Gender Equality in Uganda: Why child marriage is slowing down women’s rights and how ICTs can help speed them back up
46% of girls under the age of 18 in Uganda are married, according to a 2013 report in New Vision. These are not legal under the Constitution of Uganda, which requires both men and women to be at least 18 before entering into marriage. Instead, such marriages occur under customary law.
What is wrong with child marriage? It deprives many girls of the chance to have a good education, economic empowerment, and good health. First and foremost, pregnancy and childbirth complications are among the leading causes of death in girls younger than age 19. Child marriage puts young girls more at risk of not reaching adulthood. Child marriage may also be a violent practice—child brides are “more likely to describe their first sexual encounter as ‘forced’” according to girlsnotbrides.org.
Additionally, child brides are more likely to drop out of school. This not only economically disempowers them, but also contributes to extending overall gender inequality—girls without education often lose the opportunity to become decision makers. Instead of being able to pursue higher education or a career, young girls simply become wives who are cut off from much of the outside world.
Gender equality requires more than simply talking about granting women and men equal opportunity to access education or careers. Instead, it is necessary to look beyond this first level and to see what underlying causes may intrinsically prevent girls from having equal access, such as becoming a child bride, pregnancy, or other issues that only women face. More than absolute equality, it is imperative that the differences in gender be accounted for, ensuring gender equity. This can be reached through initiatives such as paid maternity leave (Uganda has 60 work days of fully paid leave)—even though only women can become pregnant, they do not lose their hard-earned work.
Even granting access to technology education can make a difference for women. WOUGNET’s workshops for using computers are empowering Ugandan women who may not have access to a university computer lab or on-the-job ICT training so that they can take advantage of employment opportunities or share their perspectives on social media and let their voices be heard.
Besides child marriage, there are a number of reasons why women may face challenges in their day to day lives that men do not face. This does not mean that we should give up on equality, but instead that we should work even harder to bridge the gap between opportunities for men and for women. In this age of computers, WOUGNET is helping by using technology skills to build the bridge.