KAMWENGE, February 4, 2019 – Kyosimire Shamira, 18, spoke softly as she clasped her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter tightly to her chest.
“Being a mother at a young age has not been easy, but with every day that passes I am more hopeful about the future,” she said, as the restless toddler attempts to pull at colorful bits of paper hanging from the ceiling.
Shamira was one of 10 young mothers gathered in a one-room cubicle, where the Nkingo Girls Club meets weekly. More than half are young mothers between 17 and 21, carrying infants on their laps.
The young women are members of the Nkingo Girl’s Club in Kamwenge district, which helps address the needs of child survivors and those at risk of sexual violence, including access to health care, legal aid, as well as livelihood support. Nkingo one of 35 clubs in Kamwenge and Kabarole run by Building Resources Across Communities (BRAC), a non-profit group supported by the World Bank through the Supporting Children’s Opportunities through Protection and Empowerment (SCOPE) Project.
The girl’s clubs are structured based on BRAC’s Empowerment and Livelihoods for Adolescents model, which creates safe spaces for child survivors and others at risk of sexual violence. The clubs also provide peer-to-peer learning, empowerment and life skills courses, as well as entrepreneurship and financial literacy. Sexual health and family planning are also offered.
Sexual violence is one of the social risks associated with the construction of big infrastructure projects, particularly in poverty-stricken areas where the community is more vulnerable due to the changes from the project. Owokunda Daphine, a member of Nkingo Girls’ Club and mother of a three-year-old said, “we get convinced easily [by money] because of our situation.”
The SCOPE Project also works to prevent and respond to social risks associated with infrastructure projects by informing approaches to identifying threats and applying lessons to World Bank projects. Implemented by the Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development, the SCOPE Project has strengthened structures for survivors in healthcare, legal aid, livelihoods support and community support.
“When they are in the clubs, the girls are able to talk openly and share their experiences, which provides them with a strong social support network,” said Batanda Rita, BRAC’s regional coordinator. “Most of them are mothers and they don’t ostracize each other for that.”
The Nkingo Girl’s Club has a total membership of 42 girls, mainly school drop-outs and under-age mothers. All come from very poor, struggling families.
Several young mothers said they became pregnant due to peer pressure and lack of sexual education. Some club members admitted they got married very early to escape abusive and violent homes where they were routinely abused by alcoholic parents or guardians. According to the 2016 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey, a quarter of 15-19-year-olds, have given birth. The government’s National Strategy to End Child Marriage and Teenage Pregnancy, launched in June 2016, shows that teenage pregnancies are highest in Northern Uganda (59%), closely followed by Western (58%), Eastern (52%), East Central (52%), West Nile (50%) and Central (41%).
Ruth Ninsiima, 17, has learned tailoring, and this has allowed her to become financially independent and to contribute to home expenses. “The relationship with my parents was very bad. But we are now getting along well because I contribute some money at home from my tailoring business,” she said.
Each club has an experienced, trained mentor who monitors the progress of each member, and follows-up with them throughout their membership. The mentors also guide the weekly discussions and offer leadership training to the members.
The World Bank and London School of Economics have evaluated BRAC’s ELA model as one of the most successful current interventions to prevent teenage pregnancy. Randomized trials over a two-year period showed that teenage pregnancy rates decreased by 20% to 25% in villages with an ELA program, compared to a control sample from similarly situated villages without one. The girl’s clubs in Uganda are off to a promising start, said Antony Thompson, World Bank Country Manager for Uganda.
“Our long-term goal is to support the Ugandan government to operationalize the National Policy on the elimination of gender-based violence,” he said. “We would like to see a transformation of social norms and behaviors so that violence towards women – both young and old – becomes taboo rather than as an accepted norm.”