Gulu is endlessly intriguing; its history, its people, and its culture, all come together to create an optimal environment to practice public health. The effects of the recent civil war can still be felt in many aspects of daily life; individuals who suffered in different ways are now working furiously to heal and adapt to their new and hopeful home of Gulu. The culture, while swelling with beauty and optimism, has led to many negative consequences for females such as high rates of teenage pregnancy and marriage. It can be noted that Gulu is succeeding in many ways and it is anticipated that with the proper attention, local women’s health has the opportunity to positively transform and be a part of that innovation as well.
By contrasting two girls visits to the Karin Medical Unyama clinic, it becomes evident that there is more than one definition of reality for girls in this region. By looking beyond the statistics and dissecting the topic through a more individualized lense, deeper insights and realizations may have the opportunity to arise and inspire.
“With a light step and dancing mind, the girl carries on toward the clinic. There had been discussion, diagrams, explanations, and finally a decision made. The decision to use family planning, the implant method to be precise, and to ultimately take a more active role in deciding her future. Approaching the clinic, she recalls and rehearses bits of what the nurse had told her to remember and found a small smirk playing on her lips. She grows more confident in her choice each time she passes a girl her same age walking slowly with an arched back or carrying a baby, which was often. She knew from the statistics that had been laid out in front of her during the consultation that in Uganda, approximately a quarter of girls aged 15 to 19 have had a baby or are pregnant. Many drop out as a result; secondary school enrollment rates are lower among girls than boys.
She didn’t have control over many things in her life and she was enjoying the strength and certainty that this decision allowed her. The door opened and she is welcomed with a warm smile as a child brushes past her leg and out into the sunshine. The smile remains as she nods along to the nurse’s voice, extending her left arm to examine the soft skin which was soon to show a mark as confirmation of her decision. Following the nurse down the hallway, she can still feel the sunlight streaming through the windows and hear the hushed voices singing to babies throughout the clinic. The nurse gently swings the door open and gestures toward her seat in the waiting area.
She sinks into her seat, weary from the long walk combined with the weight of the baby on both her body and mind. Recently seventeen and being her first pregnancy, she is referred to as a, “prime gravide,” by the health care workers who confidently assess and settle her. Although she is already fully dilated, she is told to settle in for a long labor by the nurse who offers her a look of reassurance before turning back to adjust and ready her tools, just in case she’s wrong. With her mother in the side room to the left and her bassinet overflowing with baby blankets on her right, she braces as another contraction rolls through her and acts as a promise of more pain to come. Refusing to show any signs of weakness, even in this inherently emotional moment, she clings to her culture and clenches her jaw without letting a single tear pass through the barrier constructed meticulously by many generations. Her husband’s absence jumps out at her and she feels a pang of jealousy that he doesn’t have to share her pain. She immediately feels guilty, knowing she is lucky to have a husband waiting to welcome her and the baby home. Thinking of her husband brings a warmth and energy to her, even though they have only been married 8 months. She is a daughter from a family of eight and is acutely aware at this moment that she will be in this position many times over, just like her mother was, as her own family grows. Another few hours pass and her mind wanders. She notices her mother peer in the room and nods a smile in her direction. Pushing herself up in the bed and adjusting the scarf that’s been draped across her bulging belly, she fights to push aside a wave of panic as she hears a baby begin screaming in the next room. Being the second eldest of the six children, she is accustomed to caring for children and the responsibilities that come along with a baby but in this moment she is intensely aware that this will be her own child and she has no time left to prepare. Her life is changing and she tries to suppress the feeling that she is simply part of the crowd, rather than the director of the play. She lies back, closing her eyes, and wonders what lay ahead for her and her baby.”
No two realities are the same. No two people share the same understanding of struggle and no two people know the same definition of happiness. These two things are learned and lived and formed based on individual experience. Similarly, there is not a single correct or right way for a woman to live. Each woman is entitled to her own choices, which she will hopefully have the freedom to make based on what leads her closer to her idea of happiness. For some, this may mean marrying and having many children, focusing on family above a career. For others, they may dream of a more modern lifestyle which doesn’t involve children in their near future or at all. No woman is wrong for what they want and they should all be free to live out their own definition of their best life.
Both of the girl’s stories described above reflect common situations here in Gulu. What they don’t show, is all of the external and internal factors that influenced their opposing decisions and the resulting consequences. These factors are woven into their daily lives and don't reveal themselves as more than a crude comment from a male teacher or seemingly harmless comment from a mother encouraging a relationship. Girls in Uganda are consistently exposed to early marriages and pregnancies, things like friends dropping out of school to have a baby not being seen as tragic or even unusual. This type of setting normalizes the idea of early marriage and pregnancy in a way that is detrimental to the work of health care workers fighting this issue. A new normal needs to be established. There needs to be an increased emphasis placed on the preciousness and value of these girls childhood’s.
The emergence and increasing popularity of family planning in Uganda is one of the main initiatives and ways to give women more choice and the deserved control over a very intimate aspect of their lives. There are many barriers to overcome in the efforts to achieve equitable and favorable conditions for women at all stages of their decisions, whatever it may be. To support girls by educating and informing them about family planning options provides them with the ability to empower themselves and each other. Let them walk lighter and live better through their own actions. Give them a voice by giving them a choice.
Friends, for them to have a choice, we urge you to use your mouse to click more.
GG Rewards Bonus Day will be from 9am EDT to 11:59pm EDT on Wednesday, July 12th! On this day Superstar organizations will be at 40%, while the $110,000 in matching funds remain. All day long there will be a 100% match on new recurring donations and, at the end of Bonus Day, the projects with the most funds raised and the most donors secured will each receive a $1,000 bonus prize.
Friends we urge you to consider signing up for a monthly recurring donation today.
Thank you for your support!