I Use a Pen to Take Up the Case of Girls and Women

Brian Mutebi

Education & Development Opportunity – Uganda | Founder & Executive Director
Congolese refugee women in Rwamwanja, Uganda. © EU/ECHO/Martin Karimi, 2017

Congolese refugee women in Rwamwanja, Uganda. © EU/ECHO/Martin Karimi, 2017

Girls and women faced a horrendous situation in Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement in western Uganda. I had only two choices to react to their poignant situation: Weep with them and we all become miserable, or take up their case and work to see something done.

It was October 2013, the height of the M23 rebel conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo). At the invitation of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), I went to report on the activities in the Settlement with an influx of refugees from DR Congo. 84% of the 48,718 refugees were children, many of them teenage mothers. Instead of being children, circumstances forced them to be mothers. Instead of books, they carried babies. It was an appalling predicament. Access to sexual and reproductive health services (SRHR), which is often constrained in crisis settings, was a big challenge.

The situation reminded me of a childhood experience. I was nine years old and living with my grandparents and two cousin-sisters in a rural village in Uganda. We lived in abject poverty. Sometimes we lacked food, having only porridge for a meal, but we smiled and played games. However, those sweet moments ended the day my cousin-sister was thrown out of our home by our grandfather. She was pregnant. She was 14.

Grandfather said she brought disgrace to the family and for that, she had to leave home—never mind that no one had talked to her about her sexuality. Sexuality education was taboo and teenage pregnancy castigated but, unfortunately, child marriage okayed. Violence against girls and women was rampant and acceptable. It was a community that thwarted rather than nurtured the potential in girls and women. Yet I believe every girl has dreams and every woman the ability to impact this world tremendously.

Brian listens to a child in Rwamwanja.

Brian listens to a child in Rwamwanja.

I wished I could do something for her, but I was only nine! In Rwamwanja, however, I was convinced I could do something. I knew there was power in a pen. Through my reporting, I would take up the case of girls. In the article “Refugee girl writes to UN Secretary General,” I published a 13-year-old Congolese refugee girl’s letter to the UN Secretary General appealing to him to bring about peace in her country. I followed up with a feature, “At Rwamwanja, girls struggle to remain girls,” highlighting the sexual and reproductive health challenges girls faced in the camp. The articles attracted attention: Three weeks later, the UN Secretary General called on the Congolese government to engage in peace talks with the M23 rebels. The guns silenced. I had made my humble contribution, using a pen to take up the case of girls and women.

Speaking out and up

I appointed myself UN ambassador for the “Let Girls Be Girls” campaign to end teenage pregnancy in Uganda. Through my insightful and well-researched articles, I have brought national and international attention to girls’ and women’s reproductive health issues. For my work, I was honoured to be included in Women Deliver’s global list of “15 Journalists, 15 Voices for Girls and Women.” I have learned that silence is girls’ and women’s greatest enemy. The world cannot afford to keep silent anymore: We must speak out and up.

Brian with Jaliah Nankya, one of the beneficiaries of the Brian Mutebi Dream Scholarship Fund.

Brian with Jaliah Nankya, one of the beneficiaries of the Brian Mutebi Dream Scholarship Fund.

However, if we are to advance the cause of reproductive health and achieve the FP2020 objectives of ensuring that an additional 120 million women in the poorest countries can access family planning services, we must be very innovative, and it begins at the local level. I founded Education & Development Opportunity – Uganda (EDOU) and the Brian Mutebi Dream Scholarship Fund, the first scholarship scheme in Africa for teenage mothers and survivors of gender-based violence (GBV). I sold my piece of land to start the Fund. We advance microloans to urban poor women for economic empowerment, prevent GBV, and promote demand for and use of family planning services. It is a very innovative multi-impact social project. It is a story of a man who rose from poverty to become a girls’ rights campaigner.

“Be a Partner, Be EDOU Ambassador”

The task, however, is too big to handle singlehandedly. The “Be a Partner, Be EDOU Ambassador” campaign aims to mobilize resources for the Fund. People who donate to the Fund are Partners; those who share our cause with people in their networks and encourage them to support us are Ambassadors. Ambassadors provide that vital link: Connecting willing hearts to areas of practical need. Partners and Ambassadors both receive the priceless joy of being associated with and supporting the noble cause of transforming lives and serving humanity. Join me today. With a bigger partnership base, our impact will be greater. Come, let’s transform lives together. Thank you.