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.

Mental Health Treatment & Gender Equality in Uganda

Conflict, poverty and instances of social injustice can provide the context within which a person develops mental health issues. And yet, while studying to become a creative/psychomotor therapist, I learned very little about this.

I didn’t question it at the time, because mental health is a personal issue, right? My time in a counselling centre in Uganda last summer showed me that the answer to this question is, in fact, a clear no.

I volunteered as a psychomotor therapist in the Bishop Asili Counselling, Rehabilitation and Community Centre in Ngetta, northern Uganda. The local population living here suffered badly during the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency.

More than a decade after the end of the war, I came to Uganda with a stack of books on trauma and post-traumatic stress, ready to do creative therapeutic interventions that might help women cope with their war-time experiences.

Very quickly, it became clear to me that the conditions these women lived in asked for something different. Something more.

Sister Florence, an Ugandan psychologist who founded and runs the counselling centre, reminded me that next to their history of war, “there are so many [other] sources of trauma, so many, so many, so many”.

Women in Ngetta face many challenges. The patriarchal context leaves women with few, to zero, rights.

They have no right to land or any kind of ownership, and the moment a woman marries, her new husband acquires rights over her sexuality and reproductive ability.

Ellen, one of the women I worked with in the counselling centre, described the patriarchal culture: “I was now in the hands of my husband and I was now under authority of my husband. I need to respect him and do everything he tells me.”

Her words reflect the complex power dynamics and hegemonic masculinity that undermine women’s social status and power. On top of this, many women struggle to feed their families every day, while often their husbands drink away the little money there is. Other women have lived through (often multiple) more recent traumatic events, such as emotional and physical abuse by a husband or brother.

It made me wonder how much help my therapeutic interventions focused on (individual) war-trauma could be.

Recognizing the unequal social position of women, I needed to have a clear feminist ideology underlying my therapy. This meant focusing on women’s social position and equality.

Our sessions were related to resilience, visibility and communication, grounding techniques, personal boundaries, and more. Work related to the strive for equality for women was essential. However, paying attention to – and ultimately challenging – violent and unjust structures is not often included in mental health interventions in the Global South.

The importance of women’s mental health for general health is widely recognized. Mental health in international contexts is slowly becoming more of an acknowledged topic within the field of international development. This is really good news, especially considering the fact that only a small minority of the 450 million people suffering from mental or behavioural disorders worldwide receive treatment.

In 2013, the World Health Organization published their Mental Health Action Plan: 2013-2020. It is an ambitious action plan that understands ‘the essential role of mental health in achieving health for all people’. Global Mental Health (GMH) is thus an emergent topic in which more and more people are currently working. However, with this renewed focus on mental health, many critiques have emerged, some of them accusing GMH of being a colonial practice.

GMH is accused of globally enforcing biomedical systems, which are characteristic of the Global North’s approach to health. The biomedical framework locates illness, including mental illness, within a person. Though psychological and social principles are sometimes taken into account, biological variables are the most central.

Issues of social injustice and structural violence (such as poverty, conflict, sexism, racism) are not taken into account, despite their significant impact on women’s mental health.

Very important work is being done in the field of GMH. Organizations like SOS Children’s Villages or Action for Child Trauma International are great examples of a rights-based approach to trauma.

We must be careful to avoid new forms of imperialism in which the Global North enforces its biomedical approach to health on all cultures. We should work towards locally-informed care which approaches mental health not as an individual issue, but as something to be addressed on personal, community, national and global levels.

Mental health should be seen as a social issue.

This would allow us to challenge discriminating structures, both globally and nationally, while also focusing on community and personal struggles.

In order to achieve mental health for all, there is an essential role for work towards an equal world, and this work is should be integrated in the field of Global Mental Health.

In Conversation With Winfred Ongom

Winfred Ongom is a sexual and reproductive health and rights advocate working with the White Ribbon Alliance in Uganda. She tells us about the challenges she faces as a young woman speaking up on issues many would rather keep quiet about – including convincing her mother that her brothers should learn about condoms!

“It took her some time – we still have those fights – but at least there is some progress and she understands the need for them to protect themselves.”

By improving laws, staying open-minded and focusing on human rights-based approaches, Winfred is hopeful that future generations won’t face the stigma, mis-information and discrimination holding young people back today.

“Maybe the children I’ll have will have a better life, where their sexuality is open and they’re free to talk about it.”

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

16Days: The Male Champion in Me

When we talk about gender-based violence, people still think that it’s a woman’s responsibility to spearhead advocacy movements. Men are often the perpetrators of GBV, and so it’s very important that men stand up as advocates.

Today, we reach the end of the 2018 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence.

Violence against women has recently taken on new, more sophisticated forms. An increasing number of women are, for instance, reporting cyber-bullying and abuse through social media and smartphones.
We need to have ‘male action groups’ consisting of young men and boys from all walks of life – rich, poor, from urban or rural communities, black and white. Groups must be formed or strengthened to raise awareness of positive fatherhood, and to educate community members about healthier and more equitable behaviors for men and women.
Investing in empowering male peer educators and male champions of change to prevent GBV can go a long way in communities that are deeply influenced by cultural and traditional norms.

There is urgent need for community members to hold each other accountable with women and men working together for greater gender equality.

During one of the community dialogues conducted by Peer To Peer Uganda in Buyende District, Uganda, one of the male champions explained how cultural norms, myths and misconceptions discourage gender equality and equity in his community.

To tackle this, male champions are empowered and equipped with information, so that they in turn can sensitize communities about sexual and reproductive health issues.
Today in Uganda, alcohol and drug substance abuse are among the leading cause of domestic violence in homes. Ineffective laws also pose a big challenge to the fight against gender-based violence. 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 gender-based violence. For example, none of these laws criminalize marital rape.
Men and women – including boys and girls both in and out of school – must be reached with knowledge and information on gender-based violence. Health facilities, local leaders, police, policy makers and government need to work together to put an end to GBV, and creating male champions will play a critical role in stamping out GBV in our communities.