‘Open our schools’: advocating for better protection of girls in Uganda

Her Choice partner The Hunger Project Uganda in partnership with Girls Not Brides Uganda, hosted a meeting to engage members of parliament on the increasing cases of child marriages and teenage pregnancies in Uganda, due to COVID-19. During the meeting, four Her Choice peer educators shared their personal story and advocated for the reopening of schools in Uganda and a better protection of girls.

Last week, THP Uganda hosted Members of Uganda Parliamentary Forum on Children (UPFC), Uganda Women Parliamentary (UWOPA), Parliamentary Committee on health, Uganda Human Rights Commision, Uganda Children’s Authority to obtain their commitment on what is going to be done in short term to respond to the escalating numbers of child marriages in Uganda.

Also attending were engaged members of Parliament for joint discussions with CSOs and other stakeholders to identify the current gaps. The goal was to come out with action plans to address issues of increasing child marriage cases and teenage pregnancies at national and local level during this COVID-19 period.

Personal experiences

Four Her Choice peer educators from Wakiso Epicenter namely Najjuma Patricia (17), Nakiyinji Vivian (16), Namala Gwayambadde Patience (17), and Nabwere Isha (18) attended the meeting. They shared firsthand experiences on what they are going through as girls during the COVID 19 lock down and then tabled clear asks to the government on what it should do to improve the situation.

Josephine Nakakande, programme officer for the central region epicenters of The Hunger Project Uganda.

17-year-old Najjuma Patricia shared her story: ‘When the schools closed, my parents both being teachers in private schools, lost their jobs and so their source of income. We had been residing in the school quarters, but the school administration asked us to vacate. So my parents had to look for a small room to rent and that’s where we currently stay with my five siblings. I am currently working on some rich man’s farm digging and looking after his chicken earning, for 1 USD per day. My parents started selling yellow bananas around the village, but the little money we collect cannot sustainably take care of all the house needs.’

The rest of the girls told the attendees that they have to go through the same or even worse situation, as they have got to go around the village, looking for jobs to support their families whose livelihoods have been affected by the lockdown. This not only exposes them to the danger of sexual harassment, but also denies them time to engage into other constructive activities including reading and learning an extra skill. Situations like these can lead to extra cases of child marriage and teenage pregnancies.

Pleading for better protection

After sharing their personal stories, the peer educators asked the members of parliament for better protection and safety of girls:

  1. Open up schools with safety guidelines, for example learners attending school in shifts to avoid congestion (ensure social distancing) so that they are able to continue with their education despite the pandemic.
  2. Embark on plans of providing sanitary pads to girls especially the most vulnerable in rural and semi-urban areas that have been affected the most.
  3. Join the campaign of fighting against child marriages, teenage pregnancies and other children rights violations by incorporating such issues into their manifestos and campaign messages during this election period.
  4. Ensure continuous and adequate supply of all the necessary services, including equipment for provision of youth friendly health services across the country where sexual reproductive health challenges like teenage pregnancy, child marriage, and infection from HIV/STIs are escalating.
  5. Ensure access to child friendly justice systems in times like these where substance abuse and gender based violence are so prevalent, causing a high risk to young people and robbing them of their ability to realize their full potential once denied justice.

Long lasting impact

In her opening remarks, the epicenter program officer, Miss Nakakande Josephine, noted that while attention is currently focused on those most immediately affected by the virus, there are many indications that the COVID-19 pandemic will have long-lasting social, cultural, economic, political and multidimensional impacts on the whole of societies, especially young girls: ‘So it’s at this point that we need to mobilize, engage and empower previously excluded youth minority groups by providing them with tailored platforms to influence the ongoing civic processes in the country.’

Among others, it was resolved that participating parties put up a paper to present to the Speaker Right Hon. Rebecca Kaddaga and eventually move a motion on the flow of the parliament. This will be led by Joy For Children Uganda and Her Choice partner The Hunger Project Uganda, all under the umbrella of Girls not Brides.

Peer educator Patricia Najjuma