A little girl Sendina Yubu makes a meal for the family at Bidibidi settlement

My Voice, Our Equal Future

This year’s International Day of the Girl Child was commemorated under the theme, “My Voice, Our Equal Future.” We celebrated the milestones we have realized in making the world a better place for girls to become better leaders, entrepreneurs and change-makers, but also pondered upon the challenges the girl child continues to face across board.

Girls are breaking boundaries and barriers posed by stereotypes and exclusion, including those directed at children with disabilities and those living in marginalized communities. As entrepreneurs, innovators and initiators of global movements, girls are creating a world that is relevant for them and future generations. This fact notwithstanding, the social position of the women and girls in Uganda has, comparatively speaking, changed little and the process has been slow. The forces that operate to free women and girls from the bondage of harmful traditions have not had their full impact. Whilst several efforts made in changing the status quo of many women and girls in the society, their social status in many societies remains the same.

Today, 25 years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women’s rights, discrimination and limiting stereotypes remain rife. Whilst progress has been made in addressing the challenges the girl child faces in their day today lives, this has not kept pace with the realities they face today; in contexts of technological change, humanitarian emergencies, pandemics are remarkably different from 1995 and more of the same: with violence, institutionalized biases, poor learning and life opportunities, and multiple inequalities unresolved. Girls from the poorest households are not benefiting from the expansion in education, while those in school are struggling to secure the quality education they need to compete in a rapidly changing workforce, where digital and transferable skills, like critical thinking and confidence, are indispensable. There are major breakthroughs that still need to be made.

As cases of Covid-19 continued to rise across different parts of the world, the pandemic united the world in an incredibly unique way. While it is true that everyone has struggled with the fallout of this global pandemic, it has had more serious consequences on some of the most vulnerable populations thus reinforcing many gaps. Adolescent girls have been among the most adversely affected and for some, life has become downright dangerous. Emerging data shows that since the outbreak of COVID-19, violence against women and girls (VAWG), and particularly domestic violence, has intensified.

In Uganda, as with many other countries around the world, Covid-19 has increased girls’ risk of violence, abuse, exploitation, and neglect. The pandemic has also resulted in an increased rate of teenage pregnancy. Many learners between the ages of 14 and 15 got pregnant and are unlikely to further their studies even when schools re-open. This is a big blow to the economy and its effects will live on. Covid-19 has also resulted in a secondary health crisis in Uganda; some girls have tried to terminate their pregnancies, risking their lives or escaping with long lasting complications.

In 2020, a gender-equitable world is still a far away dream. To accelerate progress, girls need to be involved in both the decision making and designing of solutions that impact their future. Girls are rights holders and equal partners in the fight for gender equality. They represent a tremendous engine for transformational change towards gender equality and if meaningfully supported, they have the potential to change the world. They deserve the full support of the global community to be empowered to successfully transition to adulthood with their rights intact, able to make their own informed choices and with the social and personal assets acquired to live fulfilled lives. Ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls is not only a basic human right, but it also has a multiplier effect across all other development areas and thus empowering women and girls and promoting gender equality is crucial to accelerating sustainable development.