budgetary allocation for family planning contraceptives in Kano state to enable women of reproductive age to choose to build a stable, healthy, and manageable family size. I am working in collaboration with women advocates to make sure mothers are always at the table and fully represented in policy decisions on matters that affect them the most, including maternal health, family planning, child nutrition, and routine immunization.
So far I have succeeded in conceiving and supporting the idea and establishment of Young Mothers Forum in Kano, an advocacy platform aimed at strengthening women’s voices in health policies and family well-being decisions. I will know I am successful when the voices of the Forum are heard on policy matters in a male-dominated society.
My hope for the future is for Rise Up Leaders to create a critical mass of advocates with a shared vision to work on intersecting issues and make the lives of women better in Nigeria, and all over the world.