Uganda Youth and Adolescent Health Forum (UYAHF) in partnership with Reproductive Health Uganda (RHU) and the Eastern African Sub-Regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women (EASSI) under the Power to Youth Uganda program, conducted orientation workshops with Religious and Cultural leaders on strategies to end teenage pregnancies, harmful practices and Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) as well as improve access to family planning services on Thursday 15th September 2022.

The orientation workshops were conducted in Kalangala and Isingiro districts and they brought together 60 religious and cultural leaders, 3 media representatives, youth representatives and district officials within the respective districts.

The workshop kicked off with the participants undertaking an interesting exercise using the Gender Equitable Man (GEM) as a means to show the power dynamics and understand their personal values and societal norms in influencing decisions, especially on SGBV and other harmful practices. By the end of the exercise, most of the participants acknowledged that some of the values or societal norms upheld perpetuate harmful practices and promote SGBV within the communities.

“I think that we actually need to stop this business of blaming the government for all our issues, some of them we create by ourselves deep down in our villages,” Ven Taremwa, the chairperson of the public accounts committee, Isingiro district, commented.

He further committed to engaging other leaders so that they could go deep into the villages where the vice appears strongest and sensitize them on the dangers of these harmful practices.

“Surely we can find alternative practices that do not inflict harm on our children,” he added.

Enos Natukunda, the Community Development Officer (CDO), Isingiro district led the discussion on current statistics of teenage pregnancies, SGBV in the district. In his presentation, Enos highlighted that most of the teenage pregnancies and unintended pregnancies in the district are as a result of parental neglect.

“Parents are failing to play their role and have left the children to change and social media,” he said

“Some parents feel shy talking to their children about sex and thus can’t counsel them.”  Schools have also played a big role in promoting teenage pregnancies because students are exposed to excess secularism without regulating, social media. Social media is controlling the community,” Enos Added

Asiimwe John, leader of Pentecostal churches, Isingiro, and Local Councilor II Chairperson, appreciated the element of unity.

“I am glad that we religious leaders from various faiths have been brought together in one room. We never get this opportunity. We can now work together, join forces and protect our children,” Asiimwe said.

During the sessions on the discussion of social norms and values, Ruth Nuwamanya, a journalist representing the vision group and TV West, shared that Isingiro is a high-patriarchy society.

“A good woman is one who submits completely and tolerates violence to keep her family together,” she added.

Ruth mentioned that this mindset is the reason SGBV still lives especially in the sub-counties. She shared an experience when she reported a story on SGBV but was later dragged into a scandal by the mother of the victim who had been paid off by the perpetrator.

“Can you imagine, the mother was the one that initially reported the case and even went ahead to give a statement. But after the story was run on TV West, she parents of the perpetrator were paid, and now the perpetrator claims we tarnished his reputation. When we invited the mother to collaborate on the story, she denied it,” Ruth said

By the end of the workshops, an interfaith-to-action commitment document with advocacy messages was compiled containing key commitments and actions by the participants towards ending teenage pregnancies, harmful practices, and SGBV, as well as improving access to family planning services.