According to No ceilings, The Full participation Project report, 710 child brides live in Uganda, 40% of girls under 18 are married, 1 in 8 girls under 18 have given birth and only 25% of girls are enrolled in high school.
The Prevention of Trafficking In Persons Act was passed in 2009 and includes child marriage, harmful child labor, use of children in armed conflict and use of a child or its body parts in witchcraft/rituals, as forms of exploitation. In addition to the above startling statistics, Uganda’s Prevention of Trafficking In Persons Office registered 497 cases of child victims of human trafficking in 2013, 140 in 2014 and 43 between January and March 2015. And these are just the reported cases! So instead of the classroom, our children are a statistic as sex slaves in homes, battle fields, in exploitative labor or are reduced to pieces of body parts used for rituals, by witch doctors in shrines.
My own birth was a scandal. My paternal Auntie was the first on the scene when my mother gave birth to me. She was on assignment to determine the sex of the new born child and make the announcement to the village. When she delivered the ‘bad news’, my fate was sealed. I wasn’t the boy they wanted, for boys were regarded as pillars who held the family home together, they carried the family name, owned land and were worth educating. Girls on the other hand were seen as a curse. I was called a prostitute (by both adult males and young boys) even before I knew what the name meant. I was 6. Besides, all of us girls in the village had one nickname ‘Apesenin’ literally meaning ‘debts’. That’s what my Aunt called me in disappointment upon discovering I was a girl- Apesenin. When a woman was married and the marriage failed (which was always seen as her fault), her family was mandated to return the bride price (cows).
I witnessed this happen to my Auntie, yes, the same one who was disappointed with my birth. She had been married before she was 18. Nine children later, her husband stormed my grandfather’s compound screaming how he didn’t want her anymore as a wife. In the company of armed security guards, he drove away all of my grandfather’s cattle, goats and sheep over and above the number he had paid as bride price, claiming his animals had multiplied over the years.
I knew from an early age that Education would be key in delivering me from the challenges of being a girl in my community. I was lucky. Despite ridicule and discouragement from society, my parents took a chance and sent me to school. I walked long distances in quest of an education, motivated by a promise I had made to my mother when she had labored to explain to my small mind what the word prostitute meant and why men called me by that name. My promise- ‘Am going to embarrass those men by succeeding in life’’.
It wasn’t easy. When the LRA commanders descended upon our village, we girls were targeted, our crime-we were virgins. They saw us as sex objects rather than children who had rights. I and my sisters managed to escape but we lost all our family property and ended up in an internally displaced People’s camp at a Catholic Mission.
Challenges were a driving force that propelled me to work hard/compete with the boys until I made it to Makerere University, which by then was the only University in Uganda. In 2010, I competed and got admitted for the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship at the University of Minnesota USA specializing in Human trafficking, Policy and Prevention.
While in the USA, I made a commitment of action at the Clinton Global Initiative University to counter human trafficking http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FrOCRlfT664&feature=relmfu. Empowerment of women and girls through education is a key ingredient of this commitment. Saving $1000 from my student stipend for upkeep/food, and fundraising events, I partnered with Books For Africa USA to deliver text books to Uganda. Since 2011, with support from various partners including Books For Africa, friends, Ford Foundation, Sir Emeka Offor Foundation, I have delivered 69,000 books to benefit orphanages and schools that support the education of vulnerable children and youth at both primary and secondary (high school) levels in Uganda.
Working with Seattle based film maker, I am currently working on a documentary to raise awareness about human trafficking, sharing survivor stories including my own. I hope my personal story fleeing from the Lord’s resistance Army rebels and those of other female survivors of human trafficking will be an inspiration to stir many actors including policy makers and Governments to action.
Am also honored to serve as a trustee at Give a Chance to All, which provides education and support to disadvantaged children and a board member of Sister Schools, USA http://sisterschools.org/ which since 1988 has partnered with over two hundred Schools and delivered more than three quarters of a million pounds of school supplies and clothing donated by students in Seattle to their counterparts, children in need in Uganda. Sister Schools also builds literacy centers, classrooms, dormitories and provides scholarships for the education of vulnerable children. These interventions have helped keep girls in school, delay marriage and promote their empowerment.
I have a global mission- 50 x 50. A commitment I made in 2013 as one of the 50 emerging Global women selected by the Women In Public Service Project ( founded by Secretary Clinton in 2011) to “promote gender equality, especially in the areas of public service, politics, economics, foreign policy and security, peace-building and development”. I pledged to act to achieve 50% of Women in Public Service by 2050. I committed to do this by mentoring, supporting and sponsoring other women to develop their full potential, committing to both individual and collective acts that support women empowerment. http://womeninpublicservice.wilsoncenter.org/2013/09/23/2013-women-in-pu...
In March 2015, I rallied support from Women In Public Service Project Alumni and various stakeholders and organized the first Women In Public Service Project (WPSP) Institute in Africa http://wpsuganda.com/contact-us/. Since the institute, I have continued to support delegates who are implementing personal as well as collaborative commitments of action in various sectors geared towards achieving 50/50.
Today, I volunteer extensively mentoring and providing leadership training, career guidance to girls and women in schools and work places, and over the years, I have been humbled by various awards which have provided platforms for advocacy for women and girls. These include, The 2014 Distinguished Leadership Award for Internationals from the University of Minnesota, Inspirational woman in Uganda and 50x50 change maker by the Women In Public Service Project.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FrOCRlfT664&feature=relmfu (CGIU) http://sisterschools.org/ http://womeninpublicservice.wilsoncenter.org/2013/09/23/2013-women-in-pu... http://wpsuganda.com/contact-us/http://articles.philly.com/2013-07-11/ne... q2222222222 http://global.umn.edu/honors/dlai/14_igoye.html https://www.flickr.com/groups/wpsug/ (sharing WPSP Photos)TEDxTalk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyP9szTyV20&list=PLsRNoUx8w3rOyvKK-Yj4eyP...
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Join World Pulse and No Ceilings on the Path to Participation.