In Uganda, young women and girls face many sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) challenges. For example, a high unmet need for contraception leads to dire consequences like unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.
Challenges that limit provision of SRHR services to adolescents and young women include lack of privacy and confidentiality, knowledge gaps, cultural and social stigma, biased service providers, and inconvenience in accessing SRHR services despite their availability. Although there have been improvements in creating a youth-attractive environment for SRHR services and access to tools, more work is needed.
We are constantly reminded of the need to provide avenues where young people – including women and girls – can access sexual and reproductive health and rights services that are equitable, appropriate and effective.
At Reach A Hand Uganda, we help to address this need through our youth empowerment centres, and now, we have introduced the SAUTIplus app.
The SAUTIplus app is an innovative part of the SAUTIplus ecosystem, helping to fill existing gaps in information. Uganda is experiencing a smartphone boom, with over half the population now owning one, and this number is increasing day by day.
Internet penetration in Uganda is at 41.6% – with 19 million Ugandans connected to the internet. In 2017, the Uganda Communications Commission recorded that the total number of mobile phone subscriptions was 23,529,979, up from 21,039,690 the previous quarter.
The SAUTIplus app was revamped two months ago to further engage Uganda’s high youth population and, at the time of writing, has 1,600 downloads on Google Play Store. The iOS version is in its final stages of going live.
On the app, information is available day or night. With a few taps of their phone, young women and girls can quickly find answers to their burning questions about sexual and reproductive health.
It’s the young people at Reach a Hand Uganda producing the content for the app and answering the questions – with support from the Programs and Communications departments. We understand the needs of the young women and girls and can craft our responses to reach the users in a relatable manner.
Users are able to see answers to questions other young people have asked and read tailor-made stories addressing issues faced by girls. Questions can be submitted on the website (hopefully soon to be added to the app) and the questions and answers can be viewed on either the app or website. The questions can be anonymous to maintain a safe and confidential space.
The app provides accurate information on SRHR, rather than simply promoting abstinence, which has proven an ineffective method of protecting young girls in Uganda.
The section named ‘Senga’ is a reference to a trusted relationship between a woman and her father’s sister (auntie). This relationship is commonly one where information regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights is passed on, but there can be a gap in appropriate or accurate information. This is where the SAUTIplus app comes in.
‘Senga’ provides an opportunity to view answers to questions you may have had yourself, smashing the common myths and misconceptions surrounding SRHR in Uganda. “My boyfriend says we don’t need contraception because he will pull out at the last minute. Is this a good idea?” is an example of one of the questions asked by a young girl on Senga.
The SAUTIplus app is providing a platform for women and girls to take charge of their sexual health. The knowledge the app provides is giving power to young women.
With power comes increased agency and the ability to negotiate within relationships – for example, with regards to contraceptive use to prevent pregnancy. No topic is taboo on the app. This includes menstruation and menstrual hygiene, a key SRHR challenge Reach a Hand have identified among young women in the country.
The for-the-youth attitude of the SAUTIplus app means it is an engaging platform for young people to access reliable information. Multimedia content, including photos, videos and blogs, provide a plethora of youth-friendly, easily digestible resources on SRHR.
The app is in continuous development, striving to meet the changing needs of young women in Uganda. It aims to create a positive relationship between young people and SRHR information, showing that information is a tool of power and not something to be dismissed.