YOUNG MOTHERS CRISIS! Experts launch research project to equip, protect victims

Young motherhood is a worldwide problem, reflected by a total of 21 million pregnancies occurring every year to girls aged 15-19, excluding 10-14-year-olds who also become mothers annually.

Young motherhood is a worldwide problem, reflected by a total of 21 million pregnancies occurring every year to girls aged 15-19, excluding 10-14-year-olds who also become mothers annually.

A group of experts from academia and civil society are launching a research project on January 25th whose results will equip young mothers in Uganda to advocate for their sexual and reproductive rights.

The project is supported by funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. It is being implemented by a partnership between the University of Victoria’s (Uvic) School of Child and Youth Care, Makerere University’s (MaK) School of Women and Gender studies (SWGS), and Nascent Research and Development Organisation (Nascent RDO).

According to its Principal Investigator Prof. Doris Kakuru Muhwezi, the project will focus on two different poor contexts (one urban-Kawempe in Kampala, and one rural-Iganga District), in three distinct phases.

Young motherhood is a worldwide problem, reflected by a total of 21 million pregnancies occurring every year to girls aged 15-19, excluding 10-14-year-olds who also become mothers annually.

Uganda has one of the highest rates of young motherhood in sub-Saharan Africa. At 25%, the rate is likely to rise sharply due to Covid-19 response measures. The problem became even worse when the country reopened schools this month following a two year lockdown only to find more school girls had become pregnant with many having dropped out of school.

The situation has been made more precarious with an Anglican bishop telling his congregants that pregnant school girls should not be allowed in school because they will become a bad example to others.

Despite the government insisting that all pregnant girls must be allowed in schools and given the necessary support, victims do not know their sexual and reproductive health rights and how to express themselves about them.

Uganda has an extensive legal framework meant to promote the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of young people. However, the policy regime is protectionist, morally conservative, and rooted in religious and cultural values and ethics.

As a result, the government restricts SRHR services and information given to young people.

 

Consequently, young people are unable to make informed decisions regarding their sexuality and SRH. Further, pregnant young people are judged irrespective of circumstances surrounding their pregnancy.

“That is why we seek to interrogate the socio-political variants which shape young mothers’ SRHR needs, decision making, and justice in Uganda,” says Dr. Doris M. Kakuru, a Ugandan Associate Professor and Acting Director at the University of Victoria’s School of Child and Youth Care in Canada who is also the Principal Investigator.

The Launch: As part of the launch activities, a panel of high level Ugandan experts from academia and civil society, is convening via zoom to discuss the situation that has reached alarming levels in the country.

According to Prof. Kakuru, other eminent persons on the panel will include; Prof. Grace Bantebya Kyomuhendo, a Co-investigator and Professor at Makerere University’s School of Women and Gender Studies, Associate Professor Sarah Ssali, Dean of the School of Women and Gender Studies, Makerere University, Professor Helga Hallgrimsdottir, Dean HSD, University of Victoria and Ms Annah Kamusiime, Collaborator and Programs Director at Nascent Research and Development Organization. The webinar will be moderated by Ms Jaqueline Nassimbwa.

Professor Kakuru told this publication that the overall goal of the partnership is to investigate and reveal the gendered, generational, structural, and cultural forces that frame young motherhood and how young mothers navigate the social definitions to meet their SRH needs.

“More specifically, we will further analyze policies that shape adolescents’ SRHR, assess young mothers’ everyday experiences of parenthood, how young mothers conceptualize and navigate social norms and describe the process of knowledge co-creation,” she said.

Methods: Unlike conventional research which uses methods that center adults as experts in the knowledge creation process, this mixed-methods community-based participatory research will center the voices of young mothers. They will be at the center of decision-making and research action in terms of collecting, analyzing, disseminating, and advocating for the change they want to see in policies, programming, and practice.

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