Men with a goal, girls with a future

7 February 2018
Participants in the Nawanyingi Male Action Group (MAG) informal skilling initiative practicing their hair plaiting skills with an artisan. Photo: STF/ Catherine Abeneitwe.

In the Nawanyingi sub-county of Iganga district, the Nawanyingi Male Action Group (MAG) members meet on a daily basis. What makes them unique, however, is that they do not just handle ordinary business.

In this part of Eastern Uganda, one in every five girls aged 15 to 19 years has begun childbearing. The Busoga sub-region, to which Iganga belongs, also has the third highest unmet need for family planning among married women in the country, standing at 36.5%.

Nawanyingi is one of the 10 MAGs supported by UNFPA as part of the Better Life for Girls (BL4G) initiative in the district. Its 15 voluntary members, all men aged 30 to 40 years, work hand-in-hand with local authorities on a volunteer basis to identify, report, and follow up the cases of teenage pregnancy, child marriage and gender-based violence in their communities. On a quarterly basis, they refer over 20 cases to the local authorities.

The MAG members also work with the surrounding communities to encourage social behavior change and refer young people to Bunyiiro Health centre III and to relevant social services provided by the district local government and BL4G implementing partners in the district. For many young men in the surrounding communities, they also serve as role models.

Now, they do even more. “While carrying out dialogues in my community, [I realized that] to empower the girls we also needed to provide them with livelihood training” explains Simon Mpaata, primary school teacher and chairperson of the Nawanyingi MAG.

As a result, the Nawanyingi MAG rented three sewing machines, contacted two certified artisans and launched free training sessions on basic life skills, hairdressing and tailoring. In the last 3 months, they have trained 40 teenage mothers and girls out of school.

These livelihood activities complement the ongoing work of district local government and civil society organizations in the district, such as the Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescent (ELA) clubs present in Iganga.

Sarah, aged 17 and carrying the younger of her 2 children in her lap, dropped out of school 4 years ago when she got pregnant. Today, she attends the Nawanyingi MAG training sessions, where she has learned to sew, save money, and use family planning methods.

“I opted to do tailoring because it is one thing I can do well. Since I joined, I have learned a lot. People in my village now give me their children’s torn clothes to mend,” she explains. Sarah has agreed with her husband that they will buy a sewing machine when they have enough savings from her small tailoring jobs.

“I want to advice girls who have the chance to study, to stay in school and at least attain a certificate. I regret [not to have done so],” Sarah says.

The BL4G initiative, of which the Nawanyingi MAG is a small component, works specifically on ensuring girls stay in school and that those who dropped out get school re-entry opportunities or access to vocational training.

The Nawanyingi MAG members want to see the girls become financially independent through small income generating activities. Eventually Simon hopes to see the trained girls invest in starting their own businesses and become mentors within his free skilling scheme. These grassroots informal skilling centers arisen from the enthusiasm and commitment of men across the district will therefore complement more structured livelihood initiatives, while ensuring strong referrals to institutionalized service delivery points for the young women they engage with on their day-to-day social behavior change activities.

The Better Life for Girls initiative funded by the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) since 2016 and currently present in 13 other districts across Eastern Uganda and Karamoja.

Story by Mina Nozawa, Raquel Palomino Gonzalez (UNFPA) and Catherine Abeneitwe (STF).