IN LIGHT OF THE CURRENT INJUSTICES FACED BY PREGNANT AND ADOLESCENT MOTHERS TO GO BACK TO SCHOOL
Teenage mothers during a life skills training in Kakiri, Wakiso district.
“TAKING BACK MY PEN!”
Girls face specific forms of discrimination in accessing education, within education systems, and through education. This is even worse when it comes to pregnant and teenage mothers. Each of these obstacles is underpinned by harmful gender stereotypes about the role of women and men in society. Gender inequality and discrimination to, in, and through education are experienced in varying forms and at all levels by girls, depending on their personal, local, and national context.
Ideally, education systems should be focal points for action to combat gender stereotypes and gender stereotyping. These deeply rooted gender biases affect pregnant and breastfeeding girls before they step into a classroom and may even prevent girls from going back to school. Perhaps one of the most significant barriers to an inclusive and quality learning environment is the culture of bullying which further deters these pregnant girls and breastfeeding mothers from “taking back their pens”.
Investing in girls’ education transforms communities, countries, and the entire world. Girls who receive an education are less likely to marry young and more likely to lead healthy, productive lives. They earn higher incomes, participate in the decisions that most affect them, and build better futures for themselves and their families. Girls’ education strengthens economies and reduces inequality. It contributes to more stable, resilient societies that give all individuals – including boys and men – the opportunity to fulfill their potential. The study by UNICEF showed that when we invest in Girls’ secondary education, the lifetime earnings of girls dramatically increase, National growth rates rise, Child marriage rates decline, Child mortality rates fall, Maternal mortality rates fall, Child stunting drops.
But education for girls is about more than access to school. It’s also about these pregnant and adolescent girls feeling safe in classrooms with a supportive environment. This then requires more than guidelines but rather a commitment from all key stakeholders to refocus their energies into sustaining and retaining these girls in schools.
The international community has recognized the equal right to quality education of everyone and is committed to achieving gender equality in all fields, including education, through their acceptance of international human rights law. This means that states have legal obligations to remove all discriminatory barriers, whether they exist in law or everyday life, and to undertake positive measures to bring about equality, including in access to, within, and through education.
The right to education based on non-discrimination and equality is a recognised right under Article 1 of the Uganda Constitution. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has issued an authoritative interpretation of Article 10 in General Recommendation 36 on girls’ and women’s right to education, which elaborates the legal obligations of states under CEDAW to eradicate the discriminatory barriers preventing girls from enjoying their right to education and implement measures to bring about equality in practice, and makes concrete and actionable legal and policy recommendations which would bring states into compliance.
THE CONCERNS OF SARI
SARI appreciates the relentless efforts by the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) for developing guidelines aimed at supporting the education of the girl child. These guidelines have helped to ensure that pregnant/teenage girls and adolescent mothers keep their rights and are given another opportunity to continue with their education.
However, as SARI, we have noted with concern the level of preparedness at all levels to adopt and operationalize the guidelines in a school setting. We, therefore, have the following concerns:
1. Most of the schools in Uganda are poorly equipped, unskilled and understaffed to meet the physical, intellectual, and emotional needs of pregnant girls in a school setting. Our schools are uniquely confronted by this challenge of how to address and accommodate pregnant girls and young mothers in school.
2. Being pregnant and having a child are major life events. For an adolescent girl, experiencing these events while still at school often means facing harsh social sanctions and difficult choices that have life-long consequences. They are likely to be shamed and stigmatized by family, community members, and peers.
3. In our social-cultural context, stigma about teenage pregnancy and harmful social norms about pregnancy outside marriage is still strong. This is likely to lead to exclusion of both the mother and child. Consequently, parents and families of pregnant daughters are likely to discourage them from returning to school to protect their reputation and limit their exposure to stigma from their peers and teachers
4. With new caregiving responsibilities, child mothers need additional childcare support if they are to return to school, hence the need to assess the level of preparedness both at the family level and also at the institutional level.
5. Teenage pregnancy carries extremely high health risks. We are concerned about the schools’ preparedness to handle pregnancy-related emergencies should they arise
6. Pregnant girls and adolescent mothers may stay in school but frequently disengage with learning and go unnoticed by teachers. Students opting out of learning and withdrawing can still attend school but may suffer from anxiety and depression if psycho-social support is not provided.
1. The Ministry of Education and Sports as well as the district bodies should broaden its consultations and involve the key stakeholders especially teachers, parents, religious and cultural leaders, school owners.
2. We recommend that our school re-entry guidelines be linked with child care services to encourage girls being re-admitted to rejoin school and address child care and nutritional needs for their children
3. We further recommend more investment in the school structures that can help these adolescent and pregnant mothers to cope while in school since they need maximum support.
4. We also propose accelerated learning programmes, or catch-up classes for adolescent mothers, who may have been out of school before and after delivery, so that they may regain the same level of education as their peers and not fall behind. This calls for flexible learning arrangements, such as the option to attend morning or evening classes to help young mothers who are unable to return full-time.
5. Strengthen our referral systems to ensure that our adolescents and youth interact more effectively with sexual and reproductive health professionals, counselors, and religious leaders.
6. There is a need to establish alternative education programmes for drop-outs who wish to pursue primary and secondary education and feel uncomfortable rejoining school or adult classes. Designated centers where such education is offered should be established at the Sub-county level.
7. Finally, given our context and the above challenges, we call upon all the key stakeholders including parents, teachers, community leaders, and district officials to stop the condemnation and rather offer the necessary support to ensure that these girls “take back their pen”.
The power is in the hands of the duty bearers namely the school heads, education department officials, ministry of gender, labour and social development, religious leaders, and parents who are responsible for providing for the right to education. We appreciate the efforts by the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) in developing the guidelines given the current challenges facing Uganda’s young population. With these concerns, we call upon the government and other key stakeholders to ensure that there is a conducive environment for these child mothers and pregnant adolescents. This means that states have an obligation to take deliberate, concrete, and targeted steps, accordingly to maximum available resources, to move expeditiously and effectively towards the full realisation of the right to education.
Sanyu Centre for Arts and Rights has developed this position paper in solidarity with Urgent Action Fund- Africa.
SANYU CENTRE FOR ARTS AND RIGHTS