To address critical issues surrounding sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), HIV prevalence, and the urgency of post-rape care, the Uganda Youth and Adolescents Health Forum (UYAHF) conducted a transformative two-day workshop for religious and cultural leaders in  Fort Portal City. Held on the 22nd and 23rd of August 2023, the trainings brought together 28 (17 male and 11 female) esteemed religious and cultural leaders from Tooro Kingdom and various sub-counties within the city. The workshop equipped these influential society members with the knowledge and tools necessary to champion Every Hour Matters (EHM) campaign using the Youth Engagement Toolkit on the timely provision of post-rape care service (PEP to prevent HIV and contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancy within 72 and 120 hours respectively) to rape survivors, and subsequently drive positive change within their communities. The workshop centered around the urgency of providing immediate support to survivors of sexual violence and the need to enroll in the EHM campaign.

Highlights from the Training:

The workshop commenced with an insightful address by Mr. Ankunda Frank from Baylor Uganda who highlighted the pivotal role of cultural and religious leaders in fostering change and emphasized the distressing HIV rates within Fort Portal district. Frank accurately revealed the alarming HIV prevalence rates in the district, inviting the leaders to rally behind the campaign to mitigate the situation. The explanation of PEP’s role in mitigating HIV transmission, along with its eligibility criteria, resonated deeply with participants. The leaders were urged to utilize their weekly platforms to address SGBV, recognizing its grave consequences on both public health and spirituality.

Joanne Lunkuse the campaign coordinator, in a comprehensive presentation, offered an overview of the Every Hour Matters (EHM) campaign. Her emphasis was on the slogan:” Time is of the essence. She noted that prompt Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), emergency contraceptives, and psychosocial support are critical and urgent interventions for survivors of rape. These elements compose the core of the campaign, advocating for comprehensive services such as life-saving PEP within 72 hours, emergency contraception within 12 hours, and vital psychosocial and mental health support.

Participants were candid in acknowledging gaps in knowledge and awareness. Mutegeki Atanazio, the Youth Cultural Leader of Butiiti Parish, deeply expressed the sentiment that the PEP message has been incredibly helpful, as many of us were previously unaware of what PEP or PREP entails. 

The workshop shed light on prevalent challenges, including negative attitudes and stigma toward survivors of SGBV among cultural and religious leaders. It unveiled a lack of awareness about post-rape care services and misconceptions about PEP and contraception. Religious leaders acknowledged their inadvertent role in perpetuating stigma, highlighting the necessity for change.

Commitments: Cultural Leaders like Hon. Harriet Nyakate, the Deputy Prime Minister of Tooro Kingdom recognized the potential of their platforms and committed to disseminating the EHM message. Notably, her commitment extends to interactions with Boda riders who are a vital constituency. The utilization of RDC free radio airtime and involvement in the 16 Days of Activism are also part of the concerted effort to propagate the EHM campaign.

The workshop unveiled an inspiring willingness to take action. Mr. Kalege Ernest, the Sub County Chief vowed to organize workshops aimed at enlightening the community about the significance of seeking post-rape care services. This proactive approach demonstrated a commitment to real-world impact.

Key Challenges Addressed:

Key actions: The training marked a turning point in Fort Portal’s journey toward combating SGBV and addressing HIV prevalence. The involvement of cultural and religious leaders, whose influence is deeply ingrained in the fabric of society, promises a transformative shift in attitudes and practices.

As religious leaders acknowledged their role in perpetuating stigma and bias, they embraced the opportunity for personal growth and collective change. The words of Kahunde Faith, Chairperson of the Regional Mothers’ Union, echo this sentiment: “Our rigidity and reluctance to shift our attitudes have contributed to this issue and it’s important to recognize that our actions might not align with the values we uphold. It’s crucial that we seek change, for our rigidity does not find favor in the eyes of God.”

By the end of the workshop, Fort Portal was poised to become a beacon of change, where cultural and religious leaders drive transformation by breaking barriers, fostering understanding, and ensuring essential support for survivors. With a shared commitment to serve a minimum of 10 individuals each, and the unified voice of these leaders amplifying the EHM message, the future holds promise and progress.