Terre des Hommes Netherlands took part in the National Girl’s Symposium on 8 October 2021, a pre-event to the National day celebrations of the International Day of the Girl. The symposium provided a great opportunity for young girls and women to voice their opinions and concerns and enabled those in attendance to reflect on the performance of existing strategies, programs and projects aiming to make all the rights of Girls and Young Women a reality in Uganda. Over 100 participants took part in the successful symposium including girls and young women, representatives from civil society organisations, representatives from the ministry of gender, labour and social development.
This year’s theme for the International Day for the Girl Child, “Digital Generation, Our Generation’ was aimed at putting young people at the front and centre and exploring how to close gender digital access and skills gaps, support safe online spaces and leverage the power of technology to advance girls and women’s education, leadership and gender equality to ensure that girls are able to maximise their full potential both online and offline.
During the event, the girls shared what this year’s theme meant to them and it was clear that it spoke to them in different yet almost similar ways.
It means being able to use our voices in the digital space.” Joanitah.
"This is an opportunity for girls to speak out their minds, and for those who can’t speak to use digital space to raise their voices." Leila.
"With this year’s theme, we are going to bridge the gap. Women are sexualised in digital spaces, and we therefore need to see how we can eradicate this issue." Misa.
"Digitalisation should be inclusive of everyone including Young People with Disabilities so that no one is left behind." Sumaya Nanyanzi.
During an interactive group session, the girls were asked to share their thoughts and ideas on what made them happy, sad and how they would like their sadness turned into joy when it comes to digital spaces.
In regards to what made them happy, majority of the girls could agree on the fact that digital platforms have eased their access to information in terms of education, health and personal research. They shared that these digital platforms have been very helpful in mobilising stakeholders and letting them know that each and every one of them has a role to play in ensuring their wellbeing. This, therefore, means that through the digital spaces available, advocacy efforts have been strengthened and to some extent, the empowerment of girls has been realised.
However, the girls also pointed out some issues. They all agreed accessing digital spaces in Uganda is also rather expensive, right from the cost of the gadgets to the cost of data. According to the girls, this does limit universal access to these digital platforms for diverse groups of girls from all spheres of life. For this, they suggested that prices of gadgets and data should be subsidised in order to ensure universal access to the digital space and equal access to learning opportunities.
A key submission was made by one of the girls living with albinism. She said that there is a need to demystify the myths and misconceptions that have to do with Young People Living With Disabilities (YPLWDs) and their access to the digital space. She also mentioned that there is a great necessity for YPLWDs to be provided with special devices that can enable them to access digital platforms considering the fact that they have special needs as compared to the others. In the long run, this can feed into the sustainable development goals that emphasise the need to ‘not leave anyone behind.’
"If you can dream it, you can achieve it." These were words shared by Rachael Kibirige at the symposium to inspire other girls.
Rachael, a young lady passionate about ICT and technology, holds a Master’s Degree in Information Technology for Development which she obtained in Japan. She is a reckoning force in solving social problems using information technology. For her master’s thesis, she managed to develop a prototype that could help solve issues that have to do with sexual and gender-based violence especially against women. Despite the backlash and consistent eyebrows raised by her choice of topic of study, she managed to push through with her research whilst being able to change the attitudes and mindsets of those that did not believe in the impact that this research could create.
According to Rachael, IT can provide effective and affordable solutions to a number of social problems, and therefore can be used to challenge the status quo and create a difference in this world. She shared her experience with the aim of letting all the girls and young women, as well as the relevant stakeholders, know that the power of digitalisation can also be harnessed by the girl child and that there is no limit to what girls can do so long as a safe and supportive environment is in place for them to be able to realise their full potential, even in the digital space.
James Yesiga, Terre des Hommes Netherlands Country Manager, spoke about the She Leads Programme. He stated that the programme stands out even more so on the Day of the Girl Child because of the change that it seeks to create, which is to see a generation of empowered young women that can stand up for themselves and be able to take up spaces at both national and international level. The five-year programme also focuses on strengthening the capacities of civil society organisations in the field of lobby and advocacy, with a specific focus on strengthening the capacity of young women and girls and the civic space wherein they operate.
Drawing the attention back to the theme, Mr. Yesiga expressed his concern on the number of young girls within the country who have not been able to fully utilise their potential, and in this case, within the digital world. Based on his discussion, it was evident that girls have limited access to digital platforms and face an even greater risk of experiencing violence and harassment online as compared to other groups of people.
Whilst drawing his call to action, Mr. Yesiga placed an emphasis on the fact that parents have a huge role to play in ensuring accessibility to digital spaces not just to the boys but to the girls as well. This is because parents have the primary responsibility of ensuring the welfare of a child, and with the emerging changes that the world keeps experiencing, going digital provides a great window of opportunity to get there.
With the combined efforts of parents and teachers, young girls should also be encouraged to take on courses that can enable them to make better use of these digital platforms. This, however, also requires other sectors to play the role of ensuring that these courses and subjects are provided in an environment that is safe in terms of diversity and inclusivity. He also mentioned that a safe environment also entails the meaningful youth participation of young people and in this case, young girls, in every stage of programmes linked to digital platforms.