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Supporting out-of-school girls save for the future and exercise their rights

LABONGO LAYAMO, KITGUM-Rita Achan is a 23-year-old adolescent girl who volunteers as a Youth Savings and Loans Association (YSLA) Agent in her community under the Women, Adolescents, Youth (WAY) Rights and Empowerment Programme.

Achan is supporting three YSLA groups of vulnerable adolescent girls many of whom have dropped out of school and teenage mothers. With support from UNFPA, she received training of YSLA methodology including managing groups, business skills and enterprise management. Achan was also trained on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights as well as Gender-Based Violence (GBV).

By investing in the girls, they are empowered to make informed choices including on when to marry, the number of children they wish to have and their voices is amplified to speak up on the most important aspects of their lives, their families and that of their communities.

Evidence from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS, 2016) indicates that 24% of girls between the ages of 15-19 are either already mothers or pregnant with their first child. This problem is no different in many districts in post-conflict Northern Uganda and its negatively impacting on the girls’ schooling status, health and the potential to thrive and succeed in the futures.

Even with these challenges, hope is not lost for adolescent girls. With support from DANIDA, UNFPA works through its Partners such as CARE International in Uganda to implement the Women, Adolescents, Youth Rights and Empowerment Programme. The programme seeks to empower women and young people in Northern Uganda, including refugees, to contribute to their own and their communities’ development through an integrated approach to gender equality, SRHR and GBV services, and socio-economic empowerment.

Every week, Achan leads the information sessions on SRHR/GBV with the YSLA group members during the meetings where the girls come together to save and borrow money. In October 2020, one of the groups saved up to Uganda shillings 3,000,000 (USD 285) and shared out among themselves at the end of the cycle. According to the YSLA Agent:

“Through the savings, the girls can stand on their own economically. Some girls are now involved in small scale businesses in the community markets and thus can generate some income. I have trained them on business skills and management”.

“I identified three of the girls who returned to school using the savings they made from the YSLA”, Achan adds. Notwithstanding this progress, COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted on the livelihood opportunities among the girls. The restrictions to prevent the further spread of the pandemic which included a ban on gatherings not only disrupted weekly meetings for savings, income sources but also the information sessions on SRHR and GBV.

At the moment, the YSLA Agent and leaders of the YSLA groups adapted to re-converge following the guidelines of COVID-19 through meeting in smaller groups, saving through shifts

Written by Cinderella Anena