8 March 2009

Uganda: Education Can Help Women Fight Violence


Kampala — ON Sunday March 8, the world over celebrated International Women's day, calling on women and men to unite to end violence against women and girls.

In Uganda, the day's theme was to "increase investment in Girls' education as a pre-requisite for development."

For young women, an investment in secondary school education will encourage girls, to have ambition and give them a better chance to reach their full potential; thus giving them better options in terms of their future and as-well-as the ability to make choices about relationships and reproductive health.

The Uganda Demograhic and Health Survey, shows that the average number of children a women will have decreases with level of education. For women with secondary education the average is 3.9, 7.8 for those with primary education and 7.9 for those with no education.

This investment will help in bringing the country a step closer towards making achievement of the millennium development goals a reality.

International Women's Day has special meaning internationally as well as locally. More so, for a young woman we agreed to call "Suubi". She recently told us her story and allowed us to share it. Her story is one of rediscovery and hope.

It shows just why countries need to continue to call on women and men to unite to end violence against women. It also shows why Uganda's commitment to secondary education has wider importance for girls.

Suubi was 13 and just beginning secondary school when she was suddenly snatched and abducted from school. She is now 21, and against all odds, Suubi is back in her community and has gone back to school to continue the studies she began 8 years ago.

She is starting where she left off. Before that however, Suubi suffered terrible sexual violence, became pregnant against her will, lost the baby after long, complicated and unassisted labour. For five years she lived with the indignity of having obstetric fistula. This is a childbearing injury, caused by several days of obstructed labour, without timely medical intervention - typically a caesarean section.

This causes damage that leads to constant leaking of urine and/or human waste. As with other women suffering fistula, the consequences of this for Suubi were life shattering.

This was until she heard through radio the possibility of this being repaired through specialized surgery. UNFPA saw her after her first check-up. "I'm fine, I'm dry. and I'm going back to school", said Suubi. It is both hope and determination that have made Suubi strong, resilient and tough. And for her, in picking up the broken pieces of her life over the last 8 years, first is the decision to get back to school.

For UNFPA Uganda, Suubi's story is poignant because it shows the spectrum of possible suffering and the reality of its consequences on one woman's life when gender based violation happens, when options and choice are taken away, and when rights are denied.

In Suubi's case this meant denial of basic rights such as the right to be safe, the right to education and the right to care during pregnancy and childbirth.

After losing 8 years, she now smiles and her face is beaming. Suubi is reintegrating into school, starting from where she left off. She is excited and advises other girls to always seek out for education.

Investing in girls education will go a long way in empowering young girls to reduce the helplessness of violence and the tragedies associated with it. Girls' education empowers them to make informed decisions on their lifestyle and reproductive health choices.

The writer is the UNFPA Country Representative

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