We’re excited to launch a new mini-series on GTHQ! We’re partnering with a non-profit organization called Women In Leadership, based out of Uganda, to help promote one of their initiatives. In the Teen Voices Program, they encourage high school girls in the rural town of Busembatia to write article about their lives, and the challenges they face as females in a largely patriarchal society. These stories are then published online, reaching an international audience.
WIL also shows the girls how to use social media to share news and advocate for change. Through teaching the girls about gender equality, and helping them write articles to raise awareness, they gain the knowledge and the confidence of how they can improve gender equality through their own leadership. We will be publishing a series of short articles written by girls in the program, touching on topics such as education, reproductive rights, health, and gender-related stigma they are actively trying to break down.
Below are the first two entries in our Teen Voices series, from young women who are part of the Women In Leadership program.
By Nankinga Joanitah
My name is Joan, I am thirteen years old. I have an older sister, she is called Sharon. A long time ago, when my elder sister was in Senior Two, she had a boyfriend who was in the same class as her. He was called Sherlock. They were in a boarding section. Sherlock loved my sister so much. They used to walk together at break time, lunch, and in the evening after lessons.
One evening, Sherlock and Sharon decided to escape from school and go to town. When they got there, Sharon asked for everything she wanted to eat and Sherlock bought it for her. After eating, they went to a lodge to rest for some hours. They had sexual intercourse, and Sharon got pregnant. The Ugandan Health Ministry’s HIV/AIDS report in 2011 found that about 71% of teenagers have risky sex, however less than half of that number use condoms. When Sharon realized she was pregnant, she went back to school.
Then, the next morning, she went to the school nurse to abort. However, the bad thing was, the nurse refused. By then, Sharon didn’t know what to do. Unfortunately Sherlock decided to drop out of school with Sharon. They became partners and married each other. Reports from the International Center for Research on Women show that, in Uganda, pregnancy is the second highest cause of drop-outs among school girls.
After nine months, Sharon delivered a baby girl. Sharon spent two years in marriage before she went back home. She shocked mum when she came home with a baby. But mum didn’t want to have anything to do with my sister. After a year, when her baby had grown, Sharon asked mum if she could go back to school for her studies, but mother didn’t have the money.
After, mum told her to go to her dad to give her school fees. When she reached the place, she did not find him at home, as he had not yet come back from work. The stepmother was the one at home. At around 8 o’clock, dad returned from work. Sharon told him about her problem, and he asked her to wait for the following morning.
The following morning, dad went to get money from the bank. However, on that exact day, the step mother killed her house girl, and Sharon and the stepmother were both arrested and taken to prison. When dad came back with the money, nobody was found at home. The neighbors then told him they were arrested, so he went to see what happened.
When he went, he was also arrested. They spent a year in prison and were then released. When my sister came back, dad gave her money and she went back to school. She started studying and performed well in class. She finally passed the exams for university and became a professional nurse.
Dear sisters, if you’re there and you’re planning to do what my sister did, please change your mind, remain in school and abstain. God will help you and you’ll pass your exams and succeed like my sister.
By Namuwaya Mariam
Last year I went to Ikumbya trading centre to buy clothes. Walking around the market I met my friend, Nalugonda Winnie, who was new in Senior Two.
Winnie is a choir member at Ikumya church. Since she had passed through many challenges, she decided to believe in God and not to believe in any creature. When she started her period at the age of 10 years, she had known nothing about it. But due to the responsible friends she was moving with, myself included, we sat down and counseled her.
Each time I could visit her, I would advise her to tell her mother to buy for her sanitary pads. Millions of girls living in developing countries such as Uganda miss up to one fifth of the school year simply because they cannot afford to buy common sanitary products when they menstruate. At first, it was not easy to meet her because I was always at school, but in holiday, I went on approaching her on every Sunday after prayers at the church.
We not only talked about health but also education. We talked for a long time and she told me that her father is a brick maker, and how could she succeed with her studies? She started crying, but I did not keep a deaf ear. I advised her to go to Universal Primary Schools, a government initiative designed to give all children primary education.
One day, I met with her father and we discussed Winnie. Her father heard and did everything I told him to do for her. She sat for Primary leaving examination in 2015, and she managed to get a first grade of 8.
Winnie is now on government sponsorship, but due to her ignorant father, he had decided her to go and marry when she was in Senior One. Winnie was not alone in this; 40% of girls in Uganda are married before the age of 18. When the sponsors heard about the early marriage, she was taken away and the father was imprisoned, but later let go from the prison.
When I met Winnie, she told me that she thought it was so tough for her to cope with the situation. I learned how to depend on myself in every situation, accept things I can’t change, always be a go-getter, and mostly live a faithful life full of happiness, due to the situations I have seen in my life.
I am now at a school called Townside High School in Busembatia, and I am in Senior Three. I think about how important girls are in the present Uganda and I always feel privileged being a girl, and I thank those who support girls all over the world to make a difference. If all communities all around the world would educate a girl, be there for her problems, encourage positivity and empowerment, then the world would be a better place to live in. And my fellow girls I encourage you to endure with the situation that comes across your life.
Stay tuned for our next installment of the WIL Teen Voices series.