By Rehema Namukose; an updated version of an opinion that was published by the New Vision Newspaper
Do you remember that article that appeared in the New Vision of January 24th with a shocking statistic about HIV/AIDS and young girls in Uganda? You might have already forgotten about it or you might have felt helpless and overwhelmed and decided to ignore it because it didn’t or has not directly affected you. After all, you probably have a lot to worry about; trying to make ends meet, feeding the family, and getting that school fees for the children, among other responsibilities. I can imagine.
The article stated that every week, 500 girls in Uganda contract HIV/AIDs. It is natural for us to get wrapped in that statistic – very big and shocking, it is hard to comprehend! But before we critically think about what this means for us and our families, we always jump to making sweeping statements, some very judgmental, about mostly those affected. When this story was shared on social media, some people blamed the girls, arguing that they deserved it and were reaping from their irresponsible actions. A considerable amount of people from the commentary section blamed the government (as always) for not doing their “job” to stop the spread of HIV/AIDs.
We are all familiar with the “gavumenti etuyambe” phrase commonly used when people are calling on government’s intervention to an issue even when it is not the most required immediate action. However, through all this talk, I have always wondered where we, as individuals and responsible citizens, take a moment to reflect upon our role in these circumstances. What do we do about these issues on a personal, family and community level to create the change we want?
About the HIV/AIDs issue, if I was someone you knew or a family member, would that change your attitude or reaction? Would you keep burying your head in the sand or blame government? How would you ensure that other people in your family don’t fall victim? Because as we all know, HIV/AIDs is a sexually transmitted disease; therefore, the boy child should equally be a point of focus. It is a problem affecting all youth directly or indirectly.
The old adage goes that charity begins at home. Any fundamental values and norms that we learn about life all begin from home. From a young age, we are taught table manners, “appropriate” social interaction skills, and even gender roles. But why have we continued to ignore our role of teaching children, grandchildren or siblings, especially the girl child who is most vulnerable, about the importance of taking care of their bodies and lives. By this, I mean showing and educating them about best ways to safeguard their lives and bodies from killer diseases and early or unplanned pregnancies. Why have we ignored important values such as self-respect? Teaching them, especially the boy child, the values of consent and respecting others’ voices and choices?
This International Women’s Day, I want us to reflect upon the way we talk to our children about these issues. Are we the type of people who throw judgmental statements at them even before we listen to what they have to say? Are we the type of guardians who keep blaming them for the wrongs of others? And why are we always surprised that they choose not to tell us about what goes on in their lives? Have we thought about best ways we can build healthier relationships with them? Do we even know the kind of friendships they keep?
For community leaders, how have you supported parents and guardians in ensuring that they provide a safe space for youth to learn more about healthy ways to take care of their bodies and lives? Be inspired by this year’s international women’s day theme to do something – be bold for change. Being bold for change is you and I owning up to our responsibilities in our communities and families. Being bold for change means stepping up and doing what is right and necessary to improve lives of our future generation!