Featured Organizations, Sustainable Development
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Girl Up Initiative Uganda and the SDGs: Youth Perspectives

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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.

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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:

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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