Girl Up Initiative Uganda and the SDGs: Youth Perspectives

During the 71st United Nations General Assembly last month in New York City, gender equality and women’s empowerment was a key topic – highlighted in Ban-Ki Moon’s in his opening remarks. Unfortunately, Girl Up Initiative Uganda (GUIU) could not represent the interests of our women and girls in-person this time around. However, we can still highlight the opinions of some of our young women staff members who are dedicated to the UN’s mission vis-a-vis the sustainable development goals (SDGs), which the world’s decision makers are committed to achieving by 2030.

“I am proud to call myself a feminist.”- Ban- Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations

Gender parity is central to creating a more equitable world. Three of the Global Goals dedicated to this are core to our main activities and mission statement. As a young women-run organization, we prepare girls for the unique challenges they will ultimately face, and position them to be able to create action-based solutions. We also focus on building the capacity of our youth staff members, particularly to learn about global policies such as the SDGs, so they can pass their knowledge along to girls as they graduate from our program and teach others in their communities.

guiupicture1

We profiled a few young women leading efforts within Girl Up Initiative Uganda to create a more sustainable, equitable future for our girls and young women. Here is what they had to say:

 

guiupicture2

Marion Achom, Program Assistant

What role are you playing to contribute to the SDGs, particularly  SDG 4 and SDG 5 as they relate to Girl up Initiative Uganda and the work the organization is doing?

I am help provide young girls with a holistic education, that gives them the capacity to sustain themselves through the Adolescent Girls Program (AGP). This includes hands-on skills to support themselves as individuals should they drop out of school or fail to continue with their education.

What do you think about girls’ equal access to education and why it matters to the community and the future of the country as a whole moving forward?

I think ultimately we need to make education gender-sensitive, whereby no sex is discriminated against. This gives both girls and boys the chance to interact and understand that they are equal, on the same plate, and can work together as they strive for the same opportunities and goals.

What do you think as a female leader in this space, you and others can do to involve men and boys and stakeholders – like the health community – in the movement?

Not only does Girl Up conduct the AGP, but amidst our trainings, we hold mass campaigns for boys who are upper primary students (primary 4 – 7). We discuss with them issues concerning sexual reproductive health and rights, how they view girls, and how they can support their female counterparts with the understanding that gender equality does not exclude the boy child.

I also think we should involve men and boys in sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and gender based violence (GBV) as we advocate for these rights. Men play a very important role in curbing these instances, as participants and perpetrators respectively. One of our programs where we are doing that is called NI-YETU, meaning ‘it is ours’, which works with the youth and involves boys, girls, men, and women, to bring about gender equality and equal opportunity.

guiupicture3

Caroline Achola, Volunteer

What do you think about girls’ equal access to education and why it matters to the community and the future of the country as a whole moving forward?

Like the Ghanaian proverb says “Educate a girl and you have educated a whole nation”. The girl child most times in our communities is treated with less value, and only taken for bride price. If they are empowered with knowledge, they are able to decide for themselves when to get married, and when to have sex and when not to have sex – which can prevent exposure to diseases such as HIV/AIDS and STIs and STDs. It helps break the cycle of poverty when girls and women have more say in the course their lives take.

What are the challenges and opportunities you see when it comes to women’s empowerment and achieving gender equality?

Traditions and culture teaching us to consider male children superior to the girls is a challenge. Moving away from this will be a process, and require a transformation of the society. It will involve treating girls and women equally in various aspects of life, from shared responsibilities in the household, to equal employment opportunities. Empowering mothers and guardians with this knowledge can help in turn, empower their daughters, as well as educate their sons.

What do you think as a female leader in this space, you and the others can do to involve men and boys and stakeholders – like the health community – in the movement?

Having more programs that are tailor-made not only specifically for girls and women, but boys and the men, so that one sex does not feel left out. These can be used as a platform whereby we can learn from one another and discuss different ways to bring about gender equality.

guiupicture4

Shallon Nayebare, Volunteer

What are the challenges and opportunities you see when it comes to women’s empowerment and achieving gender equality?

In a lot of the communities, there is a stereotype that educated women are not submissive to their husbands, and that these women tend to grow ‘horns’ (horns here meaning that they cannot listen to reason). In this case, society may not listen to any of her contributions. Furthermore, this hurts their opportunities to marry, as many men looking for partners have biased opinions concerning highly educated women. This can discourage some of them from furthering their studies.

In addition, even though more women are empowered economically and are starting up their own businesses, there is still a challenge when it comes to decision-making, access, and control. Even if a woman makes a profit, the man as the head of the household can take all those finances and determine how it is utilized without her input, which has been a very big challenge in Uganda.

There is also a problem with some women having an inferiority complex, which can stop them from speaking out against things such as domestic violence for fear of being blamed as a woman. Adolescent girls who grow up seeing their mothers or other women in this position can hurt their sense of self, and lead them into similar circumstances. Teaching girls and women they are just as capable as of doing the kind of vocational work men and boy engage in can help build confidence, and help ensure no one is left out.

On the heels of the United Nation’s most significant gathering and the one-year anniversary of the SDGs, it is important to reflect on what the SDGs mean for organizations and its staff members, especially for youth in particular. The SDGs provide direction and serve as a reminder of our big picture goal, since it can be easy to get bogged down with grassroots heavy-lifting as we work day-by-day towards a more gender equitable world. We are pleased to see that all 17 SDGs have a gender lens, with the awareness that meeting the challenges of gender transformation does not happen overnight. Because gender issues are so ingrained in the cultural fabric of communities, our work is going to take considerable effort and consistent hard work. But with a passionate group of young people, collaboration with like-minded organizations, and long-term community engagement, Girl Up Initiative Uganda believes the 2030 target can be realized.

Youth Speak Out About HIV/AIDS!

Today, Girls’ Globe blogger, Eleanor met up with several young people at the 2016 International AIDS Conference. It’s the last full day of the conference and these inspiring young activists had a lot to say about the work they are accomplishing to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic in their countries. They also shared key takeaways they have learned from the conference and their goals going forward in their work.

Watch this Inspiring Video:

 

Girls’ Globe is present at the 2016 International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa (17-22nd of July). Follow our team on social media @GirlsGlobe, @FHI360 & @JNJGlobalHealth and by using the hashtag #EndHIV4Her for inspiring blog posts, interviews and updates! To sign up for the daily In Focus Newsletter visit crowd360.org/aids2016/.

Young People’s Leadership in Ending AIDS by 2030

54 young people from  17 different countries across Africa, hosted a Youth Satellite Session at the 21st International AIDS Conference on Youth Leadership in Achieving Universal Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights and Ending AIDS by 2030, hosted in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), South Africa’s National Department of Health and Johnson & Johnson.

The youth satellite session was  creatively organised, featuring poetry, drama, music and a panel discussion where the young people shared perspectives on how living with and without HIV affects them individually and broadly within the communities they live in. They engaged in an intriguing  inter-generational dialogue with key decision makers, stressing the need for multilateral organizations and governments to collaborate with young people to deliver better programs and initiatives at local levels. This could help to achieve better results towards reducing new infections and ultimately ending HIV/AIDS amongst youth and adolescents aged 15-24 across the continent. Meaningful youth engagement was mentioned as a prerequisite in giving  young people the opportunity  to be part of leadership structures that are involved in the planning, designing, monitoring and evaluation of policies, programs, and project initiatives on a local, national, regional and global level. Youth voices continuously reiterated that, without youth involvement in key decision making platforms, to influence decisions made in delivering activities building up to the achievement of the AIDS 2030 response, the global health community would be missing out on critical information and perspectives from young people.

The youth satellite session focused attention to discussing “new ways of doing business with young people,” with mention to the national health community in Africa to invest in harnessing the demographic dividend in a holistic manner, using integrative approaches to combat the potential spread of HIV/AIDS amongst their generation within the next 15 years.  Partnership-building, advocacy strengthening, resource mobilization and human rights promotion towards achieving universal sexual reproductive health and access to HIV prevention, treatment and care are vital to maintaining progress towards ending the AIDS epidemic in Africa and the world. In implementing the 90–90–90 treatment target to ensure 30 million people living with HIV have access to treatment by 2020, young people have to be collaborated with – as implementing partners and not only as beneficiaries of health services. Young people must be incorporated into structures dealing with the epidemic response, to ensure that key interventions developed are inclusive and respond to the needs of young people and adolescents who are largely affected by HIV/AIDS.

At the end of 2015, the number of people on HIV treatment reached 17 million, exceeding the 2015 target of reaching 15 million people. Leaders pledged to ensure that 90% of people (children, adolescents and adults) living with HIV know their status, 90% of people living with HIV who know their status are receiving treatment and 90% of people on treatment have suppressed viral loads (90-90-90). United Nations Member States, including South Africa and various other countries in Africa have adopted the Political Declaration on Ending AIDS to scale up the pace of progress and reach a set of time-bound targets. Countries have agreed to a historic and urgent agenda to accelerate efforts towards ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030. The targets and commitments, adopted in the Political Declaration on Ending AIDS: on the Fast-Track to Accelerate the Fight against HIV and to End the AIDS Epidemic by 2030, will guide the world in addressing the critical linkages between health, development, injustice, inequality, poverty and conflict.

Young people across Africa, pleaded their country commitments to ending AIDS, below are some of the declarations from the Sub-Saharan region, the region most affected by the epidemic:

  • Uganda: “We declare that we will advocate for measures to avoid and prevent HIV and collaborate with fellow advocates and government to ensure that services are availed to those that need them; and that staff are positive minded about those individuals that seek services. We call upon governments to ensure hat circumcision services are available at every government health center so that people can easily access them.”
  • Kenya: “We declare we will educate young women and girls about the importance of taking care of their bodies. We declare to involve adolescents and young people meaningfully, especially those who have been marginalized and previously ignored. We declare to work with government, civil society, private sector, and faith sector to ensure integrated interventions are developed in education, agriculture, tourism and health for young people”
  • Zambia: “We declare we will educate young people on how to prevent AIDS and will partner with youth around the world, volunteering our time, expertise and resources on this en-devour of fighting stigma and discrimination to end AIDS by 2030”

It is evident that young people are ready for collaboration in accelerating action to achieve Universal Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights and ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030, as young people today, are the generation that will end AIDS tomorrow. What the global, regional and national health community needs to do – is bring young people to the table, and structurally invest in their involvement, participation, meaningful engagement and leadership.

“If we support our young people, if we give them the confidence and the space to speak out. If we take the time to listen and empower them – they WILL end this epidemic.” – Charlize Theron (International AIDS Conference 2016).

Girls’ Globe is present at the 2016 International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa (17-22nd of July). Follow our team on social media @GirlsGlobe, @FHI360 & @JNJGlobalHealth and by using the hashtag #EndHIV4Her for inspiring blog posts, interviews and updates! To sign up for the daily In Focus Newsletter visit crowd360.org/aids2016/.

Cover photo credit: International AIDS Society, 2016 

The Best of Girls’ Globe In 2015!

The past year has been a whirlwind! As many of you reflect on your year, I am certain you are probably saying the same thing. From adding a new niece to my family, starting a new relationship and diving into my work with Girls’ Globe this year has been full of great changes and opportunities. When I think about all Girls’ Globe has accomplished this year, I am amazed! When I began blogging for Girls’ Globe in 2013, I never would have expected to have the opportunity to watch our online magazine grow into a global network of young women and organizations creating enourmous change for women and girls around the world. It is inspiring to hear daily stories from young women and girls who are gaining leadership skills, learning more about their bodies, starting businesses and advocating for change in their governments.

I love talking with the young women and girls’ in our network and hearing about how Girls’ Globe has been a mechanism for them to create change both at a grassroots level in their communities and an international level. Our online magazine provides individuals and organizations a safe space to share real and personal stories from their work to strengthen girls’ and women’s voices. Below are just a few highlights from this past year:

Global Network

Girls’ Globe continues to expand our global network and recruit diverse individuals and organizations to write about the health and rights of women and girls. This year, Girls’ Globe has empowered over 80 bloggers, both young women and organizational representatives to share about the incredible work they are doing to empower women, girls’ and communities. Our online platform, has enabled these incredible voices to be heard at an international level. If you are interested in joining our network you can apply today.

I’m left humbled after each recruitment call with our new bloggers and featured organizations. The Girls’ Globe partnership begins with a candid and passionate conversation that is unique to each member of our network. I’m so proud to be part of an organization that is dedicated to amplifying the voices of women and girls who are working tirelessly towards gender equality. -Holly Curtis, USA

Online Communications

Girls’ Globe continues to engage and inform a diverse and unique audience with interests ranging from global development to feminism to motherhood and more. In 2015, we published over 250 articles which garnered over 150,000 views from 190 countries. We engaged our readers and followers online through our #YouthVoices Instagram campaign, Google+ Hangout interviews and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) blog post series just to name a few. Make sure to continue to follow the blog as well as our social media channels on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

Girls’ Globe is a relevant, engaging and intelligent voice in the field of women’s health and empowerment. We are constantly impressed by their creativity. They’re always up to date with the latest technology, helping us to leverage new and innovative storytelling techniques and empowering us to reach a larger, more diverse community. Alexandra Cairns, Kupona Foundation

gg team in new yorkInternational Advocacy

One of the greatest highlights for me this year has been empowering our bloggers from around the world. This year, we participated in a variety of international events engaging young people, policy-makers, organizations  and other stakeholders both on and offline through live coverage at the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly and the Global Maternal Newborn Health conference. We trained blogging fellows from Jamaica, Kenya and the United Kingdom. The training enabled them to raise their voices and advocate for issues important to them. The fellows learned best practices in live coverage and were trained in interviewing techniques and on how to utilize digital tools.

I was humbled by the opportunity to represent Girls Globe at UNGA. Such spaces often represent girls and young women as a homogenous group but through this opportunity I was glad to highlight the unique experiences, perspectives and lived realities of girls and young women around the world and make critical connections on their role in the implementation of SDGS. -Felogene Anumo, Kenya

What a year it has been! On behalf of the Girls’ Globe team, I want to say thank you. We value YOU, our readers who dedicate time each day to read stories and interact with us through your comments and on social media. We love hearing incredible stories from the young women and organizations in our network. Finally, our work would not be possible without our many partners, who take the time to invest in our work. In 2016, we look forward to more growth and an increased opportunities to continue to advocate for the health and rights of women and girls around the world.

Want to read more about our year? Check out our year-end newsletter!

Adolescent Reproductive Health Concerns in Sub-Saharan Africa

Young people make up the greatest proportion of the population in sub-Saharan Africa, with more than one-third of the population between the ages of 10 and 24. And sub-Saharan Africa is the only region of the world in which the number of young people continues to grow substantially. By 2025, the number of young people (aged 10 to 24) in this region is expected to increase to 436 million. Furthermore, the population is projected to further increase to 605 million by 2050.

Adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa have particular reproductive health vulnerabilities such as high adolescent birth rate, gender inequality, early marriage, abduction, harmful traditional practices (such as female genital cutting), unwanted and closely spaced pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and STIs. These young people need access to sexual and reproductive health information and services so they can use contraception, prevent unintended pregnancy and decide if and when to have children. At the same time, these investments allow young people especially girls to take advantage of education and employment opportunities. Ultimately, if nations want to give young people a healthy start; they must protect their right to sexual and reproductive health information and services.

Sexual activity, marriage and childbearing

Marriage is generally a decisive transition to adulthood, but the perception that it is always a safe transition is at odds with the reality faced by some female adolescents in Sub-Saharan Africa. Early marriage is still common throughout the region. Women who marry very early may have greater risks for negative outcomes than their sexually active unmarried peers, largely because married women generally have intercourse more frequently than sexually active unmarried women do, and because married women often have unprotected sex due to the pressure to have children. Early marriage can lead to pregnancies that put young women at risk for obstetric fistula and can also be a risk factor for HIV infection. Adolescent sexual activity, within or outside of marriage, can lead to negative reproductive health outcomes. Unprotected sexual activity can expose young women to the risks of unintended pregnancy, unwanted childbearing and abortion, as well as HIV and other STIs. This can lead to school dropout or expulsion, since the school policy in many countries in Africa is unfriendly to pregnant adolescents.

Contraceptive use and an unmet need

Without reproductive health information and contraceptives, women face unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, and serious health issues. In Sub-Saharan Africa, many sexually active young people who want to avoid pregnancy are not using modern family planning methods for various reasons, including a lack of access to services or disapproval by health providers. Thirty-three percent of married adolescent women in the region want to avoid a birth in the next two years, but 67 percent are not currently using any contraceptive method. Although contraceptive use of adolescents is substantially less than that of all women of reproductive age, adolescent women have similar levels of unmet need. As a result, the percentage of adolescents who have their demand for contraception satisfied is much lower than that of all women age 15 to 49.

HIV and AIDS

Most youth living with HIV are women. Overall, sixty-four percent of youth living with HIV are young women. The vast majority (3.8 million/76 percent) of young people living with HIV or AIDS are in Africa. Girls are more vulnerable to HIV because they face greater risks of sexual violence, forced marriage and trafficking. They are far less likely than boys to have the information they need to protect themselves, but even if they have that information, they may not be empowered to use it. We must do more to protect all adolescents and empower them to protect themselves and their health. In fact, we cannot end the epidemic without a global movement to end AIDS-related deaths and new HIV infections among adolescents. To achieve an AIDS-free generation, we have to prevent the spread of HIV and ensure those who are living with HIV/AIDS know their status, receive treatment, and are virally suppressed. We must address the challenges that remain and include adolescents in the conversation.

Policies and programs that address adolescents’ reproductive health

Regardless of whether adolescents have had sex, what demands our attention is most young people are having doing so during their teenage years. Schools are an effective place to offer adolescents sexual and reproductive health related information and skills because it provides an excellent forum for reaching a large number of adolescents in a structured setting. Comprehensive, school-based sex education is effective and contrary to some beliefs it does not lead to increased sexual activity among adolescents.

Out-of-school adolescents have similar needs for sexual and reproductive (SRHR) health information and services. These youth, live in rural areas or are geographically scattered and it is often difficult to provide them with SRHR services. Strategies are needed to reach this group of adolescents. One approach is to use school facilities for after-school life skills programs that include both in and out-of-school adolescents, or adult education classes that cover sexual and reproductive health topics. Programs must be flexible and include innovative curriculum design, approaches that appeal to youth and health information to the places where young people work and spend free time.

Cover Photo Credit: DFID UK, Flickr Creative Commons

#YouthVoices: PMNCH gives Adolescents & Youth a seat at The Table

The Board Chair of the Partnership on Maternal Newborn and Child Health, Graca Machel called for the establishment of a Youth and Adolescents Constituency. In response, The Partnership invited a group of more than 40 young people and youth leaders from 23 countries, representing organisations around the globe to meet in London to develop a strategic plan to ensure adequate representation of youth and adolescent issues in reproductive, maternal, child and adolescent health.

The journey leading up to this historic action, spanned nearly two years, where the development of an adolescent health strategy by the Partnership’s Board began in 2013 and included extensive consultation across dozens of young people and youth-serving organisations working in the SRMNCAH (sexual, reproductive, maternal, newborn, child, adolescent health) sector around the world. The initial two-day meeting workshop took place in London 20-21st July 2015, where the global youth representatives engaged in robust discussions and open brainstorming sessions, which lead to concept, principle and strategic plan development, where such resulted in the  formulation of a framework strategy, a proposal to be presented for consideration by the Board. The Youth and Adolescents proposal was subject for adoption and approval by the board chair and members, at the 17th PMNCH Board Meeting, which took place in Lusaka, Zambia, 12-14 October 2015. The adolescent and youth representatives invited to the Board Meeting, professionally represented themselves and their fellow peers from around the globe, speaking on behalf of all young people calling for the endorsement and establishment of a Youth and Adolescent Constituency.

The adolescent and youth representatives in attendance got the opportunity to visit the Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia’s youth-friendly clinic in Fair View, where they played a vital role in sharing best principles, and engaging in discussions regarding the operations of an adolescent clinic – sighting the strong need for more nations to adopt the creation of independent youth friendly service health care facilities that inventively and creatively address adolescent health issues and provide youth with the adequate services to care for their health needs.

21 year old UNICEF Youth Ambassador, Brighton Kaoma said: “Today’s youth are tomorrows leaders and policy makers, if young people will be the touche barriers, then they must have a concrete role in the implementation of the SDG’s”

After the clinic visits and in-between working group sessions on different constituencies of the The Partnership, the selected youth representatives delivered brief, innovative and vibrant presentations.  Within the official adoption of The Partnership’s 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, the organisations board chair and members enthusiastically supported, approved and adopted the establishment of an 8th Constituency and mainstreamed youth & adolescents involvement within the Partnership, to foster youth participation and engagement, and bring greater attention to the voices and issues of young people in its RMNCH work.

The voices of young people play a vital role in shaping policies, programs and providing game changing interventions that can assist organisations to effectively and efficiently provide the right services that meet and cater for their health needs. Their voices need to be progressively heard as the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) and United Nations Secretary General’s Global Health Strategy on Women, Children and Adolescents takes effect.  Thus their presence in discussions should be granted representation within decision-making processes on a global, regional and national levels. The Partnership has acknowledged the role young people play in the era of sustainable development and this act is one to be emulated by more global organisations, working with adolescent and youth issues around the world.

Youth voices are crucial for over all global, regional and national effectiveness, as the world continues to be in strong need and rising demand of the qualities of the youth. As the infamous long-standing slogan “Nothing about us, without us” goes, I reiterate: “Anything about us, without us, is against us.”

Photo Credit: DFID