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Fifty male action groups (MAGs) consisting of young men and boys from Moroto, Napak, Nakapiripirit, Kaabong, Amudat, Kotido, Abim, Gulu, Kitgum and Lamwo have been formed to raise awareness on positive fatherhood and educating community members and groups about healthier and more equitable behaviours for men and women.  The MAGs consisting of executive committees of at least 9 committed members each, with over 30 other members also raise awareness on how to support individuals to take actions that promote health and safety.

Each member has pledged to sensitize 10 fellow men on prevention of gender based violence, good health seeking bahaviours, HIV testing and supporting their partners to access Antenatal Care (ANC) and SRH/Family Planning services. A total of 15,000 men and boys have been reached.

“Alcohol and drug substance use in Karamoja is seen as the leading cause of domestic violence, HIV/STIs infection, early marriages and teenage pregnancies,” said Mr. Andrew Napaja the LCV Chairman, Moroto District.  Alcoholism has led to poor health, poverty and crime rate among men and women in the community, he said during a dialogue with male champions.

With support from United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), AIDS Information Centre-Uganda (AIC) mobilizes male peer educators and male champions of change to prevent alcohol and drug abuse, as well as domestic violence. The ‘Ideal Man and One Man Can’ Campaign, project that started in September 2016 addresses low health seeking behaviour and unsafe sex practices among the communities. 

The groups have realized the need to hold each other accountable with women and men working together for greater gender equality. During one of the community dialogues, one of the champions revealed how cultural norms, myths and misconceptions discourage SRH/HIV service uptake like condom use to prevent STI’s/HIV infection. According to the members, this campaign has empowered champions by equipping them with information. They in turn sensitize communities about SRH issues like the benefits and how to use condoms for dual protection.

“We now understand why in every community it is important for all pregnant mothers go together with their husbands to attend Antenatal Care,” one member said.

“The health education done at the Health facility is beneficial that it makes men to understand their roles as partners especially when the woman is pregnant. And now with this additional knowledge as a champion, I will be a role model in my community. It is my responsibility to support my woman with chores at home,” he added.

To date, at least 50 families have been reached out for counseling on HIV and Gender Based Violence. In Moroto male champions have discussions with fathers to avoid domestic conflicts by being responsible and providing for their families. 

Due to this sensitization, 30 GBV cases have been identified and referred to health facilities. According to the members, where cases cannot be managed, they have been referred to LC 1 and police for further investigation and conclusion. Group members registered the sensitization of 500 people on HIV and GBV on ART Clinic Days at TASO Moroto. 

Since the project started, fifty monthly steering committee meetings have been held to guide MAG members on how to implement their activities. MAGs are also now being consulted for advice and guidance on GBV prevention. The group champions have pledged and are encouraging other community members to form a saving and loan groups with 30 members each.

- Story by Christine Kajungu