In­ter­na­tional Day of the Girl: What Can We Show For It?

By: WIN­NIE WA­T­ERA

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.