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A staggering 80% of girls in Uganda drop out of primary education. For 30% of these girls, the key reason is the combination of the stigma around menstruation and the unaffordability of disposable sanitary pads. TAO’s most recent project provides a simple, but highly effective solution: re-useable, washable sanitary pads, combined with awareness raising.
This issue has received a lot of media attention in Uganda, for example this New Vision article shares girls’ stories behind his tragic waste of future opportunities. It tells of girls resorting to using inadequate and unhygienic rags, suffering humiliating bullying and being forced to share latrines with boys – many of whom have no understanding of menstruation. Even at home the taboos mean girls attempt to dry the rags out of sight, with the result that they often wear dangerously damp and bacterially-infested cloth.
Millions of girls miss up to 18 days per term – including exam days. They usually end up dropping out of school. Others try to raise money to buy sanitary pads, including engaging in transactional sex, which puts them at risk of HIV and STI infection. And orphan girls have it particularly hard, often having no one to turn to for information and advice.
Overwhelming reasons to reduce girls’ drop-out rate in Uganda:
- Over 30% of Ugandan girls have their first baby by 18
- HIV infection rates 9x higher in girls than boys of same age
- One of the highest maternal death rates in the world, 25% due to unsafe abortions
- Increasing female literacy by 10% lowers infant mortality rate by 10%
For every 1,000 girls completing one additional year of schooling, 2 maternal deaths and c.45 infant deaths would be prevented.
To address this huge problem, Scott Bader Commonwealth has funded TAO to run a pilot project in Kole District to establish a self-sustaining social enterprise producing re-usable, washable sanitary pads at an affordable price. By making a small profit on the sales it will generate the income it needs to be self-sustaining.
Our project provides the sewing machines, initial materials required and provision of a secure room for production and storage of the pads. In addition, we are constructing latrines for girls. As this Guardian article reports, Ugandan Government statistics show that for every 71 pupils there is only one latrine, meaning that it’s typically shared by boys and girls.
Crucially, female teachers will also provide health education to girls, covering reproductive health and providing a comfortable environment for the girls to discuss menstruation, puberty and relations with boys.
By creating an effective and self-sustaining approach, we hope it will be adopted widely across Uganda by other local authorities and schools, and/or by the national government. Already the President of Uganda has expressed great interest in this project. Moreover, as our 22 years of working in Uganda has demonstrated, communities are likely to be quick to adopt effective models and we hope that the enterprise will be adopted to help women of all ages.
This is a pilot project, intended to explore approaches and develop ways to change attitudes, as well as establish a self-sustaining social-enterprise. This means that the project is changing as it goes along. See Current projects for further details.
The communities in northern Uganda’s Kole and Dokolo Districts have been deeply disturbed by decades of war and resettlement. The high demand for land has become so contentious that people have been killed in land disputes. And past attempts to resolve the issues have often failed as the underlying poor community relations have not been addressed.
Thanks to generous funding from the Baring and Ellerman Foundations we have been able work through partners TAO-Uganda and FAPAD (Facilitation for Peace and Development) to bring about the needed fundamental change. So much so that one male household head said:
“I have learnt a lot about women’s land rights from my wife. Now my entire family recognises and respects women’s land rights.”
Our three year project, running until 2016, has taken a multi-phased approach to changing attitudes, as outlined in the TAO Annual Report 2014. We have worked with a wide range of community and cultural leaders, empowered women advocates, trained Community Legal Aid Providers (CLAPs) and conducted extensive awareness raising. Opio John, a clan leader from Lwala village Tetugo Parish testified to the change:
“We now recognise and work to promote land rights not only in the cultural context but also the statutory context. I also initiate individual visits to families that do not recognise women’s land rights and sensitise them.”
In addition, the project mediates individual land disputes:
240 cases resolved through mediation between project start in 2013 and late 2015, with 29 pending and 23 referred.
Although not yet finished, the project’s success in increasing understanding of women’s land rights, across the community, has already achieved much.
Increased access to land, for sustainable farming and other income-generation:
Thanks to greater community awareness of land rights, around 1,625 widows have already gained access to their rightful land. Through the simple act of planting along land boundaries, land ownership is much better respected. By having written agreements, women are now making income from renting out their land. Many are now acquiring land titles – which allows them to access loans and so start up businesses.
Less gender-based violence:
Gender-based violence has been a major problem in this area. Alga Ekwan, one of the 60 women advocates trained by this project says:
“TAO-Uganda has been the best project in handling not only land matters but also empowering our capacities on gender issues, so cases of gender-based violence have reduced….
“We help them to appreciate the value of staying peacefully without violence. Also, we help those whose rights have been violated to access justice through mediation. And if this fails, we use the referral arrangements. We also help them to form social groups within their communities because [if you go to the police your husband will come back the next day and the violence will continue].”
Bribery for case hearings reduced:
There had been a high incidence of local council officials being bribed to achieve the desired case outcome. Thanks to the project’s tailored training of a range of community leaders, they have much better leadership skills for handling cases and appreciate the effectness of mediation.
Greater leadership roles for women:
To enable women to secure their land rights this project has built women’s skills and confidence to participate in decision-making. As a result, the project’s benefits go beyond land rights. For example, women are being equipped with the skills and courage to take on leadership roles in groups, such as Village Savings and Loan Associations and even local councils.
Orphans and vulnerable children benefit:
Improved gender relations, greater income, raised awareness of rights and an environment of unity and cooperation have combined to have highly beneficial impacts on the orphans and other vulnerable children in these communities. More are going to school, food security and health have improved, children learn how to relate well to each other and they can grow up in an environment of security and well-being.
The project is due to be completed in 2016.
2014 brought Trust for Africa’s Orphans’ 21st anniversary and our 21st project!
The TAO Annual Report 2014 focuses particularly on the two projects underway during 2014. It outlines the great achievements from our ‘Improving livelihoods and climate change resistance’ project in Pader District that was completed in January 2015, and the ongoing success of our ‘Land advocacy’ project in Kole and Dokolo Districts*.
Communities celebrate better livelihoods and climate change resistance summarises this project, and the many photos of it in our Annual Report show how engaged and delighted the communities were with the huge benefits it has brought them. Around 600 households, supporting over 2,700 orphans and vulnerable children were helped directly – with many more members of the community also trained and involved in the farmer associations.
Chairman of TAO, Iain Knapman, noted that:
“Our bespoke monitoring and evaluation system has played a major role in evaluating the impact of this exciting project and in providing information to both guide the farmers in their planting and sales decisions, and enable extension workers to tailor their training and support to the specific needs of individual communities and farmers.”
The Annual Report was approved at our Annual General Meeting on 17 September 2015. The Chairman also announced the retirement of Trustee and Director Nick Hetherington, who has provided invaluable agricultural expertise since his appointment in July 2002. He will be greatly missed. We are, however, delighted to announce the appointment in his place of Hugh Bagnall-Oakley, a Senior Hunger Policy and Research Adviser at Save the Children UK.
The Chairman thanked the staff and all the Directors for their ongoing, tremendous work to create new futures for the orphans and children of Africa.
* Further information about this project is now available on From violence to peace: Land advocacy project brings fundamental change
Trust for Africa’s Orphans’ major 3-year project in the impoverished north of Uganda has now been concluded, having brought great benefits to the community.
A full summary and photos of this project can now be seen in TAO Annual Report 2014.
The ‘Improving land rights, livelihoods and climate change resistance’ project, funded by Comic Relief, built on the tremendous success of our previous major agri-business project, see Lira, Apac & Oyam Project 2011-13 – Summary & Evaluation. Like the Lira project it organised the small farmers, mostly women, into farmer associations, training them in the agricultural and business skills needed to be able to sell in bulk at commercial prices to large buyers. The result was a great increase in the income for the 600 participating households, which supported 2,700+ orphans and other vulnerable children.
The project also went further than the Lira one. It included significant work to improve understanding and acceptance of land rights. This northern Uganda community continues to be very affected by the decades of conflict, and women – especially widows – and children are particularly vulnerable to being denied access to their rightful land. The project resolved about 30 land cases and raised awareness of rights much more widely, also resulting in a positive impact on gender relations.
War and climate change have also affected the land and environment, and the demand for fuel exacerbates the pressures on the trees and land. The third major component of this project was, therefore, to improve understanding of climate change factors and to build local resistance, including through goat husbandry, bee-keeping, tree-planting and use of soil enrichment and natural pesticides. One of the immediate impacts of this training combined with better incomes was a 50% reduction in the number of trees cut down to make charcoal to sell for additional income.
The ways in which the community has adapted to climate change is illustrated in this info-graphic produced by our delighted partner organisation, TAO-Uganda. Further information can now be seen in TAO Annual Report 2014.