KAMPALA – Girls do not belong in maternity wards, they belong to classrooms, and education is the best contraceptive, the United Nations Population Fund representative has said.
Ms Suzanne Mandong said a girl who stays longer in school delays unplanned pregnancy and is able to make informed choices including planning her family and called upon people to continue to advocate for policies and programmes that focus towards harnessing digital technologies to support girls to realise their rights.
She explained that teenage pregnancy does not only impact on the lives of adolescent girls, but has negative consequences on families, communities, economy and society as a whole.
Adding that where girls are unable to access quality education and sexual and reproductive health information, this generally widens the social inequality gap, creates a vicious cycle of poverty, subsequently leading to violence, including child marriage and teenage pregnancy.
“The message is clear, Girls do not belong in maternity wards, they belong to classrooms so the matter of digitalisation and the right to education in Uganda can change the potential effects for girls and young women specifically,” said Ms Mandong
Ms Mandong was 14 October addressing participants at the post-International Day of the Girl [via zoom] in recognition of girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world under the theme; ‘Enhancing digital skills for adolescents to end teenage pregnancy amid COVID -19 and beyond’.
She noted that the theme resonates well with one of the greatest challenges adolescent girls in Uganda are facing today – teenage pregnancy which is prescribed as a pandemic within a pandemic, “teenage pregnancy is hindering the dreams of thousands of adolescent girls, many of whom have dropped out of school to become child mothers”.
“As we commemorate the International Day of the Girl, this concept proposes a media E-Chat to advocate for deliberate actions to increase access to information for adolescent girls as a way of preventing teenage pregnancy,” said Ms Mandong.
She said the realization of many rights is increasingly predicated on digital access, which can help girls find information, connect with peers, build social movements, explore their identities, track their periods and find help for harassment or violence.
Adding that without such access, girls face major barriers to achieving their sexual and reproductive health and rights and bodily autonomy.
She urged the participants to continue to advocate for policies and programmes that focus towards harnessing digital technologies to support girls to realise their rights. For those out-of-school girls, alternative learning opportunities like skilling should be prioritized.
Mobile phones are the most popular way to get to digitalisation, they are today introducing people to the internet in unprecedented numbers and this could have profound implications for girls/women’s economic, social, and political empowerment from entrepreneurship opportunities to affordable healthcare and peer learning platforms.
However, women continue to lag behind men in accessing mobile phones and mobile internet, adolescents face a variety of barriers to mobile access, with cost and network connectivity topping the list, but digitalisation and technological advancement in the form of falling smartphone prices and expanding mobile internet coverage, could help many more adolescents in Uganda come online via their mobile phones.
Many organisations have highlighted how a lack of knowledge and digital skills are the key barriers deterring new users from accessing mobile internet, and inhibit existing users from using mobile internet on their own.
Ms Mandong recognised the efforts of the media for the critical role they play in advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights adding that the media is strategic and valuable partner in advancing the goals of the 1995 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and Nairobi 2019 Commitments –ensuring rights and choices for all.
She revealed that deep-rooted in inequalities and inequities at all levels, teenage pregnancy is not only a health and human rights issue, it is also a development issue and that with disruption to schools, health services and community centers, and disturbances in programming, many adolescent girls are not able to access sexual and reproductive health services to enable them make informed decisions and healthy choices.
Ms Olgha Daphynne Namukuza, a sexual Health Activist said teenage pregnancy does not only impact on the lives of adolescent girls, but has negative consequences on families, communities, the economy and society as a whole.
She added that where girls are unable to access quality education and sexual and reproductive health information, this generally widens the social inequality gap, creates a vicious cycle of poverty, subsequently leading to violence, including child marriage and teenage pregnancy.
“We need to contextualise issues, many people are heterogeneous so we also need to be heterogeneous and in designing programmes that are meant for young people, we need to have young people at the centre, Young girls need access to information, we need to go digital,” said Ms Namukuza
Ms Namukuza explained that there is a need to seek innovative ways of providing information and support to adolescents and that young people should be embraced adding that that is why the theme for this year’s Day of the Girl ‘Digital Generation; Our Generation’ is important.
Ms Anne Alan Sizomu, Programme Specialist, Adolescent and Youth SRH said at UNFPA they ensure universal access to integrated sexual and reproductive health information and services, advocate for provision of age-appropriate sexuality education, prevent gender-based violence against women and girls, end early and forced marriages and reduce unintended adolescent pregnancy.
She said the technologies UNFPA is using to increase access to sexual and reproductive health information for adolescent girls is through the Safe Pal App which is greatly helping to address issues of sexual gender-based violence, sexual reproductive health, HIV and malaria among young people; especially during the pandemic.
UNFPA also supports the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development to strengthen the SAUTI 116 helpline which improves reporting cases of sexual and gender-based violence for young people across the country.
Mr Mohammed Kasule, Ministry of Health urged the media to also continue to play its role in educating parents, communities and leaders to support and protect the adolescent girl from harmful practices including sexual violence.
While closing the conference Ms Mandong said UNFPA also supports the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development to strengthen the SAUTI 116 helpline which improves reporting cases of sexual and gender-based violence for young people across the country.
She revealed that UNFPA’s vision is that every young person is empowered to make informed choices and fully enjoys his/her rights and that investing in adolescent girls is both a development and rights imperative.
“We, therefore, pledge to continue engaging with the media and other partners to advocate for the promotion and protection of sexual and reproductive health of young people and their right to choose,” said Ms Mandong.