The world needs our stories, not our statistics

by Lindsey Kukunda

Image source: Gabriel Isak at berlinartparasites

Image source: Gabriel Isak at berlinartparasites

I met a young Kenyan lady who told me that at 15, her parents sold her body to a man who was to pay the school fees they couldn’t afford anymore. She did not know this. To her, he was a benevolent uncle.

Until one day, he got permission from her school during a visit, took her somewhere and raped her. After the third time, she took herself out of school, told her parents to keep the money and the man to take his penis elsewhere.

Hers was a long journey but she was able to take herself back to school and successfully paid her fees herself. She told me something that I will never forget:

“Lindsey. I’m tired of hearing us being talked about as statistics,”

“Oh, such number of girls get raped’; ‘these girls get sold into early marriage’; ‘these girls undergo Female Genital Mutilation.’ Those girls are US. People see us every day and talk about ‘those girls’ and we’re right in front of them. We are those girls. And we have to be seen and our stories have to be told.”

Because her story opened my eyes to a wrong I used to read about and absorb passively, I want to share three of my own stories with you. You will not fail to take something away from it.

I WAS THE DRUNK GIRL WHO ASKED FOR IT

I was at a university party. I was not a heavy drinker in those days, but since I was surrounded by classmates in a friend’s hostel, I was feeling safe. Having become too intoxicated to move to the next stage of the party, my friend Bob (not real name) told our classmate Peter (not real name) to take me to his (Bob’s) room.

Peter deposited me onto Bob’s bed and locked the room. My jeans and knickers were removed while I put up a very drunk feeble fight. Soul destroying things happened to me in that bed but events did not transpire to their full conclusion. Bob started banging on the door loudly for Peter to open up. I covered myself up in a blanket so Bob could not see my new state of undress.

I did not report Peter because I feared it was my fault for being drunk.

Image source: Moonassi at berlinartparasites

Image source: Moonassi at berlinartparasites

I WAS THE GIRL WHO WAS SIMPLY UNLUCKY

I was in a discotheque, smoking a cigarette, when a waitress warned me it was not allowed. I put it out. Five minutes later, a bouncer came and threatened to beat me up for smoking. When I looked for a manager to report him, the other male bouncers reported me to him. These male bouncers stood by while he hurled me against the wall, flung me down the stairs out of the club and ordered me to ‘come back bitch!’

I did not report the bouncer because I feared the police would judge me for smoking and drinking.

I THINK I WAS THE GIRL WHO WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE

I was on my way home. It was 10.00 pm. Two men stopped me and grabbed each of my arms. I begged them to let me go, and they leered at me, the lust in their eyes telling their plans for me. I yelled at a teenager passing by and asked him to help me. The men told him to ‘mind his own business or face fire’. The teenager ran away.

The men begun tugging me in a direction I was unaware of as I struggled to free myself. A boda boda man passing by stopped and rode in our direction. They let me go and I run.

There are no words to describe the emotions of running away from predator, knowing you are the prey and cannot afford to get caught. One of the men chased after me. I turned around and saw him raising his foot. I ran faster but succumbed to the heavy kick he delivered to the small of my back. I flew like a bird, hitting the ground and cutting myself on stone.

I thought I’d brought this on myself because it was late and I was out alone.

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Sex education ban in schools a blow to sexual reproductive health in Uganda

by Patience Kwiyo

Image source: NHS Cumbria

Image source: NHS Cumbria

I had a great childhood. I was never the kid hiding in the closet, wishing and praying that when I opened my eyes, I would be thirty and living it up in the big city with a great job and a good life.

I was perfectly content remaining a child forever. So when my metamorphosis into womanhood begun, heralded by the painful process of breast development at age nine, I was bewildered and sad.

Sad because I didn’t want to grow up; bewildered because, while I knew that this was how people became adults, it was a personal experience and I still needed someone to explain and reassure me about what was happening to my body.

Ideally, this should have been my parents’ job, but for many African parents whose approach to sex education is ignoring the topic – and when it get’s beyond the point of no talking; giving a vague warning about how boys are dangerous, this was a tall order.

In fact, it wasn’t until a year later, in my P.5 science class, that I finally learnt what was and would be happening to me.

The next few years were marked by the shifting, stretching and displacing of the body into a new normal that which extended beyond the physical, having an emotional and psychological toll on me.

Did the little knowledge I had about sexual reproductive health make my adolescence any less strange, scary and tumultuous? No, but knowing what was happening, and knowing it was normal and okay was important.

Having said that, that information wouldn’t have saved me from much, had I been the kind of adventurous teen. It was helpful but it barely covered anything beyond the physical part of adolescence.

Image source: Trinity Hall JCR

Image source: Trinity Hall JCR

Activists have been advocating a more holistic and comprehensive approach to sex education that covers the psychological and emotional aspects of adolescence, as well as a more open dialogue about sexual reproductive health as a way of helping young people make more informed decisions.

And for a while it seemed like they were making headway, until this year when these efforts received the perhaps the biggest blow yet. The Ministry of Gender tabled a shocking motion to ban comprehensive sexual education in schools.

The reason for the ban? The discovery of sexual reproductive health books in 100 schools that included the full breadth of sexual orientation and a non-negative portrayal of masturbation, that sent a panic among parents and the parliament.

Law makers immediately concluded that kids were being taught homosexuality in schools and that the reason for high teenage pregnancy rates was because sex education was stripping young Ugandans of morality. Because in Uganda, the only kind of immorality that truly matters is hypocritical concern about sex.

A few weeks later, the motion was passed. It’s disturbing to know that given Uganda’s history with high defilement rates, teenage pregnancy and HIV/AIDS, we would willingly let young people go through adolescence without a comprehensive form of guidance.

Image source: Sexual Health West Sussex

Image source: Sexual Health West Sussex

You would expect the president, who has been at the helm of the most successful AIDS prevention campaign, and knows how important the role of sex education in schools has been in this, would come out to challenge the ban. Instead, his reaction was very disappointing. Apparently, since his children turned out okay with the simple advice to ‘do everything at the right time’, it should be able to work for everyone else.

While the Ministry of Gender was right about regulating sex education for young young people depending on age, taking out important parts of the syllabus or completely banning sex education is not a solution.

As activists and stakeholders who are passionate about young people’s rights to sex education and their future, we can only hope and continue to fight until our voices get too loud for the country’s law maker’s to ignore.