Calabar Youth Council for Women’s Rights is fighting to end female genital mutilation in all communities across Nigeria
My name is Kennedy Ekezie-Joseph and I am a 20 year-old youth activist from Nigeria. As a global leader, I constantly seek to liberate disadvantaged individuals and groups through positive and empathic social activism. I am currently a student at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Calabar, Nigeria, and I am the founder of the Calabar Youth Council for Women’s Rights: a non-profit organization that creates awareness and advocates for the rights of Nigerian women in the areas of female genital mutilation, gender-based violence and rape.
In recognition of my work, the “We Are Family Foundation” (WAFF) selected me as a 2017 Global Teen Leader. I have also been recognized by President Obama’s “Young African Leaders Initiative” (YALI), by the U.N. Youth Assembly and I have spoken about my work across dozens of platforms including a TED talk event. I also was very recently selected by Queen Elizabeth of England as the winner of the 2018 “Queen's Young Leaders Award”. In the long run, I aspire to become the youngest President of Nigeria, with the desire to strengthening Nigeria’s foreign policy and implementing policies that will enable Nigeria to achieve its full potential in the coming years.
I have a specific interest in exploring access to rights for women, especially in the context of the Nigerian society where women are denied their rights for arbitrary cultural reasons. I founded the Calabar Youth Council for Women’s Rights (CYCWR) in 2014 as a non-profit that advocates for the rights of women in the areas of female genital mutilation, domestic abuse, forced child marriage, and access to education for girls. The CYCWR targets rural community members, to educate them on the dangers of gender-based violence, to change their perspectives through intervention programs. We work with the government to domesticate anti-female genital mutilation laws in communities in Cross River State through programs that target young people, school children, and the parents - who are the custodians of culture. We also educate to eradicate the menstrual stigma that girls on their period experience in schools and communities. More than 72 percent of the 53 million girls that live in Nigeria cannot afford to buy menstrual products; so, we have started to provide pads and tampons to girls who are at risk of dropping out of school only because they can’t afford these products. Furthermore, we distribute menstrual products to female prisoners who are not provided tampons and are at risk of contracting life-threatening infections when they are menstruating. Our work has ended female genital mutilation in over 200 communities in Africa.
The process of founding the CYCWR was challenging: we were violently attacked numerous times and accused of “radicalizing” girls. Despite the despair and social stigma that I have experienced for being a male advocating for women’s rights in a conservative society, I am still resolute, because I believe in the ethical underpinnings of social justice and the power of a culture of peace as a requisite for the growth of the individual and society. We are starting to see a huge cultural shift. The dreadful violence against women and girls is diminishing. It is amazing to see people who had lost hope become empowered. It inspires me to stay determined.
In the future, we hope to expand the activities of CYCWR to all countries in Africa, and from there, scale to other parts of the world, especially to Asia and North America.
In case I should win, the prize money would go out to fund our newly launched leadership initiative which seeks to build leaders out of survivors of female genital mutilation and gender-based violence, by engaging them in a year-long leadership building training program. Here, they will be paired with a mentor and assigned to organizations for internships, in order to gain the professional experience that will enable them to become leaders and end the cycle of hardship and personal suffering that has plagued them for so long.
Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV