In a bustling meeting room in Lira, Northern Uganda, a group of cultural leaders from the Lango kingdoms are engaged in a lively discussion. The topic at hand is sexual and reproductive health, the advancement of women and girls, and the health of their families. Reproductive Health Uganda (RHU), the International Planned Parenthood Federation member association, has organised and is facilitating the sessions through their team and community health workers.
The situation of Women and Girls in Northern Uganda
In Northern Uganda, the Lango and Acholi kingdoms are the strongholds of the Lango and Acholi communities. The kingdoms have a rich cultural heritage observing ancient local traditions, practices, and social norms, however some of these norms are restrictive for women’s development and equality such as wife inheritance, child marriage, discouraged education of girls, dangerous traditional termination of pregnancy and harmful practices that halt female development is still the order of the day. Uganda has a high unmet need for family planning, with high teenage pregnancy rates, a Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) of 336 and the unmet need for family planning stands at 31.1 and yet many view comprehensive sexuality education as the promotion of early sexual debut and the promotion of promiscuity.
As is the case in many cultures, harmful social norms and practices form the basis of gender inequality. The WISH2ACTION programme is implemented in Uganda by RHU and is working towards accelerating gender equality in sexual and reproductive health (SRH), by addressing the root cause. To achieve this goal, the programme has recognised the crucial role that men play in shaping the lives of women and girls in Northern Uganda. WISH2ACTION is working to form a pool of men peer cultural mobilisers to act as SRHR champions in these communities. They have engaged cultural leaders in educative dialogue sessions.
An Innovative Approach
To demystify myths and misconceptions around family planning, WISH2ACTION has collaborated with Intrahealth Uganda to introduce an innovative game called Together We Decide. This interactive tool provides men with sexual and reproductive information and advocates for gender equality by demonstrating how men should have health discussions with their partners and how to keep their families healthy. As the cultural leaders play the game, they are prompted to think about the realities of having children, the economics of child-rearing, and the importance of contraceptive use, birth spacing, subsequent pregnancies, and the health of their children. The game is played with a board, tokens, dice, and cards. The leaders are divided into households and instructed to build families and wealth as through their moves in the game.
As the cultural leaders play the game, they are prompted through the cards to think of the realities of having children, the economics, the importance of contraceptive use, healthy birth spacing, subsequent pregnancies and the overall health of their children. At various stages of the game, the facilitators play video on the audio cards to reinforce the information shared and the importance of sexual and reproductive health. As the game ends, the leaders tally up the wealth per child, discuss what they have learned and ask questions. They are encouraged to share the information with their partners and bring them to clinics or outreaches to receive the information first-hand.
A multiple-pronged approach
The results of the approach have been promising so far. To date, 24 clan leaders, including the ministers of health from these kingdoms, have been trained in conducting community-based dialogues. In addition, the programme has engaged and empowered women and girls in these communities through small group dialogues, market events, and listening sessions, utilising front-line workers who resonate with them such as community health volunteers, peer educators and satisfied clients. The community engagement is geared to creating awareness of SRHR, understanding their barriers, and linking them to service delivery points where they can access affordable services.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day and the progress of women and girls everywhere, we acknowledge that there is much more work that needs to be done to achieve gender equality for all. Taking an inclusive and innovative approach brings all stakeholders to the table and empowers men and women alike to fight for gender equality. With the engagement of all stakeholders, we stand a better chance at empowering the women and girls of Northern Uganda.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) funded WISH2ACTION programme seeks to scale up integrated sexual and reproductive services to the most hard-to-reach populations including the youth under 20, people living in poverty, persons with disabilities and those in humanitarian crisis. The programme aims to empower women and girls to make their own choices on shaping their family from how many children to have, to when they would like to have them.
Related Member Association
Reproductive Health Uganda