In recent months following the COVID19 lockdown, the media has been awash with stories and features of increasing cases of teenage pregnancies and child marriages.
The rise in teenage pregnancies is one of the most prominent negative outcomes of children being out of school for long. Uganda’s teenage pregnancy rate was at 25% according to the Demographic Health Survey (UDHS) report 2016 but with the fast increasing numbers of pregnant girls we can imagine this percentage to have shot up in a span of less than 6 months.
Adolescent pregnancy wears heavily on the girl-child and shines some on the apparent disproportionate vulnerabilities that the girl children go through in our country. In August 2020, UNICEF reported about fears carried by Kitgum leadership over potentially having no girls in school because 1,519 had got pregnant since the lock down ensued in March.
The Daily Monitor of July 27, 2020, reported that 2,300 girls conceived and 128 were married off during the lockdown in various districts around the country. Staggering numbers and the question we need to answer is how to make this stop.
During my recent interactions with communities upcountry, the issue of paying attention to the plight of the girl -child was prominently raised by local leaders, including women/mothers.
However, what was perplexing was that out of the many solutions discussed on how to support the affected girls, focus was mostly on how to economically empower them in their role as a child-mothers with the issue of if the girl wished to continue education not taking centre stage.
I also noted that the solutions were fronted more by mothers and females while men took a back seat. Men also urged the mothers and aunties to do more n talking to girls. What struck me from this engagement was how our socialisation laced with so many entrenched gender roles and perceptions is limiting our thought processes to tackle the immediate challenges faced within families and communities such as this monster of adolescent pregnancies.
In our country where patriarchy is entrenched and major decision-making processes continue to be the preserve of men, we need to come face to face with underlying causes of teenage pregnancies and get men at the forefront of addressing them. When men step up to lead morally, women who are our mothers, wives, sisters, and kin are protected.
If all the fathers found it worthwhile to speak to the boys and male adolescents using tested approaches such as positive masculinity, we would have a society that’s supportive and accommodating girls and their aspirations. This starts with us men educating ourselves on what it means to be great role models to the male child and raising men that we wish upon our daughters.
A paper published by PROMUNDO on “The role of fathers in parenting gender equality” advocates for policies and programmes interacting with families to actively promote gender equality and challenge restrictive norms, so that relationships, roles, institutional practices, and services can gradually evolve to create societies where both girls and boys can thrive.
The paper further elaborates that from an early age, boys learn through the socialisation process how they are expected to behave based on their gender.
Compassionate men will not take advantage of teenage girls instead they will shelter, protect, advocate and be their greatest champions.
Fathers also need to speak to their daughters, affirm them and instil in them the confidence to identify and resist predatory male behaviour. Building the girls confidence to resist and speak out against such behaviour will be one of the surest ways of exposing molesters within our families and communities.
Mr Moses Otai is the Country Director, ChildFund Uganda