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An hour in the Representative’s shoes

Ten-year-old girl gets feel of leadership of the UN’s Reproductive Health and Rights agency


“I would like to take over your office,’’ said ten-year-old Patience Aciro to UNFPA Representative Mr. Alain Sibenaler in response to his question about what her plan was, ahead of a scheduled meeting between them.

A boss at ten? Yes, you can be, as was the case when Aciro, a Primary Four pupil of Masozi Primary School in Kampala was at the UNFPA Uganda office to step into the role of UNFPA Representative. Mirroring similar actions from girls from all over the world who assumed roles of various global leaders, the symbolic moment was one of the #GirlsTakeover events organized to commemorate International day of the Girl on October 11. 

International Day of the Girl aims to raise awareness and rally public support on issues affecting girls around the world. The takeover was organised in partnership with Plan Uganda. 

As he helped her settle into her symbolic new role, Mr. Sibenaler found out from Aciro that she is clear about her plans for the future. “I like learning. Science is my favourite subject and I want to become a doctor when I want to grow up,” she told him confidently.

Patience Aciro and Mr.Sibenaler get to know each other during the
take over


Once she was comfortable behind the desk, Aciro took charge, wasting no time calling a meeting of senior staff of UNFPA. Flanked by two 13-year-old Martha Kirabo and 11-year-old Leticia Nanyonjo as well as   19-year-old Zahara— who had earlier in the month taken over UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem’s office in New York— Aciro ably chaired the meeting and led a discussion about some of the challenges faced by girls in Uganda. 

“I live in a community where girls face challenges such as dropping out of school because they have lost their parents’, Kirabo said, referring to the Kirinya slum where she and her colleagues live and where their school is located.   

“Girls are treated with less value; they are given away in marriage in exchange for money,” Nanyonjo added. The girls also spoke of challenges such as poor sanitation and the lack of facilities for managing menstrual hygiene as well as poor enforcement of laws against defilement and child marriage.

Aciro and her colleagues believe that implementation of the government strategy on child marriage and teenage pregnancy would go a long way in addressing many of the challenges they and their peers encounter on the path to adulthood. In response Mr. Sibenaler tasked UNFPA’s Gender and Human Rights Specialist Ms Florence Auma to follow up the issue with the relevant Government departments. 

In a second session, other staff members joined the girls and in a lighthearted but at times emotional interaction, the girls opened up about their experiences as adolescents as well as some of their personal aspirations and feelings about their participation in GirlsTakeover. 

“Today is my first time to experience what it feels like to sit in an executive chair. I felt like I was in heaven. I hope when I can grow up I will fulfil my dream,” Aciro said before she broke down, overwhelmed by her emotions, to which staff members responded in unison: “You will!”

Zahara too shared that her time with Dr. Kanem inspired her to believe in herself.   “My experience as the UNFPA Executive Director was exciting and educational. I got to know what people at that level are thinking about us and to know all the things they are doing for us girls. It gave me confidence that one day I can be like Dr. Kanem, no matter what hardships I go through, “she said.

In response to the girls’ candid sharing, Mr. Sibenaler encouraged them to persist even in the face of challenges. He thanked them for participating in the take over and pledged that UNFPA would support them on their journey.   

“You performed your tasks beautifully. As you dream on, let this office be your home,” he said.  The Representative also committed to strengthen partnership with Plan Uganda to explore additional ways to address challenges faced by adolescent girls.

Martha Kirabo and Leticia Nanyonjo interact with Gender and
Human Rights Specialist Florence Auma


By Martha Songa