The Ford Foundation has a keen interest in empowering women by expanding reproductive rights. But it's particularly attuned to the sexual and reproductive challenges facing young women, which makes a lot of sense, especially in Nigeria. Women in that country now have the highest fertility rate in the world, bearing 7.5 children on average.
The Ford Foundation recently awarded Medical Women’s Association of Nigeria (MWAN) a $120,000 grant for a project that addresses the reproductive health needs of young, out-of-school women in Rivers State in Nigeria.
Ford targets a number of West African regions in its grantmaking, but Nigeria is a primary area of focus for many reasons. The country has the largest population in all of Africa—one likely to reach a billion by 2100 if current fertility rates continue—and it also boasts the largest economy in West Africa.
Gender inequality is a major challenge in Nigeria. In the Niger Delta, gender inequality is compounded by the competition for oil among various ethnic groups, which often leads to violence. Making matters worse is the waning ability of women to earn any sort of income from agriculture since the oil companies moved in around the mid-1960s. When oil production ramped up, waterways were polluted and much agriculturally viable land was destroyed. Women who are unable to earn money are unable to pay for the tuition and fees for their daughters to attend school.
Non-enrollment in school is a significant problem, and often leads to early pregnancies. In certain Delta regions, approximately 43 to 55 percent of out-of-school girls ages 10 to 24 reported having been pregnant compared to just five to 14 percent of in-school girls.
Ford’s Gender, Sexuality and Reproductive Justice program engages in significant grantmaking worldwide and, as we said, youth is a big focus. Last year, the foundation awarded around $14 million on youth SRHR issues, compared to $11 million on the promotion of reproductive rights and just over $4 million on protecting women’s rights.
It should be noted that this program also awards grants for LGBT rights and HIV/AIDS anti-discrimination projects.