A celebration of the girl child

12 December 2018
The First Lady of Uganda and Minister of Education and Sports, Hon. Janet Museveni emphasizing the need to invest in girls and the need to empower girls through education.

In her speech to the First Lady of Uganda, Esther Mudondo, a young student at Wanyange Girls School, spoke about issues affecting adolescent girls and gave recommendations on what should be done to address these issues. For one entire day, she took over the role of Jinja LCV chairperson, Titus Kisambira, in order to raise awareness of the barriers that continue to hold girls back and to show the potential of girls as leaders and decisions-makers. With her new leading role in the district, she called for more opportunities for girls to get skilled and educated. In conclusion, Esther shouted out “Girl Power!” before encouraging all girls to stand up for themselves and to pursue their dreams.

This occurred at the commemoration of the International Day of the Girl Child held at Kagoma primary school in Buwenge Sub County, Jinja district, on November 27. Graced by the Minister of Education and Sports; First Lady and National Champion for Adolescent Girls, Hon. Janet Museveni, the theme of the day was: “With her; A skilled girl force”.

Speaking on behalf of the European Union, Swedish Ambassador to Uganda H.E. Per Lindgärde, stressed that gender equality, one of the fundamental values of the European Union, is the foundation for inclusive sustainable economic development. He said ensuring girls’ rights is both a parent’s responsibility as role models as well as the responsibility of the communities. The Ambassador noted that many strategies and policies to ensure the rights of the girl child already exist in Uganda, calling for their implementation to address the challenges and underlying mindsets that deprive girls of their fundamental rights.

In her remarks, the UN Resident Coordinator in Uganda, Ms. Rose Malango, highlighted the need to end teenage pregnancy as 25 percent of all girls in Uganda aged 15 to 19 either have a child or are pregnant. She said that teenage pregnancies contribute with up to 28 percent of the overall maternal death rate in Uganda. Moreover, she added, 19 percent of young girls aged 15 to 19 are not educated, employed or in training, with only 21.4 percent making it to secondary school. On behalf of the UN in Uganda, the Resident Coordinator commended the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development on leading the development of the National Multi-Sectoral Coordination Framework for Adolescent Girls and pledged for the UN to continue its work in Uganda on adolescent girls’ development and wellbeing. At the same ceremony, the National Multi-Sectoral Coordination Framework for Adolescent Girls and the Communications for Development Strategy were launched by the First Lady.

Involving religious and cultural leaders

Bishop Joshua Lwere speaking to the audience at the religious and
cultural leaders’ meeting about finding the right solutions to
end child marriage in Uganda.

Earlier the same day, cultural and religious leaders from various districts participated in a breakfast meeting to discuss how to end child marriage in Uganda. Held at the Presidential Lodge in Jinja, the meeting was organized by the Organization of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA). Present were Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Janat Mukwaya; Minister of State for Youth and Children Affairs, Florence Nakiwala Kiyingi; Permanent Secretary of State of Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Pius Bigirimana; as well as young school girls and representatives from UNFPA and UNICEF.

Bishop Joshua Lwere, the senior pastor of Grace Assembly Church in Kampala, initiated the meeting and stressed the need for cultural and religious leaders to have a balanced and united message on ending child marriage to transform the nation. In his statement, he also emphasized the importance of recognizing and understanding causes of this harmful cultural practice (such as poverty, lack of education and knowledge) in order to come up with the right solutions. However, he acknowledged changing people’s mindset and social norms takes time.

The dialogue further discussed how to rethink current approaches and promoting positive social norms, i.e. by promoting role models and male champions as advocates in the local communities. Charles Serwanja, who represented the Secretary General of the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda, suggested the inclusion of communities in coming up with solutions and in a language they understand. The importance of strengthening families and promoting parenting seminars were other possible solutions noted by the audience. As it was declared, “It starts from the family. If we do not strengthen families, we are only treating symptoms”.

The First Lady thanked everyone at the meeting for expressing their concerns and proposed solutions and acknowledged that we need to do more for young girls in Uganda, especially emphasizing empowerment of girls through education and the role of parents in ensuring that girls are not married off before completing school: “Marrying off girls is not acceptable… If we care enough, we need to invest in young girls and teach them how important it is for them to get an education and live a wholesome life,” she said.

Representatives of religious and cultural leaders separately gave their statement on their commitments to end child marriages in Uganda, which were later declared at the event in Buwenge. International Day of the Girl Child is commemorated across the globe to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges that many girls face.

Written by Cecilie Uldbjerg and Maria Christiansen