Not Just a Woman’s Issue: Men in Uganda Tackle Violence

In Uganda, gender-based violence is largely considered a private matter and stigma prevents many victims from reporting. As a result, data are difficult to gather. However, we know that millions of girls and young women face violence across the country and around the world.

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign gives Uganda the chance to evaluate our efforts towards ending all forms of gender-based violence. These efforts must consist of unique interventions and strategies to position men and women as equals in society.

In 2018, Peer to Peer Uganda wrote about the importance of empowering male champions for gender equality. This year, we are asking two questions. First, what challenges remain in 2019? And second, how are men and boys contributing to the fight against gender-based violence in Uganda?

We believe that men must be oriented regularly to outgrow the social norms that leave women on the periphery of social benefits and opportunities. But as well as social values, discriminatory laws and policies continue to prevent progress.

Ineffective laws pose a major challenge in the fight against gender-based violence.

Many of Uganda’s laws do not address key aspects of violence against women. None criminalise marital rape, for instance. The 2010 Domestic Violence Act does not protect those in cohabiting partnerships. A 2004 amendment to the Land Act of 1998 fails to recognise coownership of land between spouses.

The Land Act also fails to permit women to act as coowners or managers of land, and creates weak protections for widows who seek to inherit their husband’s land. Another example is the 2006 Employment Act. This legislation restricts punitive action against an employer in workplace sexual harassment cases. It doesn’t even acknowledge the potential for abuse by coworkers.

Poor funding for violence against women and girls programmes also remains a huge challenge.

The budgets of sectors mandated to address GBV are worrying. While activities are listed in the budgets, there are no monetary allocations. Most of the work on gender-based violence in Uganda is donor funded and concentrated in project areas. Greater efforts to identify domestic funding sources are urgently required.

Rates of gender-based violence continue to increase despite the presence of laws and policies to protect victims and survivors.

For me, the situation became impossible to ignore the day I saw a man attack his wife when she delayed to serve him dinner.

That very day, I decided to start an Annual Youth Mentorship Program through Peer To Peer Uganda. The program targets boys and girls 14 – 25 years of age. Now in its second year of implementation, it has facilitated mentorship training to over 176 young women and men from across Uganda – targeting both rural and urban communities. Young people are supported to provide psychosocial and moral support and assistance to survivors of violence.

We have also created a network of male volunteers. These men and boys raise awareness of the need to end violence and act as role models in their communities.

“As a male champion, I have learnt how to intervene and support my female peers by not feeling threatened by their ambitions but instead feeling inspired to forge a partnership with them.” – Peer to Peer Youth Mentorship Residential Camp mentee

There are also collaborative awareness-raising sessions for male and female peer mentees. These sessions, along with community outreach, have played a significant role in contributing to the realization of a gender equal, violence-free country.

4 Ways to Create Opportunities for the Next Generation

Celebrating International Women’s Day 2019 at the inaugural Girls Festival – organized by Reach A Hand Uganda (RAHU), Global Livingston Institute, Women Deliver and partners – got me in my feelings. 

 The Festival theme was ‘Gains from Equality’. It had me thinking about all the women who came before me and the opportunities they created for me to succeed in school, as well as in my personal and professional life. It reminded me of my mother’s stories of a time when the world refused to see girls and women as anything other than wives and mothers.

Creating opportunities for the next generation at the 2019 Girls Fest organised by Reach a Hand Uganda. 3 young women hold up a sign and smile.
2019 Girls Festival

Let us toast the movements that paved the way for women to do powerful things. 

We must honour the women who marched for us to vote, to get into the workforce and the political space. And not forgetting the women who made it possible for us to eat chicken and eggs. Yes, shocking I know, but there are several tribes in Uganda where not too long ago women were forbidden from eating chicken or eggs.

Despite numerous obstacles, the contributions of women in the past have eased the path for girls and women today.

We owe it to ourselves to create equal opportunities for the next generation of men and women. We owe our children true equality. I love lists, so here are 4 ways to create opportunities for the next generation of women and men.

1)     Reinvent Feminism

There are numerous misconceptions about what feminism is. Some people are reluctant to label themselves as feminist. I am often asked if I am a feminist. It scares me to respond to this question, because I may be viewed as a ‘bitter man hater’.

We should remind girls and women that feminism is not a bad word. Girls and women should know that feminism is about having choices. Carly Fiorina, the first woman to head a fortune 500 company, described a feminist as a woman who lives the life she chooses. “A woman may choose to have 5 children and home school them, she may choose to be CEO or run for president.”

Let us rework feminism by getting more men involved. Feminism is for everyone. Working with men and boys is key to achieving equality. They should be encouraged to stand alongside women to support gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Men and boys need to abandon all toxic masculinity. Harmful stereotypes should be thrown out to embrace respectful, mutually beneficial and healthy relationships.

2)     Create Safe Spaces for Girls and Women

The Girls Festival was such a safe space for girls and women to receive sexual and reproductive health services. It was a space for girls to be girls. We need to create rooms full of role models for girls to aspire to be like. We need to create worlds where everyone can feel safe, accepted, loved, challenged and encouraged.

3)     Mentorship and Positive Role Models

My biggest struggle over the years has been to find a great female role model who is also a young adult. I look up to former Vice President Specioza Kazibwe, however, I wish I had a female young adult to look up to. I’d love to have someone like me who is doing powerful things. We need to introduce the next generation to remarkable role models who are powerhouses and forces to be reckoned with. I particularly loved how the Girls Festival 2019 introduced us to role models like self-taught makeup artist Monalisa Umutoni.

4)     Invest in Women

The inaugural Girls Festival was a satellite event leading up to the Women Deliver 2019 Conference in Vancouver. Women Deliver’s mantra is that investing in women creates a ripple effect that yields multiple benefits, not only for individual women, but also for families and communities. Investments in women and girls are not mere acts of charity. They should be looked at as investments that can generate high returns for humanity.

These are just 4 ways we can create opportunities for the next generation. I know it won’t be easy, but every little action matter. Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, famously said that the way to progress is neither swift nor easy.

Let us do whatever is in our power to pave the way for future generations to enjoy the gains from equality. I look forward to the opportunities we can create for the next generation.

Doreen Kihembo is a Communications Officer at Reach A Hand Uganda.

In Conversation With Scarlett Hawkins

Scarlett Hawkins is a sexual and reproductive health and rights advocate from Australia. In this interview with Girls’ Globe, she talks to us about what that well-used phrase ‘meaningful youth engagement’ actually means, and describes some of the barriers young people face when trying to enter sectors such as international development or human rights.

“I think hustle culture has been hugely detrimental to the wellbeing of not just young people, but a lot of people working in this space.”

For Scarlett, the support she’s received from mentors has been an important part of her advocacy experience so far. She knows, though, that many young people don’t have access to the same kind of mentorship that could help them to shine.

“It would be really magnificent if people who were established in this space would more actively seek mentoring opportunities, and not just with people who are already rising or emerging stars.”

This video was made possible through a generous grant from SayItForward.org in support of women’s advocacy messages.

SEED Community works to empower girls in South Africa

seed email logo (1)

Photo by Pep Bonet for SEED Community
Photo by Pep Bonet for SEED Community

The SEED Community was founded in 2011 to provide higher educational opportunities for girls and women from challenging economic backgrounds in developing countries through affordable loan programmes. At SEED, our objective is to create the opportunity for girls to take the future into their own hands and at the same time plant the seeds for somebody else’s future and growth.

We are working in South Africa with girls at the grass roots level offering interest free, higher education loans and work opportunities through our SEED School Mentoring Programme. Our community support structure provides a framework for girls to complete their studies, repay their loans, and be independent, active contributors to society.

We do not view the funding for the girls’ education in isolation, but rather as part of a broader social context.
 However bright, capable and motivated the girls are, many face social and economic difficulties preventing them from entering and/or completing their higher education for a variety of reasons, including the following:

Every 27 seconds a girl in South Africa is raped.

More than 20% of school kids are HIV positive.

Nearly one fifth of South African children live in orphan-headed households, according to a Statistics SA (www.statssa.gov.za)

A girl born in South Africa has a 1 in 3 chance of completing secondary school.

SEED Community seeks to address these challenges. With realities such as these standing between women and their independence and empowerment, we believe a standard education is not enough to bring about sufficient social or economic change. As a response, we established the SEED School Mentoring Programme to bring continuing and higher educational opportunities to the reach of girls and women who otherwise could not afford such education.

In return for sponsorship of their loans, SEED students work as mentors in a formal capacity with school learners and tertiary students in the inner city of Johannesburg. They provide positive and creative solutions to the issues students face, helping them to make informed choices in life. We believe children need to be given a voice and the ability to share their stories in a safe environment and to discuss issues that matter to them, enabling them to recognize the potential they hold and their ability to fulfill their goals. The mentoring programme offers this opportunity for the mentees, allowing them not only to receive guidance but also share their opinions, concerns and thoughts with their mentors.

Image: SEED Community

Under the guidance of Nikki Florence, who has been working as a mentor with youth groups for over 20 years, the SEED students currently mentor learners from grade 6 offering continued support until matriculation and beyond to tertiary level. The objective is for each SEED student to mentor learners at a ratio of 1:12. With time, those learners will in turn mentor junior learners at the same ratio.

So far the results are encouraging. It has been a journey of learning for both the SEED girls and the school learners participating in the programme. Most importantly, the experience has generated discussions and dialogues between the participants who are now recognizing that they not only have a voice, but a loud one that can carry far and create substantial change.

We hope you continue to follow our work and hear these voices, as they are only bound to get louder and stronger.

Follow SEED Community on Twitter

Join SEED Community on Facebook