As a young girl growing up in Kabowa Rubaga, Leila Nassanga, a Girls Education Movement (GEM) volunteer, distinctly recalls people’s negative attitudes towards her childhood dream of becoming a civil engineer. Although positive changes in policy and communities’ perceptions are being made, Leila feels strongly that society’s idea of the girl child needs to change “Society looks at the girl child from history, when a girl stands up for her values it is seen as a sign of disrespect to adults, especially men. Girls keep quiet because they fear what society will think of them”. This is one of the reasons Leila became a U-reporter, her work as a youth leader for a community based organization drew her attention to the need for young people to have a voice in their communities “It’s a strategy that can add value to young people’s lives. They have issues and they fear to speak up, they don’t know where to get assistance.”
U-report’s most recent poll questions on early pregnancy and education highlighted the vulnerability of girls in Uganda, especially in districts like Katakwi, where Leila has seen young girls’ dreams crushed due to limited guidance and information. “Puberty makes them vulnerable, they look like woman but still think like a girl and men can take advantage”. Lack of services and community support means parents are afraid to speak up when their children are abused. “In communities with a history of instability families think of the girl as a way to gather wealth, she gets pregnant and they negotiate instead of pursuing action because they don’t want to cause trouble in their communities. The girl ends up leaving school”.
As a young woman chasing her own dreams, her volunteer work has inspired her to keep working with girls by helping them to stay in school and take advantage of their opportunities. After completing her higher diploma in civil engineering from Kampala Polytechnic, she is now diligently studying a bachelor’s degree at Ndejje University. “I would like women to pursue their dreams with passion, dignity and respect. Through my work, I empower young girls by counseling them and teaching them life skills so that they avoid bad situations, but through U-report young woman can learn the significance of making sure their voices are heard.”