Bukow district officials and local leaders have unanimously committed to taking the lead and becoming change champions in sensitizing the local community and tackling the prevalent harmful practices, including sexual and gender-based violence, child marriages, and FGM, in the district.

They made the commitments during the closing of the intergenerational policy dialogue on ending harmful practices and addressing maternal mortalities and morbidity due to teenage pregnancies among young people, organized by the Uganda Youth and Adolescent Health Forum (UYAHF) and the Eastern African Sub-Regional Support Initiative for The Advancement of Women (EASSI) under the Power to Youth (PTY) Uganda program on August 26, 2022, in Bukwo district.

The one-day training was organized to create a platform for inter-generational dialogue between young people, policymakers, and community leaders on the state of young people’s sexual and reproductive health issues and their impact on the district’s maternal and child health indicators, discuss key multi-sectoral strategies, seek joint commitments and actions from policymakers, community leaders, and social workers on protecting and advancing the sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) of young people, and build the capacity of leaders to understand the specific SRHR and gender needs of young people and the key roles they can play to support them to meet these needs, among others, among others.

The intergenerational dialogue brought together over 100 participants, including adolescent girls and boys both in and out of school, youth champions, parents, cultural and religious leaders, health workers, teachers, and district officials.

While giving the opening remarks, Diana Nanyange, the National Program Coordinator for the PTY program, noted that the dialogue is a platform to allow different stakeholders to sit together with the young people, who are the affected group, to find a solution to the challenge of teenage pregnancy and the harmful practices that are persistent in the district.

“We also believe that these challenges need collective efforts because they affect everyone in one way or another. Our work as partners is to support and ensure that actions are taken, but the solution is with you, the people of Bukwo. So let us use this dialogue to openly share and come up with practical solutions.

The Bukwo Resident District Commissioner (RDC), Mr. Ashaka Samuel, who doubled as the guest of honor, noted that a collective responsibility as portrayed in the dialogue is already a great step in the fight against the SRHR challenges faced by the district.

He emphasized the need to disseminate and amplify the use of toll-free lines to help the young people in most rural communities access services and report cases of SGBV.

“Many young people in far-off rural settings fail to report cases, especially on sexual and gender-based violence, child marriages, and FGM, because of distance and a lack of means to do so. Therefore, putting much emphasis on and popularizing the use of toll-free lines will aid easy communication for quick action,” the RDC added.

During a panel discussion, the young people, among other things, pointed out that parents have neglected their roles in guiding them and providing for their basic needs, which puts them in vulnerable situations.

“I am perplexed that we young people are blamed at the end of it all when all of these challenges are the result of parental irresponsibility.” Most parents fail to provide us with essential products, like pads and school materials. Hence one is forced to find other possible ways to find them, and that is where all things go wrong,” explained Chemtai Zamzam, a student at Manang Secondary School.

Wakadala Vincent, also a student, noted that because of the fear they have towards their parents and elders, they are not able to say no to some of these harmful practices, especially FGM. He revealed that when one’s parents or an elder direct them to have it done on them or send them for marriage, they bow to such pressure with no option.

While presenting on the panel, Mr. Mayek Gilbert, a police officer, affirmed that low health service-seeking behaviors and low self-esteem among young people are one of the key barriers to their access to SRHR services and information. He added that most of them fear approaching health workers and police, let alone openly speaking about their health challenges.

 Sis. Irene Cherotic, the district SGBV focal person, also revealed that the biggest challenge young people face is the lack of information on how to access the SRHR service.

“Young people are a challenging group; when you call them for a training like this, they want to be facilitated, and without that, they will not come, yet these are good avenues for them to learn and get to know how and where to access SRHR services,” she added.

 She committed to actively taking on and following up on SGBV cases and ensuring the provision of post-rape care services and survivors’ access to justice.

In response to the issue of parents deciding for their children, James Chepurkei, a parent, urged his fellow parents and family heads to abandon issues of power over others and work together, particularly at the household level where men believe they are the only decision-makers, even on health issues that directly affect children.

Cheptoek Viasco, a young person, urged parents to continue talking to young people, support them and give them second chances even when they get pregnant, and support them through the process so that they can move on with life positively.

While closing the event, the district education officer, Mr. Soyeko Alfred, urged young people to be assertive and avoid agreeing to everything, noting that is why they are getting pregnant.

“Please, as young people, especially girls, a no should be a no.” “Don’t bow down to men who try to seduce you because they will impregnate you and leave you,” he warned.

Mr. Soyeko thanked the participants, specifically parents, for agreeing to turn up for such an important dialogue despite their home responsibilities and urged the Power to Youth program to carry out regular community activities and sensitizations to ensure that the pressure and efforts to address these challenges are continuous.

The dialogue was closed with representatives from the different groups signing the commitment board as they agreed and joined hands to challenge the harmful practices and fight teenage pregnancy in the district.