Uganda has made significant progress in promoting girls’ education, most notably through the Universal Primary Education (UPE) policy. Despite these efforts, female literacy and school attendance remain low. According to the World Bank, in 2017 only 54% of primary school-aged girls in Uganda completed primary education.
There are several barriers preventing girls from completing their education. Although education is free, all learners pay some form of fees, and school supplies and uniforms are unaffordable for some families. The influence of traditional gendered roles also means girls are often discouraged from attending school and are expected to contribute to household chores.
Child marriage and teenage pregnancies are also major contributors. According to UNICEF (2019), Uganda has the sixteenth highest prevalence of child marriage in the world, with 34% of women reported to be married by the age of 15.
Addressing these barriers to girls’ education is critical to improving quality education and prospects for girls and women.
A workshop to support women and girls
On 17 and 18 March 2023, Commonwealth Alumnus Rosemary Kusemererwa delivered a workshop to provide school matrons and senior female teachers with basic counselling skills to support girls at risk of dropping out of education. The workshop was attended by 30 matrons and teachers representing 23 primary and 7 secondary schools in Fort Portal City, Uganda. Alongside counselling skills development, the workshop also aimed to raise awareness of the barriers girls face in accessing education and ways of encouraging girls to stay in school.
Rosemary Kusemererwa is a counsellor and social worker at the Youth and Women Empowerment (YAWE) Foundation. YAWE Foundation seeks to promote human rights, HIV/AIDS awareness, and build capacity amongst vulnerable children, youth, and women in Uganda. Rosemary is passionate about supporting young girls experiencing challenges through various developmental stages and providing counselling support and guidance.
The workshop began with welcome remarks from Rosemary. She was joined by special guests, Akora George William, Founder of YAWE Foundation, and Mugumba Angela, representative from Knowledge for Change, an organisation focusing on capacity building and systems strengthening to improve health care and education in Uganda.
The workshop was supported by guest speakers Byamukama Tadeo, Trainer Lecturer, Uganda Martyrs University; Akora George, Trainer Lecturer, Mountains of the Moon University; Kabahindi Jane, Trainer and Counsellor; and Birungi Joanita Eunice, Trainer Lecturer, Bishop Magambo Counselor Training Institute.
Day one activities included a baseline assessment on participant’s knowledge of counselling and sexual reproductive health. This was followed by sessions on counselling skills and different counselling processes, the qualities of a good counsellor, and a review of case documentation. The sessions were facilitated by Birungi Joanita Eunice, who also led role play activities which encouraged participants to put their learning into practice. On day two, participants were invited to learn more and discuss the challenges girls may experience relating sexual and reproductive health and sex education.
Overall, the workshop provided an opportunity for participants to understand the difference between counselling and providing guidance, and how to be an effective school counsellor for girls experiencing barriers to their education. There was lengthy discussion on the impact of early pregnancy, and during the reflection session participants shared that resistance to sex education in schools merely highlighted a need to promote sex education in different and creative way to ensure girls are well informed.
At the end of the workshop, participants completed a final assessment which revealed a significant improvement in their knowledge of the topics covered. Participants also received a handbook with information on key discussion points covered during the two-day workshop.
Putting the learning into action
As part of the longer-term impact of the workshop, participants developed an action plan outlining the next steps they will implement in their schools. Actions identified included sensitising fellow teachers, raising further awareness on sexual and reproductive health, implementing counselling skills, and continuing to work with Rosemary to deliver similar workshops in the future.
Rosemary also encouraged participants to implement a referral strategy enabling girls to seek further health services from YAWE and other relevant organisations. Follow up strategy was agreed upon with all participants that they would write quarterly reports on the cases managed and submit this to Rosemary, who assured she would always be on hand to provide advice.
Through the workshop, Rosemary drew on the knowledge and skills gained during her Commonwealth Professional Fellowship, hosted by Knowledge for Change UK. She aims to continue working with schools to provide counselling support to mitigate factors leading to early school dropouts amongst girls.
Rosemary Kusemererwa is a 2021 Commonwealth Professional Fellow, hosted by Knowledge for Change UK.