Gladys Kalibbala, an award-winning journalist from Uganda, was a panelist last night, along with Jessica Yu, Academy Award winning film maker, and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Head of UN Women, at the UN Foundation event, Why We Care: Stories of Reproductive Health and discussion of the film Misconception. Gladys left Africa for the first time to attend the premiere of the film she was featured in at the Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday night, and to be a panelist at the event last night.
Gladys developed the column, Lost (and Abandoned) Children, for Vision Group in Uganda. Gladys writes the stories of abandoned children to shed light on the issue and to make an attempt at reconnecting them with their families. In her community, children are often left at schools, in taxis, and at hospitals because their parents are desperate, and cannot provide for them.
At the discussion last night, Gladys was able to solve a common reproductive health debate, in an instant, through a powerful and heart-wrenching story.
At population or reproductive health conferences, and in policy-making debates, opposing camps cannot come to a consensus about what age to begin sex education. This debate and debates like it stall real progress for gender equity. Gladys recounted the story of a 4-year-old girl who had been raped by her father. The girl was noticed walking down the street limping with blood dripping down her legs. The only reason she got justice (if one could really gain a sense of justice after enduring something like that) was because, luckily, older community members saw her, had evidence against her father, and were brave enough to bring it to the attention of the authorities. This story is not an unusual situation for girls in Gladys’ community. For most of us, something that unfathomable is what Gladys bears witness to on a daily basis.
Through her story, Gladys quickly convinces everyone how important it is to educate girls and boys at a very young age about sexual health. She says it is imperative that young children know how their bodies are meant to be treated. They need to learn when to speak up and to know when something shouldn’t be happening to them.
This story was just one of many powerful remarks Gladys made during the panel discussion. Another was an account of her own family – how her father sold her family’s land, left her mother alone with 8 children, and walked away carrying their linens and as much of the family’s possessions as he could.
Gladys was featured in Misconception because the film investigates the issue of population growth. The film begins with Hans Rosling divulging statistics about the world’s growing population and making a point for contraceptives. The film then moves into personal stories including that of Gladys’. At its onset, Jessica Yu believed the film would focus on the stats, however, she quickly realized it is a human issue. “It is not about trying to control people, it’s about giving people opportunity and they will control themselves.” She mentions,
We need to focus on context to deal with the issue of over population, it is not a one size fits all solution.”
Only ¼ of the women in most developing nations with high fertility rates have access to family planning services, and on average women in these countries have 6 children. Many of these mothers are children themselves. Those that are not linked to family planning services, are likely to attempt unsafe abortions, and 2% of women in these countries experience maternal death. Children are born into a life of limited resources and opportunities.
The film features women who had been raped at ages 13 and 14, and did not even realize they were pregnant. Because they lack education, girls are bullied into sexual relationships and are unable to make informed decisions.
A mother featured in the film mentions, “I love her (referring to her daughter), but I don’t have a place to put her.”
Gladys calls for politicians to take action, not by sitting at a conference, but by coming to meet the people where they are.
The solutions that I took away from this event are that we need not be complacent, work from the ground up, and broaden the voices in the discussion to include men and other stakeholders. When these issues are addressed, there will be clear, individual, community and global effects.
Gladys reminds us that no action is too small. At a young age she learned that it was good to share with people in need. That value is what led her to dedicate her life to helping children who have been left with no hope and no voice. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka mentioned how much better the world would be if we all thought like Gladys.
Check out the UN Foundation – Why We Care website, follow the discussion on Twitter using #whywecare, and watch the film, Misconception.