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“I started my life living in the slums of Katwe, but I would like to re-write my story,” began 22-year-old Nakandi Mastula, a young feminist, advocate and leader. As a young girl raised by a single mother, Masula says she had limited opportunities to complete her education.

 “Gifts and talents may be equally distributed, but choices in some communities are limited. You may have the talent, but because of inequalities, you not have the same opportunities as those better positioned, like the right education or proper mentors. So you may find yourself not achieving your dreams,” she says.

Mastula was one of the girls who at the national celebrations of the Day of the Girl in Kampala October 11, presented a position paper to the First Lady of Uganda Hon Janet Museveni on behalf of all Ugandan girls, advocating for action to address the challenges of escalating teenage pregnancy and child marriages amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a follow up, on October 14, - along with Pauline Nakanwangi, 16 and Sumaya Nanyanzi, 15, - Mastula met UNFPA Representative Ms Suzanne Mandong for a one-on-one discussion where they presented their view points on the significance of international day of the girl and on key challenges facing Ugandan girls including teenage pregnancy, child marriage and limited access to sexual and reproductive health information.

During the meeting, Mastula said coming from a humble background with fewer opportunities did not stop her from following her dream of becoming a social worker. Today, an alumni of the YALI Regional Leadership Center East Africa Program (2019), Mastula says she is passionate about empowering, inspiring and mentoring fellow young women and girls from the ghetto community to realize their potential.

Sumaya Nanyanzi, a senior two student with albinism said especially amid COVID-19, learners with disabilities face many challenges including difficulties in accessing online classes, lack of learning materials and tools.

 “Many of my age-mates have given up, some are now pregnant. But I will not give up. I am working to beat the odds that affect access to inclusive education, confidence and wellbeing of children with disabilities in Uganda. With God’s love and my resilience, my dream is to become a women’s rights lawyer,” Nanyanzi said.

Pauline Nakanwangi said she is optimistic and confident that amid challenges posed by COVID-19 she will live her dream. A student of Bishop Cipriano Secondary school, Nakanwangi is a ‘Girl Up’ scholar under the ‘Big Sister’s Network’ and a women and girls advocate under the She-Leads Consortium. Girl Up is a locally-rooted organisation striving for gender equality and women and girl’s inclusion in decision-making.

“At least I see a bright future ahead of me. I love music and I can become a successful musician. I also want to empower more girls,” she said.  

Ms  Mandong praised the girls for being bold and presenting the position paper on behalf of all Ugandan girls, and  for their continued effort to reach fellow young people through mentoring and providing life skills information in their communities.

While giving an overview of UNFPA’s work in Uganda, Ms Mandong informed the girls about the organisation’s mandate to ensure the rights of girls are protected and promoted.

“Every child should be wanted; children by choice not by chance. Every birth should be safe because we do not want one single woman to die giving life. Thirdly, every young person’s potential should be fulfilled,” Ms Mandong told the listening girls.

Ms Mandong advised the girls to use their power to innovate and generate new ideas to improve access to sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender based violence service and access to justice.

“Remember that you have a voice and that voice is power. You have the power to generate ideas. Use your voice to change the situation for the many girls caught up by child marriages and teenage pregnancies,” Ms Mandong said.

She also urged young people to identify and focus on what they are passionate about so as to realise their dreams.

“Find something you are passionate about and follow that dream. Never give up. The change in any country will come from women,” Ms Mandong said.

-Written by Evelyn Matsamura Kiapi