To effectively empower women and girls, it is important to make commitments to invest in girls’ education especially at primary and secondary levels because education is a critical factor in achieving gender equality and eventually empowering girls’ to contribute to social change in their communities in addition to improving their well-being. The Convention on the Rights of Children and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women establish education as a basic human right. Gender inequality in education and other sectors affects both boys and girls however girls are at a bigger disadvantage than boys and this limits them from realizing their full potential.
Evidence gathered over the years shows that although the ratio of girls to boys enrolled in school has increased especially with the advent of universal primary education and universal secondary education, major gaps that prevent girls from completing school exist. Girls continue to miss out of school due to poverty, cultural barriers, early marriages, and teenage pregnancies, poor menstrual hygiene management facilities including separate latrines for girls, sexual harassment, and violence at school as well as overload of domestic work.
Investing in girls’ education not only benefits girls but has multiplier effects that benefit the community and nation at large. Girls who complete school are more likely to marry later in life, have fewer and healthier children. Statistics show that a girl who stays in school is six times more likely not to marry young. Additionally, girls’ stay in school decreases HIV infections and increases girls’ and women participation in decision making processes thereby increasing gender equality.
To ensure investment in girls’ education, there is urgent need to provide equal access to education by developing gender-sensitive learning environments for girls by prioritizing training teachers in gender-sensitive teaching approaches. Educating boys and men about gender equality and engaging them in promoting girls’ and women’s’ rights is an important strategy that has not been effectively taken into consideration yet it could contribute to lasting change in the fight for gender equality. The Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Sports should monitor the implementation of the menstrual hygiene guidelines especially the provision of separate latrines for girls and availability of water. Additionally, the Ministry should eliminate all hidden education costs to ensure that all children especially girls attain free and quality education. Emphasis also needs to be put on supporting girls’ to develop life skills to be able to negotiate safer and healthier options and to speak confidently about the issues that concern them.
Not forgetting parents, they should be supported to take an upper hand in investing in girls’ education because they have a fundamental responsibility of ensuring that their children get knowledge, skills and opportunities to create a better, brighter future for themselves and everyone around them. They should also groom their boys to value girls’ contribution early in life.
The social, economic and political development of the country is largely dependent on the investment made in girls with particular emphasis on education. Therefore, a joint strategy engaging all key players in investing in girls’ education needs to be prioritized.
By Anne Nattembo
Child marriage is a major human right violation. Despite the existing laws against the practices remains widespread. Child marriage often occurs on poor rural communities. These marriages are often organized by older relatives. Once this girl is married, she is left out of school, separated from her peers, is more likely to be a victim of domestic violence and could suffer complications related to early activity and child bearing.
According to the International Centre for Research on Women, if the current child marriage trends continue, 142 million girls will be married off in the next decade. These statistics are very worrying and call for urgent and sustainable solutions. It is important to note the girls that are more vulnerable to child marriage if effective solutions are to be put in place. Girls living in poor households are almost twice as likely to marry before 18 years than girls in higher income households. In these households, child marriage is often seen as a way to provide for their daughter’s future. But girls who marry young are more likely to be poor and remain poor.
Despite these challenges, a number of opportunities to end child marriage exist. Child marriage limits young girls’ skills, resources, knowledge, social support, mobility and autonomy. Young married girls have little power in relation to their husbands and in-laws and this makes them very vulnerable to domestic violence and other forms of abuse. Education for instance is an important factor in ending child marriage because girls with higher levels of education are less likely to marry before 18 than girls with lower education levels. Ensuring girl-child retention in school in addition to high quality education will lift girls’ income-earning potential as well as their socio-economic status.
Straight Talk Foundation (STF) is at the forefront of exposing the harm of child marriage thereby contributing to its eradication. Through a number of initiatives Straight Talk Foundation is rising community awareness to stand up against child marriage especially the young people. For example young people are encouraged to join Straight Talk clubs where they share experiences on curbing early marriages in their communities by sharing information from the Straight Talk and Young Talk Newspapers. During school visits, STF trains young people in life skills to help raise their esteem and assertiveness to be able to stand up against such harmful practices. STF also trains communities and young people in income generating activities to help them form self-sufficient livelihoods.
“My parents decided that I drop out of school to get married. They arranged a man for me. I took a Young Talk Newspaper talking about the dangers of early marriage. But my mother said she got married early and nothing happened to her. I asked her if she had a job and was happy with her life but she did not respond. I left home because the pressure was too much to get married. I started to do small jobs to support myself at school. One of my teachers also offered me support,” Napeyok Mariam.
“Since P 1, I have never slept on a mattress. My aunt gave me a sack which I use as a mattress and blanket at school. Children laugh at me because I sleep in a sack. People in my village have advised me to get married but I know what I want. I will continue sleeping in that sack till I get what I want,” Napeyok Gloria.
As we work hard to end child marriage, we must also increase support towards young girls who are already married by particularly providing family planning and maternal health services. This is largely because young married girls have limited bargaining power to use contraceptives in addition to limited access to sexual reproductive health information and services. Limited access to these services exposes these girls to higher rates of maternal mortality and morbidity. Ending child marriage will greatly contribute to a more educated and economically empowered community as well as giving a chance to girls to fulfill their potential.
Hi! My name is Alex Long and I’m an Australian Red Cross volunteer working with Straight Talk Foundation for 9 months until June 2015. My role here is as Youth Project Officer working mainly with the Training and Development department. I started working with young people many years ago as a high school teacher. I taught English as a Second Language and French in several Sydney high schools. I love working with young people because of their energy and resilience….and because they always make me laugh!
What am I working on in 2015?
This year my work will focus on lots of training and workshops. Initially I will be supporting the management team to implement and train staff in a new Child Protection Policy. For the rest of my assignment I will be strengthening staff capacity in areas such as gender sensitive facilitation, leadership and sustaining creativity in writing; and supporting staff to implement youth engagement programs through Straight Talk clubs and other youth events. It’s going to be a busy year but I know it will be worthwhile!
I am able to work here in Uganda because of an Australian Government volunteer initiative run through the Australian Red Cross. The Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program was launched in 2011 and works with around 1200 partner organisations in over 40 countries in Africa, the Pacific, Asia and the Middle East. These organisations are already making an impact in their own communities, whether it is delivering health and education services or advocating for human rights. AVID volunteers do not replace local jobs; instead we work to strengthen the activities of our partner organisations.
Thank you to Straight Talk Foundation for hosting me as a volunteer and supporting me on this incredible adventure. Thank you to my knowledgeable colleagues for your laughter and friendship, for teaching me so many things about sexual and reproductive health as well as answering my endless questions! The work that you do here in Uganda is so valuable and I am in awe of your dedication to young people and their well being. ”
By Alex Long
A visually impaired young girl reads a Straight Talk braille issue
The Convention on the Rights of Person Living with Disabilities identifies persons with disabilities as those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment which may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others. Persons with disability experience stigma and maginalisation in many service areas. Women and girls with disability are often victims of gender violence which predisposes them to HIV infection. People with disabilities are less likely to find partners; which fuels the attitude some of them have to sex being a chance and not a choice.
It is however important to note that young people with disabilities have the same sexual reproductive health needs as other people. Negative attitudes in society including health care providers, misconceptions and myths surrounding young people with disabilities also compound the challenges they face in accessing information and services.
Straight Talk Foundation (STF) has since 2009 been working with young people with disabilities through mainstreaming disability in its existing Behavior Change Communication approaches.
Straight Talk produces 2 braille issues of Young Talk and Straight Talk with a print run of 180 copies per issue. These target children and young people with visual impairment who are in school.
- STF also carries out peer education trainings to build capacities of deaf adolescents as peer educators.
- STFs youth centers carry out home visits to provide reproductive health and HIV prevention services to adolescents with mobility challenges.
- Outreaches to institutions with learners who have special needs.
- Advocacy in selected districts and referrals to other partners for service provision.
By and large, disability needs to be prioritized on the national agenda to be able to empower young people with disabilities to make informed decisions just like their peers. There is also need to form more partnerships to extend these services to more young people with disabilities. Provision of sexual reproductive health information and services should be an integral part of all development initiatives. Although the needs of young people are often neglected, disability should be everyone’s business and integrated in all programs with sexual reproductive health information and service provision.
By Anne Nattembo
What Influences Pupils in My School to Drink Alcohol and How Alcohol Is Affecting Pupils in My School
Alcohol is a huge problem hindering the youth’s life especially in schools today. Pupils at my school come from different areas and many of these come from the slum areas. Most slum areas are occupied by bars and nightclubs. As a result, many pupils get exposed to every type of alcohol like Vodka, Guinness, Tusker, Club and many others. Akello used to stay in Mukono with her parents but ever since they shifted to Kisenyi, she has been exposed to alcohol due to the surrounding nightclubs and bars whereby she is now a victim of alcoholism.
In addition, pupils who come from families with alcoholic backgrounds are influenced to drink alcohol. Mr. Twahah a tenant at Kawala-Kasubi is a truck driver who also stays with a 14 year old son, Abdullah. It was a Saturday morning when Mr. Twahah was heading to work and his son escorted him while carrying his luggage since he was going on safari to South Sudan. Mr. Twahah had to use a truck as his means of transport since he was a truck driver. When he reached the truck he had to open for Abdullah to put his father’s luggage on the truck. Mr. Twahah accidentally opened the door where bottles off alcohol were next to the driver’s seat. This left his son so astonished and in a glint of a second, he had to ask his father what he had to do with the bottles. He started stammering and answered with fear that he drinks alcohol; during the day to keep him alert while working. Since Abdullah’s father was his role model, he started drinking alcohol in order to be like his father and yet he was still a pupil; under the age of 18.
Junior is a pupil who stays with only his elder brothers who are alcohol addicts. Whenever they are preparing to go a live concert like “Amaaso-Ntuga” by Goodlyfe, he makes sure that he follows them as well; expecting nothing at the concert but alcohol. Due to peer pressure many pupils also dash in to make wrong choices when choosing friends and end up with alcohol addicted friends who introduce them to alcohol.
Uneducative series and movies that contain alcoholic practices for example people competing for alcohol. Ssekakmatte Julian is a good fan of movies and series. One day he watched a movie called “Twenty One and Over” where high school students were competing to see who drunk lot of alcohol and whoever finished first was given a brand new car. As the saying goes that “Africans believe in seeing,” Julian who was as eager as a bridegroom to taste alcohol had to steal from his mother’s safe since he knew where she keeps money. He went straight away to the nearby shop and bought sachets of vodka which he took and got drunk. By the time his mother, Ndiwalana, came back from work, she found her son unconscious due to the excessive alcohol he had drunk and was lying on the cold hard ground. His mother had to scream for help from neighbors who helped her rush her 13 year old boy who had just joined Senior one to the hospital. Fortunately, Julian was able to regain his coconsciousness and was advised not to take alcohol again.
Our neighbor’s daughter well known as Namakula Susan went to the night clubs with her friend. By the time she left the bar, she went alone and was staggering along side Bwasie road. This is where a car that was at a very highs speed knocked her down and as a result, this led to her death. Joan who was her friend got tired and wanted to go home was well. She looked for the way out of the bar and could not find it and she ended up in the bathroom where very strong men found her and defiled her and this is a point where she was extremely helpless since she could neither scream nor cry out for help. She got an unwanted pregnancy which lead to her dropping out of school. At the time, she had just been promoted to senior two. She was taken for a blood test by one of her friends and was found infected with HIV/AIDS. This ruined her entire life which led to abortion. By this time, she was left with no other option but to commit suicide which she did.
Just as I narrated Abdullah’s story earlier, he got addicted to alcohol because of his father which caused mental illness to him that he stated undressing in public and speaking in tongues. He could no longer think like a normal human being so he was finally taken to Butabika Hospital in Luzira for the rest of his life. Abdullah’s father died one year later when he had realized that his son was taken to Butabika Hospital and he died of liver cancer which is caused by excessive alcoholism.
In conclusion, I would suggest that alcohol should be banned in the whole world because it is one of the problems that is decreasing human population in the present situation. If this cannot be done, then the consent age of alcohol consumption a must be raised from 18 to 25 years.
LONDON COLLEGE NANSANA
The Winner of the Red Card Under Age Alcohol Consumption Quiz
Integrate sexual and reproductive health into enterprise development and skills building initiatives for young people
Young people in Uganda face diverse sexual and reproductive health challenges that have both immediate and lasting consequences on their health, education and income-earning potential. Among these, unplanned pregnancy stands out as one of the most significant reproductive health challenges young people face. Unplanned pregnancy is devastating not only for the girl but also for the community and the country as a whole.
While various programs have been implemented to address the sexual and reproductive health issues of young people in school, unfortunately their counterparts who are out of school have not been adequately targeted with sexual and reproductive health information and services. This is mostly so in the case of girls and young women, who often drop out of school at an early age due to various social and economic factors including pregnancy.
For many young people aged 15-24 years, who are out of school, engaging in small business is one of the ways they try to make a living. Because they are not in touch with formal education structures, they tend to have limited knowledge about their sexuality and reproductive health, making them particularly vulnerable to sexual and reproductive health challenges.
For instance, research shows that many young people have wrong information about sexual reproductive health issues. According to a baseline study by Straight Talk Foundation and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in 2013, 54 percent of young people believe that a girl cannot get pregnant the first time she has unprotected sex. Most young people in business are already sexually active and yet have limited information about family planning and sexually transmitted infections. In addition they tend not to have responsible and positive health seeking behaviors; because of ignorance about the availability of services, distance to the health center and absence of youth friendly services.
As these young people venture into starting businesses, they are looking forward to reaping huge profits and becoming successful entrepreneurs. For a young person employment and a good income is the most important goal; sexual and reproductive health is low among their priorities.
However, these dreams of employment and a good life can be shattered with one bad decision. There is a positive correlation between income and vulnerability of young people towards sexual reproductive health challenges. Rather than protecting young people from sexual reproductive health issues, access to disposable income from their business makes them more vulnerable to such conditions. Having disposable income makes them prone to drug/alcohol abuse and multiple sexual relationships that expose them to HIV and other sexual transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy.
The consequences of unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and other reproductive ill health are devastating for a young person as they are unprepared for the economic change that comes with dealing with these challenges. But the problem doesn’t end with the individual; the country also loses when young people suffer from reproductive ill health. According to UNFPA State of the World Population 2013, if an adolescent girl gets pregnant, the opportunity cost related to this pregnancy (the annual income foregone by the mother over her lifetime) is up to 30 per cent of Uganda’ annual GDP.)
In an effort to address this situation therefore, young people in business should be targeted with sexual reproductive health information and services including family planning.
Linking reproductive information and services with economic activation and labour skills development programs will create greater opportunities for the young people to remain healthy and economically engaged, thereby saving huge health care costs.
Investing in reproductive health of the young people in business will contribute to a reduction in the unmet need for family planning, prevalence of unplanned pregnancies and result in increased savings on health care costs that would have been spent on managing these conditions.
Programs like the Youth Enterprise Venture Capital Fund, Youth Livelihood, and financial literacy training must not focus on financial management alone but should also integrate information on sexual reproductive health in an effort to promote adoption of safer and healthier sexual practices among young people. Furthermore, with sound reproductive health information and access to services, youthful customers will be more likely to utilize the financial products resulting in a win-win situation for both the young people and the financial institutions.
We should also strive to develop innovative ways to deliver reproductive health information and services to young people involved in business, for instance by having outreaches to their places of work.
The process of economic empowerment of young people can only be complete if reproductive health challenges like unplanned pregnancies, teenage pregnancies, and HIV/AIDS are addressed.
By Patricia Amito Lutwama
Head of Programmes of Straight Talk Foundation