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Exclusive – celebrating Women’s Month with Wadi Ben-Hirki

This Women’s Month, we spoke to women’s rights activist and young entrepreneur Wadi Ben-Hirki about the work she is doing through her foundation to improve opportunities, education, and the livelihoods of young girls and women in Nigeria. 

In a world marked by gender disparity and injustice, Wadi Ben-Hirki and the work of her foundation are a beacon of hope, striving to improve the livelihoods and opportunities for women and girls in Northern Nigeria.

Though International Women’s Month is often seen as a time to reflect on how far we’ve come as a society, for Wadi, the month of March requires more than recognising historical figureheads or the work of prominent female activists.

She believes it is a testament to the resilience and worth of every woman, regardless of background or circumstance.

‘Women’s Month is a time to celebrate every single woman regardless of her background or her identity, who she is, what she looks like, or where she comes from. It’s a time where every woman should be celebrated and where every woman should celebrate herself.’

This sentiment is echoed throughout the work of the Wadi Ben-Hirki Foundation which has been working to empower and change the lives of young women and girls in Nigeria for almost a decade.

Sitting down in conversation, we learned about her journey, her foundation’s mission, and the challenges that lie ahead in the pursuit of gender equality.


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Wadi’s decision to create change in her community took root at a tender age.

During school years, Wadi witnessed many of her peers forced into child marriage when their parents – living in extreme poverty – could not afford to house, feed, or educate their daughters.

She explains that child marriage is commonly viewed as the only way to give young girls the potential to have a better life across [Northern] Nigeria. Reflecting on learning first-hand how socioeconomic disparities can cut the lives and destinies of so many young women short, Wadi says:

‘Growing up, I did not have everything, but one thing I’m thankful for is that my parents always strived to give us opportunities – despite all the challenges and obstacles. They didn’t mind selling the last thing they owned to give us a better quality of life.’

Recognising that this was not the reality for so many of her agemates, Wadi felt compelled to make a change.

‘I was still young myself, but I knew that it [child marriage] was wrong. I realised that I was in a position where I could speak for the thousands and millions of others who don’t have that opportunity,’ says Wadi.

Insurgencies are also common in Northern Nigeria, with the most notorious militant group Boko Haram kidnapping more than 270 young girls from their school dormitory in the Northeastern area of Chibok Town in 2014, among other unfortunate incidents.

‘To many, these girls seem like statistics or numbers, but they have names, identities, and dreams,’ says Wadi. ‘I know that I can’t solve all the world’s problems or even every problem in my community, but what pushed me was knowing that I could improve the lives of even 10 or 20 people by doing something.’


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These experiences led to the establishment of the Wadi Ben-Hirki Foundation in 2015. The foundation aims to uplift women and children through education and empowerment.

Central to the foundation’s work are initiatives like Girls Not Wives and SHEROES, which tackle pressing issues such as child marriage and gender-based violence.

Through sensitization, education, and empowerment programs, Wadi and her team provide vital support to vulnerable girls, offering scholarships, skills training, and access to essential resources.

‘We go to communities and we partner with stakeholders to sensitize people to the issues related to child marriage and lack of education,’ Wadi explains.

‘This includes community gatekeepers, such as women’s leaders, the local chiefs, and anyone who may be extremely influential in the community. We try to get them on board because these individuals are respected as important figureheads, which makes it easier to change the people’s way of thinking positively.’


With a core team of six and over a hundred dedicated volunteers, the foundation operates on a principle of collective action that begins with a community assessment and is tailored to what those in each area need most.

‘Often, we educate them on child marriage and encourage them not to marry off their girls. Then we back it up with empowerment programs, teaching them skills, as well as scholarships and seed funding to start their own businesses.’

Planting the vital seeds for self-sufficiency is a key part of what the Wadi Ben-Hirki Foundation strives for.

‘You can’t just say, “Oh, don’t marry off your girls” because they will say, “Then what do we do?” Wadi explains. ‘So, we match supporting and empowering them with educating them. We also ensure we communicate with people we’re helping in local languages.’

Despite an array of challenges, from limited resources to cultural barriers, Wadi remains undeterred, driven by a deep-rooted conviction that change is possible, one life at a time.

‘Seeing what happens to girls and women, particularly in communities affected by extreme poverty and cultural practices like child marriage, is heart-breaking,’ she says. ‘But amid all the despair, there are moments of hope—girls reclaiming their futures and being empowered to chart their own paths.’

‘For me, it’s not the number of people that we help, but the quality of intervention and impact,’ she adds.

When asked about the success of her foundation, Wadi shies from placing an exact measure on her accomplishments. ‘Success is a big word and it means different things to different people,’ she says. ‘But I know what success is for me.’

‘Success is when we visit communities and villages where empowerment programs and seed funding have been granted through our foundation. It’s also seeing girls and women with their confidence restored, seeing them make better choices for themselves.’

Looking ahead, Wadi envisions a future where her foundation’s impact extends far beyond Nigeria’s borders. However, she emphasises the importance of sustainability and community ownership in scaling up initiatives locally.

Through her registered business, Range The Brand, Wadi seeks to broaden her advocacy’s reach, promoting positivity and empowerment through wearable branded merchandise such as t-shirts, tote bags, keyrings, cocopieces, and more.

‘I always had this support system of positive affirmations from my parents, siblings, and friends who were cheering me on, and me doing the same for them,’ says Wadi.

‘I wanted to expand this community by recruiting “Rangers” – those who spread these encouraging messages to other people in society when they wear items from Range The Brand.’

In her vision for the future, Wadi emphasises the need for systemic change:

‘I would love to expand the work of the foundation across neighbouring countries and eventually globally. But it’s crucial that we first focus on sustaining our impact on a local scale and ensuring that our interventions are replicable and adaptable to diverse contexts.’

As the interview draws to a close, Wadi issues a compelling call to action.

While men and boys have a vital role to play in advancing gender equality, she emphasises the need for genuine collaboration and dialogue. ‘Nothing about us without us,’ she asserts, urging society to include women’s voices in important conversations about gender equality so that we can work collectively towards a more equitable future.

Wadi’s message resonates far beyond the confines of the interview, echoing the sentiments of countless women and girls worldwide.

As Wadi’s journey continues, so too does her impact, inspiring generations to join her in the fight for a world where every woman and girl is afforded the dignity, respect, and opportunity she deserves.