International Women’s Day: We can go further by empowering both girls and boys


According to a 2018 fact sheet from the Guttmacher Institute, a leading research institute, six in 10 sexually active adolescent women in Uganda who do not want to become pregnant, 395,000 in 2018 have an unmet need for modern contraception.

By Humphrey Nabimanya

We have made tremendous progress over the years in relation to gender equality and women’s empowerment. World over, issues once perceived to be impossible, for instance girls education, women’s rights, female political participation are now taking centre stage in our daily lives, and this calls for celebration. 

In Uganda, progressive laws and policies have been a large part of our success. These include the  1995 Constitution, the Equal Opportunities Commission Act, and the 2007 National Gender Policy — both instrumental in facilitating  our country’s national alignment with United Nations  Sustainable Development Goal 5  to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.”  This commitment was made concrete by the second National Development Plan (NDP II, 2015/16-2019/20), which is a blue print of Uganda’s development trajectory in the foreseeable future.

Despite the progress made, Uganda’s achievements so far leave a lot to be desired in all spheres, including sexual and reproductive health and rights. According to a 2018 fact sheet from the Guttmacher Institute, a leading research institute, six in 10 sexually active adolescent women in Uganda who do not want to become pregnant, 395,000 in 2018 have an unmet need for modern contraception.

The alternative is the use of the traditional methods, some of which have low levels of effectiveness, or nothing at all which carries even greater risk. It is majorly for this reason that 88% of all unintended pregnancies in the country occur among adolescents.

By contrast, supporting young people to access modern contraception has huge benefits.  The same report estimates that if the unmet need for modern contraception among adolescents in Uganda were satisfied, unintended pregnancies would drop by 72%, from 214,000 per year to 60,000, and that as a result the annual number of unplanned births would drop from 117,000 to 33,000 and unsafe abortions from 67,000 to 19,000.

Unintended pregnancy can have huge consequences in life, especially for a young woman who is often forced to leave school and halt her education and career. Thus, meeting contraception needs for adolescents can provide a level playing field for both boys and girls in access to education, economic opportunities, and a generally healthy life. I would be right to say then, access to contraception improves the socio-economic wellbeing of both boys and girls and is a wise investment for our nation.  

As part of this work, Reach A Hand Uganda and partners will mark International Women’s Day by hosting the first-ever Girls Festival in Kampala on March 8, at Lugogo Hockey Grounds from 8:30am – 5pm.  All are welcome to join the festivities.

A lot of women doing amazing things will be in attendance. These include: Agnes Igoye, one of  Africa’s leading activists against human trafficking. Agnes grew up in Pallisa district where she and her peers lived in fear of being kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Army, a common occurrence. Today she fights to eradicate prejudice by highlighting the stories of female victims of trafficking, and by teaching women to take active roles in counter-trafficking efforts.

And Nargis Shirazi, an advocate and Women Deliver Young Leader who is using theatrical writing to provide a platform for young people to raise their voices. One of her plays features involving men in family planning. In the play, a man becomes pregnant causing the cast to question gender and societal norms. This flipping of the script helps open up new conversations. As a male ally and someone invested in gender equality, I was touched the first time I saw Nargis’ play performed. The achievements of women like Nargis, Igoye, and many others points to one thing, we must invest in both girls and boys to effectively gain from equality.

And the Girls Festival is broader than just Uganda – it is also an official Satellite Event in the lead up to the Women Deliver 2019 Conference, the world’s largest global conference on gender equality, set to take place in Vancouver, Canada this June.. The theme of the inaugural Girls Festival is “Gains from Equality” — because we know that investing in girls and women benefits all of society.

We also know that investing in women and girls means more than preventing pregnancy and human trafficking. I want my three-year-old daughter to grow up knowing that she can pursue an advanced degree, run her own business, or run for office. I want this for her and for Uganda. Countries with a greater proportion of women among top decision-makers in legislatures have lower levels of income inequality. And in the private sector, companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on executive teams are 21 percent more likely to outperform the national average on profitability.

As the proverb goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We can go farther together by investing in both boys and girls.

The writer is the founder and team leader of Reach A Hand Uganda and Women Deliver Young Leader 2013

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