FIDA is a non-governmental feminist-based organization whose aims are to enable women in Uganda to access quality and affordable legal services as a means to achieve human rights, gender equality, and sustainable development, to promote social accountability, rule of law, and gender-responsive governance at local, national, and regional levels, and to promote accountability for the enactment and implementation of legal and policy frameworks for women’s socio-economic justice.
The Government of Uganda officially opened up schools on the 10th day of January 2022, after the two-year closure orchestrated by the COVID -19 pandemic. We commend the government for its efforts in opening schools. However, we take note of the devastating effect the pandemic has had on the education system especially to the most vulnerable. The pandemic has exacerbated and underlined existing educational inequalities through mass school closures, with learning opportunities and educational attainment affected by the lockdown. The long-term impact of lost learning on learners is yet to be quantified although there are already signs of deepening inequalities in access to quality education and learning, especially for the learners in rural localities, those with lower socio-economic backgrounds, and disadvantaged groups.
Our concerns, even with the school reopening, are;
The high levels of school dropout, especially for the girls. Various media, civil society, and government reports project that about 30% of the learners may never return to school. Since the school opening on Monday, media reports show a decline in the numbers of school enrollment, as compared to the pre-COVID era, with girls being the most affected. This is attributed to the heightened vulnerability of women and girls to sexual exploitation, child marriages, care work, gender-based violence in pandemics. This has been reflected in the increase in teenage pregnancies in the country – something that undermines the efforts that had already been achieved pre-COVID-19, in closing the gender disparities in education.
It is noteworthy that the Ministry of Education issued guidelines for the re-entry of pregnant and breastfeeding learners in schools, however, we worry that there is little awareness by key stakeholders as manifested by the recent remarks of the Bishop of Mukono, James Ssebagala, directing schools heads to block pregnant learners from accessing schools; the marginalization and stigmatization of the learners within the school environment and worse still, most schools have not created facilities to cater for the breastfeeding learners – failure of which could encourage discrimination and augment school dropout.
The existing negative cultural norms have been further reinforced, where there is a disparity between the expectations placed upon boys and girls in respect to educational outcomes. This is a common cultural issue but has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The long closures meant that girls become engaged in domestic responsibilities, placing them at risk of academic failure and reinforcing community beliefs that it is more important to educate boys as opposed to educating girls.
The pandemic has also caused a drop in household incomes creating a learning divide between genders. Relying on studies, a push back in the economy affects women more as prioritization in education is mostly given to boys.
While we have relayed the above fears, we take note that girls and vulnerable learners have a right to inclusive quality education guaranteed under national, international, and regional treaties to which Uganda is a signatory.
It’s against this background that we recommend and urge the Ministry to consider the following recommendations:
● The government should commit to sustainably and gradually increasing the education budget.
● All educational institutions should develop facilities that make educational systems sensitive to gender equality in regards to sanitary materials(incinerators). A sanctionary circular to all schools should be issued to this effect.
● Strengthen enforcement of laws that guard children against sexual harassment and ensure prosecution of perpetrators. As part of the implementation plan, FIDA recommends that The Ministry of Education should task all schools to have Policy on sexual violence and harassment policy for all schools
● Prioritize the implementation of reforms to track school enrolment, completion, and dropout with credible and robust systems.
● Fast track the investment in digital and physical infrastructure in both rural and urban schools to encourage equitable access to ICT.
● Enhance co-operation between all educational stakeholders including the ministry of education, learning institutions, teachers, parents, and community members to ensure that girls and vulnerable learners are equally supported in pursuing their educational paths and careers, rather than conforming to traditional gender stereotypes and roles.
● The government should re-think gender-transformative programming in education due to multi-layered vulnerabilities faced particularly by adolescent girls such as leveraging on Public and Private Partnerships aimed at enabling the collaboration of education initiatives.
● To create an inclusive class in respect to education, every child should be subject to similar opportunities and treatment, while adopting an approach that solves learner-specific issues.
● Prioritise mass sensitization of the guidelines on the prevention and management of teenage pregnancy in school settings, create stigma-free environments and gazette safe spaces and infrastructure for the girls in school their continuity with education.
For further information please contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org
LILIANE BYARUGABA ADRIKO
Cc: Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development
Cc: Ministry of Health
Cc: Ministry of ICT and National Guidance