Gender Action Learning Systems

Gender at Work Action Learning Program as an Approach to Furthering Gender Equality

SCOEN has adopted a Gender Action-Learning Systems (GALS) to address women’s rights and gender equality within civil society organisations, international organizations and other development institutions. The Systems is built on adult learning principles and values reflective space, recognizing that reflection on both the self and on organizational practice is a key tool for learning and effective action. Another key factor in the Gender Action-Learning Systems is the ability for people to work together and to learn from each other.

70% of women and men GALS implementer in India, South Africa and South Sudan report changed attitudes and behaviours in their personal lives, their organizations and their community over four years and under our Feminist Leadership Systemsme.

SCOEN have recognized the limits of traditional gender mainstreaming approaches and are seeking alternatives. SCOEN approach promotes women’s empowerment and gender equality through addressing institutional norms and rules (both stated and implicit) that maintain women’s unequal position in societies.

These institutional rules determine who gets what, what counts, who does what and who decides. They include values that maintain the gendered division of labor, prohibitions on women owning land, restrictions on women’s mobility and perhaps most fundamentally, the devaluing of reproductive and care work. Institutional rules are lived out through organizations which are the social structures that exist in any society.

Through the Gender Action Learning Systems, we combine feminist thinking and practice with insights from organizational development, to build internal cultures of equality and transform cultural norms that support achieving gender equality and social justice.

gender action learning systems steps

Inception workshop: SCOEN explores whether a Gender Action-Learning Systems would be helpful.

Community visits: SCOEN visit the community groups we work with, map its history, understand its work, understand how it promotes gender equality, its capacity and the potential directions that exist for change.

Workshop 1: Telling Stories, Sharing Doubts and Re-thinking the Work: community groups tell their story and SCOEN introduces key ideas of individual, and community change, as the beginning of building a learning community. Each team meets with their facilitator and develops a gender equality change project.

Work in groups: Participants carry out a change project in their groups and communities.

Workshop 2: Telling our Stories, Re-vitalizing our Practice: groups describe and analyze their change efforts, while other participants and facilitators offer analysis and advice. Teams plan the next stage of their change work.

Work in groups: Groups continue to work on their projects with the support of a facilitator.

Final workshop: Participants pull together their collective learning from all the change projects.

Uganda: Violence against women unabated despite laws and policies

She had always dreamed of becoming a powerful politician, and her excitement on finally joining Parliament was overwhelming. On her first day at the august House, she was full of hope. Hope of changing her constituency for the better.

One year later, the youthful MP feels frustrated. “I love my job, but sometimes I wonder if I am in the right place,” she said.

The bubbly MP has been the target of sexual harassment by senior male colleagues. “I once had my breasts squeezed by a male colleague old enough to be my father. Another one hounded me during an MPs’ trip abroad. He kept knocking at my door in the night. I had to lock myself in.”

She says harassment is commonplace in Parliament but often goes unreported “because we fear the consequences.”

Elsewhere, in Mukono, 21 km east of Uganda’s capital, Kampala, Grace Ozitya has battled with her in-laws for years to regain her deceased husband’s property.

“When he died, they forced me out of our home and destroyed our garden,” said Ms. Ozitya.

Police did not help her because Ms. Ozitya could not raise $3 to facilitate the investigation. At the administrator-general’s office, a file was opened, but it later disappeared. She gave up until staff from International Justice Mission, a US-based international NGO focusing on human rights, law and law enforcement, intervened.

Violence against women is on the increase in Uganda despite the presence of laws and policies to protect victims and survivors.

According to the Uganda Police Force’s annual crime report, gender-based violence cases that were reported and investigated increased by 4% (from 38,651 to 40,258 cases) between 2015 and 2016.

The 2016 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey revealed that up to 22% of women aged 15 to 49 in the country had experienced some form of sexual violence. The report also revealed that annually, 13% of women aged 15 to 49 report experiencing sexual violence. This translates to more than 1 million women exposed to sexual violence every year in Uganda.

Violence against women has recently taken new, more sophisticated forms. An increasing number of women are, for instance, reporting cyber-bullying and abuse through social media and smartphones.

“I recently received a WhatsApp call from a strange number. When I picked up the call, the guy on the other side started groping his genitals. I blocked him,” said Monica Amoding, a politician.

In other cases, jilted lovers expose nude pictures of their ex-girlfriends on social media platforms in what is locally called “revenge porn”.

In 2014 Desire Luzinda, a celebrated Ugandan musician, made a public apology after her ex- boyfriend leaked her nude pictures on social media.

“I want to apologise to my mother, daughter, family, friends, fans and any other people who have been offended by these images.… This was a breach of trust by someone I loved.… This person has not only abused that trust but now seeks to drag me down,” said Ms. Luzinda, who was charged under the 2014 Anti-Pornographic Act.

Since Ms. Luzinda’s incident, over 10 women have had their nude pictures leaked on social media by jilted lovers, resulting in public shaming and ridicule.

“In all the revenge porn cases, women have been singled out for criticism while the offending men are never followed up,” says Eunice Musiime, the executive director of Akina Mama wa Africa, a pan-African women’s organization.

This form of abuse thrives on an absence of proper legislation and a lack of investigative expertise among Ugandan law enforcement officers.

“Unless we put in place effective laws and equip law enforcement organs with modern technology and skills to handle these cases, the situation will only worsen,” says Anna Mutavati, the deputy country representative for UN Women Uganda.

Corrective rape is also rife as a form of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAW/G). “We have received many complaints from lesbian women who claim to have been forced into heterosexual sex by their families as a way to correct their sexual orientation,” Ms. Musiime says. Because of the negative attitudes about lesbianism in Ugandan society, victims find it difficult to report.

“‘Concerned’ relatives hand you over to a man to have sex with you to stop you from being a lesbian,” one young woman said. This lady (who requested anonymity) was abused for several years through corrective rape and by her own partner. Today she is working to rehabilitate fellow women who have gone through the same experience.

The government remains largely unprepared to handle some new forms of VAW, especially cyber abuse.

“We are aware of the cyber forms of VAW like revenge porn, but that is an area for the Uganda Communications Commission to handle. We are also waiting to hear from the Pornographic Control Committee to advise on the way forward,” Maggie Kyomukama, the assistant commissioner for gender and women affairs in the ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MGLSD) said.

Challenges abound

Ineffective laws pose a big challenge to the fight against VAW. Laws such as the Penal Code (Amendment) Act 2007, the Domestic Violence Act 2010, the Sexual Offences Bill and the Marriage Bill do not address key aspects of VAW. None of these laws criminalise marital rape, for instance.

The Domestic Violence Act does not cover cohabiting partners, while the 2004 amendment to the Land Act of 1998 requires spousal consent to sex, but does not recognise coownership of land between spouses.

The Land Act also fails to require customary land tenure systems to permit women to act as coowners/managers of customary land, and creates weak protections for widows who seek to inherit their husband’s land, says Ms. Musiime. She also points out that the Employment Act, 2006 restricts punitive action in sexual harassment cases at work to an employer or his representative, saying nothing of physical, sexual and verbal abuse by coworkers.

Poor funding for VAW programmes also remains a huge challenge.

“A look at the budgets for the sectors mandated to address VAW/G is worrying. While activities are listed in the budgets, there are no monetary allocations. Most of the work on VAW/G is donor funded and concentrated in project areas,” says Diana Kagere Mugerwa, the media and national advocacy officer at the Center for Domestic Violence Prevention (CEDOVIP), a local civil society organization.

In 2016 and 2017 the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development budgeted to spend UGX 1.68 billion ($450,000) on VAW programmes, a great deal of which has been coming from donors such as Irish Aid and the United Nations Population Fund. This, according to Ms. Mutavati, is not sustainable.

“Dependency on external financing does not create sustainable ground sectors to mainstream this work. What happens if the donors pull out?” she asks.

Limited capacity on the part of the gender ministry also cripples VAW activities.

According to MGLSD’s Ministerial Policy Statement for Financial Year 2016/2017, during that period the Directorate of Gender and Women Affairs had only 10 staff members, a fraction of the workforce required. The Child and Family Protection Unit of the Uganda Police Force has only 645 police officers to cover 112 districts. This makes it hard for the police to respond to the numerous reported cases.

Police also lack the requisite skills and financial support to investigate VAW cases. Justice is frustrated by an inadequate number of critical facilities, like shelters where VAW victims can be accommodated and receive counseling and other support before returning home, as well as an absence of specialised courts where it is safe for women to report their cases.

“While there are specialized courts on corruption, environment, terrorism and other cases, there are no such courts for VAW cases. That is telling,” says Mutavati.

The country has 13 shelters where VAW victims can be accommodated. Four of these are donor funded.


Last year the government launched a National Gender Based Violence (GBV) policy, specifying the roles each sector is supposed to play to ensure the prevention of and response to VAW. Assistant Commissioner Kyomukama also says the government’s National Development Plan 1 and 2 have included comprehensive frameworks to address VAW.

In a bid to address poverty, which usually plays a factor in VAW, the government though MGLSD last year launched the Ugandan Women Entrepreneurship Programme (UWEP) to improve women’s access to financial services and equip them with entrepreneurial skills.

According to Brenda Kifuko Malinga, UWEP’s national programme coordinator, so far 3,416 projects have been launched and 43,602 women assisted throughout the country.

Ms. Mutavati says that the UN and its partners have made some improvement in sexual violence in the most heavily affected eastern regions of Busoga and Karamoja through the Joint Programme on GBV funded by the Norwegian embassy and through the government programme on GBV supported by Irish Aid, the Irish government programme for overseas development.

Despite some success, a lot more work remains to be done to ensure a violence-free country for Ugandan women.

VAW in Uganda, the figures

Uganda’s 2016 police crime report indicates that defilement cases alone rose by 34 percent, from 13,118 in 2015 to 17,567 in 2016. Defilement is the act of having sex with girls under 18. Rape cases reported, according to the report, also increased, from 1,419 to 1,572.

A report released last month by researchers from Makerere University College of Health Sciences indicated that one out of five female people with hearing impairments has been a victim of rape in the last 12 months.

A 2015 report by the International Justice Mission indicates that 40% of widows experience actual or attempted property grabbing in their lifetime. More than 30% of widows are victims of property grabbing. In many cases the widows spoke of perpetrators (usually relatives of their deceased husbands) threatening and physically assaulting them and sometimes making attempts on their lives and those of their children.

Police crime reports from 2011 through 2017 also indicate that deaths resulting from domestic violence went down by a significant 54%—from 358 to 163—in this time.

According to statistics from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (ODPP), out of 1,594 new rape and 7,618 defilement cases reported in 2015 and 2016, only 57% brought punishment to the perpetrator. Such a low number gives others a sense of impunity, and in so doing exacerbates VAW.

Between 2012 and 2017, about 5 percent of all sexual violence cases handled in a year by the ODPP have been closed due to lack of evidence, according to a CEDOVIP study.

The police and Ministry of Health—the two leading public institutions in GBV response—spend an estimated UGX 37.7 billion (about $10.4 million) annually dealing with GB.

For more information: source Africa Renewal


Civil society wants govt support on gender-based violence

While some stand tall, pick themselves up to a better future and get justice, many victims of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) have had their dreams shattered, lives ruined and taken ages without getting justice. One such victim is Jane Ariokot (not real names). Two years into their marriage, Jane’s sweet, loving husband turned into “a drunkard wife-beater” immediately after he lost his job.

The 25-year-old from Soroti district is now impaired with a fractured hand in a fight that finally broke their marriage, leaving their two children in the hands of their poor grandmother in nearby Kumi district.

“He came back drunk one day and asked for food yet he had spent three days without buying any. I had given all the remaining food to children that night and when I told him that, he rushed outside, brought a big stick and beat me so much. As I tried to protect myself from the stick, he hit me and broke my arm, it hurts me until now and I can’t do any heavy work to look after my children,” Ariokot says.

Whereas her husband was arrested and is currently on remand, Ariokot says she has never gotten justice since court keeps postponing the rulings.


During a recent three-day regional conference on strategies for implementation of instruments on sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) by the International Conference on Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), it was revealed that about 65 per cent of inmates in Uganda’s prisons have cases related to SGBV.

ICGLR acting director Nathan Byamukama said many of such cases are, instead, referred to things like assault, manslaughter murder or attempted murder, as is the case with Ariokot’s husband.

This, Byabakama said, together with the fact that it is difficult to prove sexual violence in courts, is reason enough to make the vice thrive.

“Most cases are done in private and even if you arrest suspects, it’s very difficult to prove in court because court is looking for evidence and some suspects run away and others settle issues out of court because they want money and fear embarrassment,” he said at the conference held at the Commonwealth Resort in Munyoyo.

The ICGLR is an intergovernmental organization of African countries in the Great Lakes region that aims at ensuring security, stability and development between member states. Some of the member states include Uganda, Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia.

The conference brought together regional stakeholders on sexual and gender-based violence to share experiences and possible solutions to the vice. The forms of violence that have thrived despite several intervations by both government and civil society include rape, forced (arranged) marriages, defilement, sex slavery (human trafficking), and genital mutilation.

The violations, according to specialists, take place in schools, homes, town centers, prisons and conflict zones like refugee camps.


Uganda’s director of public prosecutions, Mike Chibita acknowledged that investigation cases of sexual violence have always given then a knock on the head.

“In cases of sexual assault, DNA should link the perpetrator to the survivor. In Uganda, the facilities are inadequate and expensive,” Chibita said.

While Uganda has domesticated several regional protocols against SGBV into laws, the lack of implementation by government leaves a lot to be desired.

For example, Annet Bada, the legal head at The Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (Fida-Uganda) said many victims of human trafficking have gone through depressed circumstances and need protection by the anti-human trafficking law but it is not being implemented.

“The law on trafficking came in 2009 but, to date, there are no regulations to operationalize it. There is need for these laws to resonate with the common person because they are the most vulnerable and they are the victims of human trafficking,” she said.

While many activists believe that Uganda’s weak legislation on SGBV renders both the police and the judiciary helpless in administering justice, deputy chief justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo disagrees.

“We agree that there is room for improvement. The judiciary can reduce this without legislation. We can use the instruments that the constitution gives to the chief justice to come up with other procedures and practice dimension,” Justice Owiny-Dollo said.

He added that the judiciary has established special courts and sessions to expedite trials of such cases on top of a strategy to reduce case backlog.


Civil society players who attended the conference said that government should put in place strong legal and policy frameworks to ease their work. It is mainly CSOs that are usually involved in handling SGBV cases and its victims.

Eunice Musiime, the executive director of Akina Mama Africa, said there should also be eradication of armed groups within and without the country, especially those with no political agenda.

“We should also have meaningful dialogue to address democratic deficiencies like impunity which make such vices flourish. We also call for services in terms of policy, medical and judiciary,” she said.

End the silence on child marriage

This year’s Day of African Child commemoration theme: ‘Leave no child behind for Africa’s Development’ contributes to Agenda 2030 that emphasises that children should be at the centre-stage in the drive towards sustainable economic development.

In Uganda, we are living in a situation where more than half (53 per cent) of women aged between 20 and 49 marry before the age of 18. Sadly, many girls, and to a smaller extent boys, enter marriage without any chance of exercising their right to choose.

Within a rights perspective, key concerns are the denial of childhood and adolescence, the curtailment of personal freedom and the lack of opportunity to develop a full sense of selfhood as well as the denial of psychosocial and emotional well-being, reproductive health and educational opportunity.

Generally, where girls are uneducated and ill-prepared for their roles as mothers and contributors to society, there are costs to be borne at every level – from the individual household – to the nation as a whole.

The accepted and respected marriage had respect for the girl-child where a woman could not be married unless she was at least 24 years and this involved negotiations and consent.

The new disorder introduced new violent approach of abduction of girls and women without their consent or the parents. Any child marriage constitutes a forced marriage in recognition that even if a child appears to give their consent, any one below the age of 18 is not able to make a fully informed choice whether or not to marry.

Forced marriage in these many conservative communities has resulted in young girls being pushed into a huge responsibility of becoming wives and mothers. And because girls are not adequately prepared for these heavy burdens, it has often resulted into serious impact on their psychological welfare, their perceptions of themselves and their relationships.

Early marriage plans are also discouraging parents of girls from educating their daughter with perceived believe that a formal education will only benefit her future family in-law and yet a lack of education also means that young brides lack knowledge about sexual relations, their bodies and reproduction, exacerbated by the cultural silence surrounding these subjects.

This denies the girl the ability to make informed decisions about sexual relations, planning a family, and her health, yet another example of their lives in which they have no control.
Notwithstanding the laws in place, a range of policy and programmatic actions should be orchestrated to reduce child marriage and its impact.

Every stakeholder must be concerned that no Child is left behind by ensuring that critical, broadly adapted and cost effective programmes are effective, but also feasible to implement at sufficient scale to make them meaningful and sustainable.

Johnson Okwera

International Women’s Day 2019: Think equal, build smart, innovate for change

The theme for International Women’s Day 2019, which will take place on 8 March, is “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change”.

The theme will focus on innovative ways in which we can advance gender equality and the empowerment of women, particularly in the areas of social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure.

The achievement of the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires transformative shifts, integrated approaches and new solutions, particularly when it comes to advancing gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. Based on current trajectories, existing interventions will not suffice to achieve a Planet 50-50 by 2030. Innovative approaches that disrupt “business as usual” are central to removing structural barriers and ensuring that no woman and no girl is left behind. Innovation and technology provide unprecedented opportunities, yet trends indicate a growing gender digital divide and women are under-represented in the field of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and design. It prevents them from developing and influencing gender-responsive innovations to achieve transformative gains for society. From mobile banking to artificial intelligence and the internet of things, it is vital that women’s ideas and experiences equally influence the design and implementation of the innovations that shape our future societies.

Echoing the CSW63 Priority theme, IWD 2019 will look to industry leaders, game-changing start-ups, social entrepreneurs, gender equality activists, and women innovators to examine the ways in which innovation can remove barriers and accelerate progress for gender equality, encourage investment in gender-responsive social systems, and build services and infrastructure that meet the needs of women and girls. On 8 March 2019, join us as we celebrate a future in which innovation and technology creates unprecedented opportunities for women and girls to play an active role in building more inclusive systems, efficient services and sustainable infrastructure to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs and gender equality.

RSVP for the International Women’s Day Commemoration in New York

16 days of activism – 2018

The theme of the 2018 Campaign is “End Gender-Based Violence in the World of Work.” This year’s theme builds on the momentum and achievements during the 2017 campaign, when over 700 organizations in 92 countries campaigned around the theme of “Together We Can End GBV in Education.” Our goal for 2018 is to continue to target the institutions in which gender-based violence is perpetuated and push for systemic change and accountability.

rom 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign is a time to galvanize action to end violence against women and girls around the world. The international campaign originated from the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute coordinated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership in 1991.

For far too long, impunity, silence and stigma have allowed violence against women to escalate to pandemic proportions—one in three women worldwide experience gender-based violence.

The time for change is here and now.

In recent years, the voices of survivors and activists, through campaigns such as #MeToo, #TimesUp, #Niunamenos, #NotOneMore, #BalanceTonPorc and others, have reached a crescendo that cannot be silenced any more. Advocates understand that while the names and contexts may differ across geographic locations, women and girls everywhere are experiencing extensive abuse and their stories need to be brought to light.

Clergy blame child marriages on traditional marriage fetes

Religious leaders in Teso sub-region have blamed the high rates of child marriages in the region on traditional marriage ceremonies which they argue entice underage girls to want to copy those that are married off in traditional ceremony.

Rev. Sam Ediau, the education coordinator of Church of Uganda Soroti diocese expressed concern that parents have made it a habit to ‘subject’ adolescent girls to ‘being attractive centre pieces’ while at traditional marriage ceremonies. Rev. Eduau says that the practice of actively involving girls in such marriage ceremonies puts them in the mood for marriage. He wants girls discouraged from taking part in such ceremonies.

“It’s now becoming a routine that during introduction ceremonies you have seven year-olds, because they want biscuits, sweets, you find them dancing in a funny way. I don’t know what we are going to do about it,” Rev. Ediau said.

Rev. Ediau says that due to the early marriages, Teso region is experiencing worrying levels of school drop outs arising from child pregnancies.

According to Amos Oluka, the Senior Probation Officer for district, 80 percent of young girls in the district start families before making 18 years. He also blames the desire among parents to obtain bride price as a key motivating factor.

“Whereas early marriages are seemingly rampant in the rural areas, there are very many aspects that have pushed these girls to early marriages such as cultural tendencies,” Oluka told Sunrise.


Children at a traditional marriage ceremony

Other sources, including studies however attribute the high rates of child marriages not on traditional ceremonies but rather on poverty, sexual abuse that forces parents to force the offenders to marry off their daughters.

Florence Atim, the in charge child-family and protection Unit Soroti remaked for example that most early marriages have resulted from cases of defilement in the district.

“The poverty situation coupled with rude utterances from parents, and peer groups among others have largely caused girls to leave home for early marriage,” Atim explained.

According to the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS) 2016; 25 per cent of adolescents aged 15-19 have begun childbearing and 19 per cent of women aged 15-19 have given birth.

According to the website,, nearly 1 out of every 2 girls below 18 years in Uganda gets married before making 18 years. Uganda has the highest level of teenage pregnancies in Africa. Nearly 1 in every 2 girls in Uganda is married before the age of 18. Poverty, traditional and social norms, insecurity that causes displacement as key drivers of child marriages.
“Many parents marry their daughters in the hope of securing their financial security.

Bride price can also be a motivation for parents: a younger bride means a higher bride price for the family.”

The government launched the National Strategy to end Child Marriage and Teenage Pregnancy On June 16, 2015 during celebrations to mark the Day of the African Child.



Where child marriages are the norm

Sophia Nangobi sits quietly under a huge muwafu (African canarium) tree, a few feet away from the labour ward of Mayuge Health Centre III. It seems she is bored because she plucks a piece of grass, puts it in her mouth, and begins to chew on it.

Everything about the bare-footed girl, including her shyness when I approach her, is girlish. But, it remains just that – impressions. Rooting around in the grass, as if searching for something precious, is Nangobi’s eight-month-old daughter, Shuleya Nabirye. At 17, Nangobi has so far spent three years in marriage. She is also unemployed.

“I’m happy in my marriage,” she says quietly, probably wondering why I should ask. Her husband, Sadat Muwanika, 20, is a boda boda rider in Mawumu Parish, which about 11km from Mayuge town. For riding a customer this distance, a boda boda rider earns Shs1,000.

“I’m the last born of eight children brought up by a single mother,” Nangobi says. “When I got to Primary Five, my mother could not afford the Shs20,000 for school fees, so I dropped out of school.”

When Muwanika approached her for a relationship, there was nothing stopping her. With her mother’s blessing, Nangobi became Muwanika’s wife at 14.

It is school or marriage
There is a general agreement that attending school stands as a buffer between rural girls and child marriage. However, Universal Primary Education (UPE) is no longer free in rural areas because parents – who are often living under the poverty line – have to pay for school requirements such as pens, exercise books, uniforms and lunch. Girls like Nangobi fill up the statistics of the number of girls dropping out of school every year. But, unlike others who would jump at the chance to resume their education, Nangobi is comfortable with her lot.

“I do not want to return to school even if someone offered me money,” she says, adding, “I want to give birth to four more children and look after our home.”

As we are talking, a heavily pregnant woman emerges from the labour ward. From a distance, she looks like she could be above 30 years old, but that is probably due to that special way in which a nine-month pregnancy can sap the liveliness out of a woman. The woman is Jennifer, Nangobi’s sister. At 20, this is her third pregnancy.

“The nurses say I’m due to deliver any day now,” she says, as she struggles to sit on the ground. She is married to a farmer and they had their first child two years ago. The girls came to the health centre without an emergency bag of delivery items such as gloves and a Macintosh sheet. Since they are returning home, it is likely that Jennifer may give birth from home before they have time to return to the health centre.

To the rescue
Olivia Kawuma Aliyenka, a retrenched nursing assistant, encounters pregnant teenagers on a daily basis. The 56-year-old is a member of a Village Health Team (VHT) and moves around villages offering basic health education to different families. Of late, her duties include urging first-time mothers – who can be as young as 13 years old– to deliver in a health facility.

At about midday, she rides her bicycle into Mayuge town and parks outside a church where a man is setting up a small table, two chairs and two benches under a mvule tree. The mobile vaccination team is scheduled to spend the entire day in this location. Aliyenka has come to offer a helping hand.

“This is a town and there are a lot of things for young girls to admire,” she says, adding, “Some parents send their daughters to school without anything to eat, yet they are at an age where they crave so many things.

Then, there are the boda boda men who entice them with little money. I can only compare these boda boda men to a plague when it comes to young girls. In my experience, many of these teenage girls suffer obstetric complications during delivery and are usually recommended for C-section deliveries, which at Shs300,000, are expensive.”

Aliyenka, therefore, also sells them vouchers cards under the Uganda Reproductive Health Voucher Project (URHVP). These vouchers, sold at Shs4,000, enable pregnant girls to receive antenatal care, medical help during delivery, postnatal care and free C-sections when referred by the doctor.

“I ride more than 5kms out of town every day and over the years I have witnessed a big attitude change in rural women. They are now more eager to deliver their babies at health facilities instead of their homes or in the homes of traditional birth attendants.

In fact, towards the end of last year, 15 women gave birth at the health centre in a single night. Previously, there would be only two women on any given night.”

Searching for a way out
There are many brick huts in the compound where Sauda Nkoma lives with her husband. The compound belongs to her husband’s clan. It is easy to see that Nkoma is not happy with her situation in life. The 19-year-old got pregnant at 17; her husband was three years older.

Now, they have a one-year-old son, Asumani Musaku. “I regret getting this ‘accident’ at a young age,” she says, adding, “In fact, I do not want to get pregnant again, maybe in the next three years. I’m now using inject plan. My parents were very angry with me. I think they hated me at the time. There is nothing good about getting married when you are young.”

Nkoma got pregnant after she had completed Senior Four at Delta High School. The yearning to return to the classroom is evident in the girl. Teenage mothers in the rural areas in most cases face more obstacles in their ability to pursue educational opportunities than young women who delay childbearing.

Nkoma’s husband does not have a steady job and he takes on whatever job comes his way. “Life was not good for us. We had no hope of getting a way to earn a living until I enrolled for a training opportunity with BRAC.”

In December 2016, BRAC Uganda in Mayuge District, with funding from UNFPA, offered a three-day livelihood training to a number of teenage mothers and girls who had dropped out of school. The trainings, as a grassroots intervention, are offered with the hope that economically empowered girls (and their families) are less likely to become victims of child marriage and teenage pregnancy. From the training, Nkoma received two goats.

“If this female goat keeps on producing, with five healthy goats, I can sell each at Shs60,000 and buy a cow. I would then sell the cow and buy a piece of land. I wish BRAC could give us cows, seeds and land.”

The effects
Children born to young mothers are at increased risk of sickness and death, while teenage mothers are more likely to experience adverse pregnancy outcomes.

Also because these girls get pregnant before the right age, child marriages and teenage pregnancies have huge implications on the maternal health of the country.

Besides, most of these girls get married to older men so there is a high likelihood of domestic violence in the marriage.

“These marriages have implications on education of the girl-child and the country as many girls are now dropping out to get married,” adds Peninah Kyoyagala, Programme Analyst, Adolescent Health – UNFPA.
World Bank research on Uganda shows that teenage marriages account for about 36 per cent school dropouts.

The policies
Since government developed the National Strategy to end Child Marriage and Teenage Pregnancy, an inter-ministerial committee was formed to provide guidance on the interventions around child marriage.

Government is also mobilising civil society organisations to invest in the area of ending child marriage. There is also the Youth Livelihood Fund, which was formed to reach out to girls who are at risk of child marriage due to poverty.

On June 16, 2015, on the Day of the African Child, the government launched the National Strategy to end Child Marriage and Teenage Pregnancy. The strategy outlines approaches and interventions that will end child marriage and teenage pregnancy in Uganda.

The statistics
According to the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS) 2016;
• 25 per cent of adolescents aged 15-19 have begun childbearing and 19 per cent of women aged 15-19 have given birth. Adolescent childbearing is more common in rural than in urban areas (27 versus 19 per cent, respectively).
• Teso sub-region has the highest proportion of adolescents who have begun childbearing and Kigezi sub-region the lowest (31 and 16 per cent respectively).
• Teenagers in the lowest wealth quartile tend to begin childbearing earlier than those in the highest quartile (34 versus 15 percent, respectively). This is due to poverty which makes it easy for young girls to be lured into sex, parents’ mindsets to child marriages, and low education attainment.

Women Demand Police Action on Alleged Kidnappings

A group of activists marched on the Ugandan police headquarters Tuesday, protesting what they see as a lack of police response to recent kidnappings and killings.

Donning black T-shirts, the participants chanted, carried banners reading “Women’s Lives Matter,” and used saucepans and small drums to call attention to their demonstration.

But as they approached police headquarters, anti-riot police arrested four men and one woman.

Sarah Eperu was one of the protesters led away in handcuffs.

“We want security, that is paramount,” she said. “We want conclusive investigations. And then we want a desk, specifically for these murders, put in place so that we know that there is a desk which is going to work on the murders, to investigate. … [We want] mechanisms in place which will make sure that we are secure.”

This is the second protest this week by activists who say police are not giving ordinary citizens enough protection.

The activists point to several kidnappings that have gone unsolved, with some ending up in gruesome murders of victims, even after relatives paid ransom money.

But police say that some of the alleged abductions were self-kidnappings, done by people trying to defraud their relatives.

As for the killings, police say some of those were crimes of passion or ritual murders.

“Since January, up to today, there have been 42 cases of kidnap that have been reported and investigated,” said Patrick Onyango, the deputy police spokesman. “Seven cases involved murder with eight victims. Twenty cases were of self-kidnap. [In] eight cases, all victims were rescued alive. Seven cases, victims are still missing.”

Only one recent kidnap case is in court, after the abduction and killing of a wealthy businessman’s daughter. Nine suspects have been arrested in the incident.

When people call the police in Uganda, officers sometimes seek payment for fuel before driving to the crime scene. Last year, the inspector general of police was asked about this practice. He said police are given less fuel by the government, so the public should pitch in.

Time to Rethink Universal Primary Education

Most of the enlightened parents were, therefore, left with no choice but to withdraw their children from rural UPE schools.

Of recent, the Ministry of Education and Sports has been in the spotlight. Since the appointment of the First Lady, Janet Museveni, as the Minister of Education and Sports, the ministry has been in the spotlight. The mainstream media have carried headlines on the education sector almost on a weekly basis.

Whereas most stories carried have pointed out the wrongs in the education sector, there has been a great deal of remedies proposed to revamp the sector. One of such stories was about the recent meeting which was held at Golf Course Kampala on the ongoing education sector review. According to the story, key success stories were presented by selected head teachers and parents from model schools like Mbarara Municipal and Arua Hill Primary schools.

The success stories had a familiar best practice of a good relationship between the school authorities and the parents. The parents had agreed to contribute additional funding towards the education of their children in addition to UPE government funds. This best practice needs to be promoted, encouraged and replicated if UPE is to yield success stories across the board.

One of the major causes of poor performance of UPE, especially in rural schools is the neglected role of parents and guardians in the education of their children. In some of the rural schools, the once vibrant Parents and Teachers Associations (PTAs) disintegrated with the introduction of UPE.

The parents negated their role wholly to the government. Some enthusiastic leaders including a few Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) contributed to the magnitude of this trend whenever they threatened, paraded or arrested head teachers who attempted to obtain any additional dues from parents.

In some areas, dialogue between schools authorities and parents on additional shillings to support their children’s education were disallowed by fervent leaders. As a result, a rift between parents and teachers ensued in some areas. Parents accused teachers of wanting to fail government programmes, the teachers were demotivated.

Most of the enlightened parents were, therefore, left with no choice but to withdraw their children from rural UPE schools to either Urban UPE Schools or Private schools.

It should be noted that the good relations between teachers and parents provided the best monitoring and performance management tool for the diverse primary education sector. The rethinking of the UPE programme should, therefore, focus on reintroducing, empowering and enabling parents and teachers associations.

The notion of unguided teachers flocking offices of the Chief Administrative Officers seeking the transfer of teachers needs to be handled. The leaders at all levels need to be proactive in fostering good relations between schools and communities. The roles of District Education Officers (DEOs) and Inspectors of Schools should be stretched to include outreach sensitisation meetings to parents on their roles.

According to the National Planning Authority (NPA) Pre-primary and Primary Education in Uganda: Access, Cost, Quality and Relevance paper of Vision 2040, stabilising food availability in primary school stimulates increased enrolments and school attendance rates and thereby, reducing absenteeism.

Bringing back on board parents and caregivers to take part in the monitoring and management schools at partner level rather than umpire level will go a long way in improving the performance of UPE in rural settings. This has been attested in urban settings where enlightened parents and caregivers are playing a role.

The writer is a social worker

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