Margaret Bolaji

2016 Winner

Position: Associate Researcher
Organization: Population and Reproductive Health Initiative

Margaret Bolaji is a research associate at the Population and Reproductive Health Initiative at the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital in Kaduna State, Nigeria. She is also Vice President of the UNFPA Youth Advisory Group and the youth seat representative on FP2020’s Reference Group. She has served on a youth advisory group to UNFPA in Northern Nigeria to ensure that the priorities of young people in her community are reflected in UNFPA programming, and has spoken publicly on these priorities at the 2016 International Conference on Family Planning and the inaugural Nigerian Summit on Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child, and Adolescent Health (RMNCAH) Accountability.

At just 25, Margaret is an authoritative voice on family planning in Nigeria. Her research, community involvement and work with UNFPA ensure programs reflect the needs of people they serve.

Christopher Elias, President, Global Development Program, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Describe your contributions to and achievements in family planning.

I ensure that the reproductive health rights and development needs of young people in my community by building and strengthening social network among youth especially adolescent girls in Northern Nigerian through mentoring.
Also as the vice president of UNFPA Youth Advisory Group in Northern Nigeria, I ensure that SRH rights and needs of young people in my community are reflected in their programmes.
Through my nongovernmental organization, I organize series of meeting with parents, religious and community leaders to develop community intervention to support adolescents and women’s reproductive health needs.
Through traditional and social media, I create awareness on child birth spacing.
I advocate for girl child education as there is a strong linkage between education and SRH.

What sparked your passion for family planning?

My profound interest in working with marginalized adolescent girls have lead to work with adolescent girls in rural community for over four years. In these communities, I meet with girls who live out the nightmares and consequences of early marriages every day. Because SRHR are not supported and upheld, I see women and girls neglected, frustrated and lost their lives needlessly. This is unacceptable and the reason I have decided to join others to stop it. Family planning services save lives.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your family planning efforts, and what have you done to overcome it?

The biggest challenge I have faced in family planning efforts is resistance of family planning information and service in northern Nigeria by male parents, traditional and community leaders. To overcome this, I intensified community dialogue and engagement with men, traditional and religious leaders. I also advocate for men inclusion in family planning especially as champions.

What is your (country/region/city)’s biggest challenge in family planning, and how can it be addressed?

Family planning is still an extremely sensitive issue in Northern Nigeria. In the rural northern parts of Nigeria, the median age at first birth is 15.2 years. The onset of menarche is often viewed as a sign of readiness for marriage and childbirth. These girls are married and become mothers and coupled with limited access to contraception leading to women and girls with high parity and short birth spacing.
These can be address through empowering girls with ASRH knowledge and accessibility.

What do you want to accomplish in the next 5 years?

In the next five years, I hope to see all women and girls access SRH information and services especially in Northern Nigeria. Its such a big dream but also attainable with a healthy policy that is implemented and monitored.
When women are empowered, we can achieve so much.