Every year, 11th October signifies an important day in the lives of many girls because it is the International Day for the girl Child,. This year’s theme Girls’ Progress = Goals’ Progress: What Counts for Girls speaks volumes with its link to the Sustainable Development goals and also because it is deeply rooted to the rights of every girl anywhere in the world. Joining the world to celebrate, Parliament of Uganda in conjunction with Plan Uganda held a mock debate under the theme, ‘Girl Child education should be a priority for government of Uganda.’ Which in my humble opinion is an important way to empower young girls and boys to openly have conversations that matter in relation to girls.
Amid conversations held, there are a number of inherent issues that must be unveiled if any positive impact is to achieved in the foreseeable future. For the adolescent girl, both in rural and urban Uganda, her predicament is quite dire, with all the vulnerabilities she is exposed to. At such a tender age, who knows what danger lurks at every corner; defilement, rape, teenage pregnancy, maternal mortality, school drop outs, teenage marriages, Female Genital mutilation, HIV/Infections, STI/Ds, Unsafe abortions and the list goes on and on. This cocktail of dangers and limitations affect the way the world is perceived through the eyes of the girl, who now starts to see herself as amounting to less in comparison with her male peers who face dangers but with lesser ramifications.
A number of affirmative government interventions have been geared towards empowering young women, however, that notwithstanding, poverty and ignorance fueled by the patriarchal power dynamic enshrined in our cultures have frustrated the chances for many to fully realize their rights and substantial empowerment. Women still remain one of the poorest demographic especially in developing countries like Uganda, subordinate to their male counterparts. A report, Chronic Poverty in Uganda; The Policy Challenges indicates that of the 8 Million chronically poor Ugandans, 27% and 40% in rural and urban areas were female headed. This of course exacerbated by illiteracy, the high fertility rate and engaging in ungainful employment by women.
Therefore, in addition to fostering discussions on what is important for the girl child and women in general, Parliament ought to consider expediting legislation that protects women and their rights, these range from basic human rights to reproductive rights. For example, the Sexual Offences Bill, 2015 that consolidates all crimes relating to sexual offences and also prescribes suitable punishment. The Marriage and divorce Bill that has accumulated dust on the shelves of Parliament since 2009 because of the contentious issues of marriage (rights), cohabiting, separation, divorce, bride price inheritance and property to mention a few. Other bills include the Human rights Enforcement bill, the Alcohol control Bill that are currently in Parliament. Cognizant of the fact that these decisions on paper (Acts) do not deter crime or offer a silver bullet to the many injustices women face, given implementation of some laws is difficult because of financial implications, it sure is a good place to start.
Government on the other hand, ought to front Public budgets that specifically benefit women, inhibit environments that are rife with violence against women and girls, initiate pro-women policies that comprehensively tackle every day issues that women are faced with. Utilitarianism has been used for year as an excuse by many leaders; well, we have to ask, for whom is the greater good intended? The politician with his moral stance and political interest or the gravely affected, my guess is the latter. For instance, we should not be quick to dismiss the policy on safe abortion, which has created debate around, morality, religion, the greater good the lesser evil etc. Marie Stoppes’ famous quote, ‘…there is no torture or slavery so horrible as coerced and unwilling motherhood…’ then comes to mind. It’s a known fact that the poorest of women are the ones more often faced with this dilemma, without access to family planning, there is no control over child bearing, pushing them further into abject poverty.
Most recently, the post abortion management policy and reducing maternal morbidity fronted by the Ministry of Health was terminated in its early stages citing issues of religion and Morality, deceptive notions that hide the devastating effects of abortion restrictions and the anti-abortion rhetoric on women’s reproductive health and, too often, on women’s lives. Today the penalty for unauthorized abortion is fourteen years in the Penal code. So, what is the alternative; unsafe rudimentary methods that on top of costing lives, have cost implications of USD 64M annually on the consequences of unsafe abortions.
Women’s rights and freedoms therefore should not be administered selectively, as it inflicts immediate harm on women, holistic approaches in that regard should be welcomed.