Educating their peers about unsafe abortion
The Safe Abortion Action Fund (SAAF) which is hosted by IPPF was set up in 2006 in order to support grassroots organisations to increase access to safe abortion. One such organisation which received support under the last round of funding is called Volunteers for Development Association Uganda (VODA).
Peer educators in schools provide counselling and advice to other students, who otherwise would have no one to turn to in times of crisis.
Today, we have the largest generation of young people ever, each one with their own unique needs. Peer educators are critical in gaining the trust and confidence of hundreds of young girls each term, and together they help each other gain more knowledge about their sexual and reproductive health. Peer educators themselves also gain a great deal from the training and experience and VODA has been successful in empowering many of these young girls to feel confident and be able to talk out in public, something that they were not able to do before.
Poverty, gender inequality, lack of knowledge about sex and relationships and lack of access to sanitary protection mean that girls in rural Uganda are at high risk of sexual exploitation and abuse. All of this coupled with very little access to contraception means that Uganda has high rates of unintended pregnancies among young girls. Despite abortion being legal in Uganda in cases of rape and incest, most girls are not aware of the law and resort to unsafe abortion often using local herbs or washing liquid.
The peer educators trained by VODA are able to listen to other young people's issues and provide support and information a range of issues including safe abortion as well as how to access contraception.
My name is Mabel. I am in my final year of O'Levels and I am a peer counsellor at a Secondary School in Namuganga. I was selected with two others by VODA and my head teacher, and then trained to be a peer counsellor. We were trained to help our colleagues at school to handle various problems.
Girls used to get pregnant and some were dropping out of school. So we counselled many of our colleagues about unwanted pregnancies. We have seen a change because we get free condoms from VODA. We could preach abstinence from sex. For those that could not manage abstinence, we could give them male condoms.
Unsafe abortion has been a big problem. Girls were using local herbs and sharp instruments like metallic hangers for abortion. Many would get injured and some would die. I remember last year there was a girl who aborted using those local methods but she died and was buried in Seeta.
If VODA wasn't here I think things would be very bad because as students, we did not have access to most of the information that we needed. We would have seen a big number of girls out of school because of unwanted pregnancies or unsafe abortion.
I have benefited a lot. I have acquired information which I have used to keep myself safe in terms of unwanted pregnancies. I don’t think I could ever be lured to perform unsafe abortion because I know the risks.
In the past, I wasn't able to speak in public but now I can stand and talk freely.
I’m Sharon and I’m a student counsellor at a Secondary School in Namuganga. I counsel fellow students, young people in communities and even adults. Before I was selected for VODA training I thought it was just an organisation to promote abortion. But then I realised they were addressing a big problem that was happening at our school and our villages. I have learnt that when someone gets pregnant I don’t have to force her to abort and I don’t encourage her to go for unsafe abortion. If we hear that a certain girl has a boyfriend, we approach her and counsel her on issues like unwanted pregnancy.
Many young girls have been lured into early sex because they need money, which is why we end up with unwanted pregnancies. In a bid to fulfil those needs, they get boyfriends or other guys who use them for money, impregnate them and then leave.
The girls know about contraceptives like the pill and we have given some of them referral cards for them to access the contraceptives from the health centres. But there has been debate against giving young girls contraceptives. There are restrictions that the government puts in place but that does not mean that girls are not getting pregnant. I remember the girls who died after aborting through unsafe abortion methods and I think about the lives that would have been saved if they had knowledge about contraceptives.
I’m Rita and I’m 15-years-old. I was twelve when I was selected to be a VODA counsellor in my primary school. I was lucky because many people wanted to be counsellors but I was chosen. My parents were very happy and they got interested. When I joined this school, I introduced myself to other students because I wanted to continue with my work as a counsellor. I told my colleagues to feel free to share with me their issues. We are lucky here because there are many counsellors.
Girls are having unwanted pregnancies because they are lured by men who give them presents and things such as money for sanitary pads that they cannot get from their parents.
Before I joined this school, there were many cases of girls terminating pregnancies with unsafe abortions. It was common to hear of or see someone who had aborted. Many would abort so that they would return to school. When I joined this school last year and we intensified the counselling sessions, many came and shared their problems with us.
We have learnt that two girls at school gave birth and have since returned to school but we have not had cases of unsafe abortions here since I joined.
I wasn’t as serious with studies before I became a counsellor but because I want to maintain my status, I have improved in my studies because I don’t want to feel ashamed in front of my fellow students. VODA gave us T-shirts for identification purposes which has made people in the community respect me as well.
In terms of preventing unwanted pregnancies in schools, most of what we see here originates from the girls' homes. Many parents don’t provide for the girls’ necessities (like sanitary towels) so that makes them vulnerable to be lured by men.
Read more stories about the amazing success of SAAF in Uganda