This post is written by Sam Agona
The first ever Girl Summit was held in July 2014. It was hosted by the UK Government and UNICEF. The delegation from Uganda was led by Hon. Mary Karooro Okurut, Minister for Gender, Labour and Social Development.
On 22 January, UNICEF Uganda, DFID UK and UNFPA Uganda, together with other partners, held a Post-Girl Child Summit in Nsambya, Kampala. This one was more country-specific but also dealt with the question “what next after signing commitments?” The main issues, as at the July 2014 Summit, were: advocating for the ending of Female Genital Mutilation, as well as child and forced marriages in Uganda.
Young girls from different parts of the country attended the Kampala summit, and testified to the challenges of the girl child in Uganda.
Challenges like young motherhood- resulting from early marriage and/or sexual assault. The teenage pregnancy rate for Uganda is at 24 percent, according to the 2013 State of Uganda Population Report (SUPRE). 18 percent of those (pregnant) adolescents have had a live birth, while the other 6 percent are carrying their first child, according to the report.
One of the teenagers at the Post-Girl Summit, Nakabugo, said that mistreatment by stepmothers forced many young girls into marriages. Another, Achen, cited peer influence, while Mirembe said poverty played a big role in promoting child marriages because men contribute financially to the girl’s family.
The education system was not addressed even if according to The African Network for Prevention Against Child Abuse and Neglect Uganda (ANPPCAN) 2010, primary schools had an enrollment rate of 97.1% while dropout rates stood at 67.6% of the enrolled percentage. The girl child secondary school enrollment was just 21%. Many things have been said about the system: corporal punishments, which continue even after government ban in 2011, have made school undesirable. A lot of attention has also been drawn to menstrual hygiene (availability of sanitary pads, changing rooms) in schools. The curriculum is not stimulating and inapplicable, requiring students to cram details about Rhinelands and Canadian prairies just to pass graded examinations.
The standards of education have also continually lowered, with students performing worse with every year. According to Uwezo 2010, only 4% of P.3 pupils could read a P.2 level story fluently. While this equally affects the boy child, the drop out rates between primary school and secondary school for the girl are worrying. Especially when viewed against the percentages of teenage pregnancy.
Undoubtedly, there are many factors at play here. Sexual and Gender-based Violence, a justice system that has not prosecuted many defilement cases (some families will choose marriage to resolve issue), cultural norms, poverty, etc. But let’s also look at the education system, from the time that the girl enrolls at P.1 to S.6- if she gets there- what are the issues within the system that stand in the way of her education? If she drops out, how and why?
What can we fix in the school and classroom to reduce dropout rates?
*All the names of the girls have been changed