“The personal empowerment sessions — the sessions on body image and self-esteem — for me are the most powerful because they are the foundation.  Once you get that confidence in yourself…and you are able to clarify your values, every other thing will follow.”

Pearl Osamudiame, Girls’ Power Initiative (GPI) Programme Facilitator and graduate (pictured, left)

Girls’ Power Initiative (GPI), one of International Women’s Health Coalition’s (IWHC) oldest and most successful partners, was established in 1993 in Nigeria.  Co-founder and Coordinator Grace Osakue and Programme Facilitator and Graduate Pearl Osamudiame (Grace’s daughter) joined the Friends of IWHC on April 30 for breakfast at the IWHC office and a conversation moderated by IWHC’s Caroline Cotter. By sharing their personal memories of GPI, they explained how the organization was created, how it has grown over the course of two decades, its impact on individuals, communities, and the country, as well as what they see in GPI’s future.

Already a part of the women’s movement for many years, Grace and GPI co-Founder Bene Madunagu wanted to accelerate progress towards gender equality in Nigeria by working with girls. Grace and Bene sought out the advice of an IWHC program officer, who helped them to conceive GPI.

From inception, Girls’ Power Initiative was driven by its members—the girls, including Pearl as well as Bene’s daughter.  When Grace and Bene asked them what they wanted to learn, sexuality came up again and again, and eventually became a central theme in the curriculum.  “While working with the girls, the curriculum is always evolving,” Pearl explained. During open-ended “check-ins” girls raise issues that are on their minds and these topics are then integrated into future sessions.  Today it reaches approximately 20,000 girls annually through monthly newsletters, a TV program, school outreach programs, and weekly classes at their centers.

IWHC was GPI’s first funder in 1993.  Unlike some funders that are more interested in what has proven successful, IWHC supports new and innovative programs.  “Working with IWHC has been unique because it’s a relationship; it goes beyond funder/grantee.  IWHC and GPI join hands to come up with the solutions to support GPI’s new visions,” Grace said.  IWHC has also supported GPI’s participation in global policy spaces and development of a track record that has made them attractive to other funders.

From grassroots beginnings, GPI is renowned not only for its own empowerment program for girls, but for its advocacy work to bring sexuality education to middle schools.  Along with other NGOs in Nigeria, GPI has worked closely with state-level ministries of education to prepare teachers for delivering the school-based curriculum, bringing to that work their commitment to girls’ rights and gender equality.  In addition to the empowerment and CSE programs, GPI also provides services for approximately 6,000 vulnerable children, educates parents and communities, trains teachers, and lobbies the government. “To affect the girl we had to go into her family, community, school, etc. in order for the work to be comprehensive,” Grace explained.