Evelyn Alum Onying (3rd right) with her fellow students at the University campus. ©UNESCO/Vincent Ogal
Alum Evelyn Onying is a 22-year-old 3rd year student at Jinja Campus at Makerere University in Uganda. She studies in one of the 3 pilot institutions for the Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future Plus (O3 PLUS) project in Uganda.
Evelyn was born in Kakira, a town in Jinja, Uganda, in a family of six. Evelyn is the only girl among 5 other boys. Her father, a teacher, taught her hard work and agility: “I have learnt to be independent from my parents. They taught me that I have to work extra hard to avoid relying on other people to become whomever I want.” She is now pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Development Studies
“While growing up and going through school, I was not as social as I wanted to be. My parents tried to protect me as they feared that I would get ‘spoilt’, as the community I lived in could be toxic. I definitely needed guidance and pointers on how to deal with sexual reproductive health challenges. Teenagers in my community engaged a lot in practices that I thought were meant for adults. I had to deal with a lot of peer pressure and sexual advances.”
Kakira is an industrialized town council, where many young people drop out of school to seek livelihood as temporary labourers in industries. Lack of sexual reproductive health services and information has threatened the development and lives of these young people. “A majority of people I know have ventured into risky behaviours while at the university to sustain their survival due to financial hardships. Some lost confidence due to sexual traumas.”
In Uganda, one of the biggest obstacles that girls face hindering their quest to complete education cycle is high school dropout rate due teenage pregnancies. With the current rate of 25 percent, being highest in the East African region. Child mothers and teenage pregnancies jeopardize the country’s strategy to achieve results under the Human Capital Development Programme outlined in the National Development Plan III.
The O3 PLUS project is being piloted in 3 Higher and Tertiary Education Institutions (HTEIs) in Uganda. The project seeks to ensure that young people in higher and tertiary education institutions in the ESA region realize positive health, education and gender equality outcomes through sustained reductions in new HIV infections, unintended pregnancy and gender-based violence.
“Thanks to the life skills education I have gained through O3 Plus, I have learnt proper negotiation skills and I can now better handle myself in the face of pressure to get involved in sexual activities.” Evelyn credits UNESCO and the O3 Plus project for changing her perception on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights, a subject she can confidently advocate about for having been a victim of pressure for many years. “I also have performed one-to-one counselling sessions with my peers. Using larger platforms, I shared knowledge on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights on Radio, especially during the 16 Days of Activism.”
According to a survey conducted across selected Ugandan Universities in 2019, it was revealed that 72.3% of the students at Higher and Tertiary Education Institutions are sexually active. Female sexual and gender-based violence stood at 8.2%. The study also revealed that a total of 11.5 % of female students get pregnant while enrolled at universities, with 35% of these being unplanned pregnancies.
Through the Education and Well-being Programme, UNESCO in Uganda has worked with the government of Uganda and other partners to deliver information on Sexual Reproductive Health to help young people make informed decisions. Main beneficiaries are young people in learning institutions with interventions under the O3 Plus, UBRAF, and UNESCO-PKU, among others.
Evelyn became a member of both the Technical Working Group and the National Steering Committee for the implementation of the O3 Plus Project in Uganda and as such, has participated in various activities and trainings under the project. “With the knowledge and life skills I have gained through my involvement in the O3 Plus Project activities, I now confidently help my fellow university students navigate some of the sexual reproductive health challenges that we always find ourselves grappling with.”
Like Evelyn, young people in higher and tertiary education institutions in the ESA region deserve to access the information they need to realize positive health, education and gender equality outcomes and to reach their full potential.