Women-focused organisations can change life for young girls

Monday March 30 2020

 

By Emilly Comfort Maractho

As I write my last article on women empowerment this March, a perfect copying mechanism from Covid-19, I focus on the opportunities various people bring to the table.

Many times, people wonder about what women are doing to support other women.
I am often put to task on why I do not go back frequently to my disadvantaged community of greater Nebbi, now Nebbi, Zombo and Pakwach districts. Those from my former secondary schools wonder why I am not going back to Muni Girls and Mvara Secondary School to inspire the next generation of girls.

Sometimes, I am overwhelmed by the expectations on my life, even though I care about these things. I compensate by highlighting what is being done by other people.

Five years ago, I was reading a book on women and economic development in Uganda by Dr Hila Tadria. I was intrigued. I sent her an email requesting to meet. She warmly welcomed me to her Muyenga-based office like she knew me before.

We talked about her PhD journey and her work in the West Nile region through the Mentoring and Empowerment Programme for Young Women (MEMPROW). I was astounded by the sheer magnitude of what they were doing. And to think that I had never heard of them was embarrassing.

Little did I know that my sister would one day work with MEMPROW. After studying Finance and Accounting at university, her dream was to work in a bank or any financial institution. That job never came. She probably applied to every bank in this country. But a friend encouraged her to apply outside the financial sector, aware that MEMPROW was recruiting. She did and got the job. She enjoys her work and I have learnt a lot through her.

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MEMPROW has a simple vision, ‘a transformed, violence free society where young women and girls can claim their rights and achieve their aspirations.’

Dr Tadria, a Ugandan gender and social development specialist and co-founder of the African Women’s Development Fund is determined to make a difference, transforming society, one girl at a time.

For MEMPROW girls have a right to a life free of violence, a right to full participation in education, and to grow up and make their life choices.

Child marriage is the enemy because it is forced and is a total violation of the girls’ bodily integrity as it is also a process of defilement.

Child marriage they believe, is the beginning of lifelong impoverishment and trauma that most girls live with. Statistics from the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey paint a grim picture and West Nile is part of the red flag.
For the last five years, MEMPROW has been in the West Nile region districts of Pakwach, Nebbi, Zombo and Arua, working with more than 300 child mothers.

These child mothers represent a very small percentage of the total number of girls who are victims of sexual violence in this region. By the time MEMPROW engages them, they have suffered almost all forms of violence at their tender age.
They also suffer the consequences of teenage pregnancy such as school dropout and failed marriage. Hence, they return to their parents with babies.

The impact of MEMPROW’s work is visible and reflected in the confidence among child mothers, their economic wellbeing, positive outlook to life and their dreams, the health of their babies, and their messages to girls who are still in school. The trained girls have been able to report cases of abuse and had perpetrators arrested. They also advocate against child marriage in their communities.

MEMPROW in partnership with Girls First is currently implementing a project in Nebbi District whose main objective is to end child marriages and early unions.

What is important about their work is the collaboration with the districts and their community development officers, who mobilise the communities to identify the girls who need support.

Their approach involves building the child mothers’ self-esteem and confidence so that they value themselves; mobilising families and communities to support girls instead of stigmatising them; giving gender and human rights training to teachers; and training cultural, religious and opinion leaders to understand gender, children’s and women’s rights.

The trainees commit to effectively respond to cases of violence against girls and women, sensitise communities against child marriages, deal with harmful social norms, behaviours as well as risky places for girls; advocacy meetings and gender sensitisation sessions have been held with duty bearers especially law enforcement officers, health workers and local council members to enable them apply existing national laws and policies for enforcing violence prevention, dealing with cases of violence and protection of survivors.

Through their work, some child mothers have returned to formal education, belong to the girls’ network and are able to benefit from government programmes through the districts.

In many ways, MEMPROW represents how individuals and organisations can negotiate culture and make a difference for women’s realisation of human rights by taking simple, small but sound steps. We celebrate those efforts.

Ms Maractho is the head and senior lecturer, Department of Journalism and Media
studies at UCU. emillycm@gmail.com

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