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Monday, 18 August 2014

After LRA, Gulu must tackle the ‘sex war’

By Sam Agona

By writing this article, I already owe myself a huge apology. I love writing as an art and practice but I had always promised to myself that I wouldn’t write about a) religion, b) sexual orientation and or c) sexual practices. Reason being, I would always want to write about what I know in-depth and I believe, to know something to a point where you can impart your ideas about it to someone else, you should:
1. Have practically done that something repeatedly (practice makes perfect)
2. You must have been taught that something over time and/ or
3. You must have been seeing someone else do that something several times;
This I don’t do, thus making me incalculably unqualified to write or talk about any of those 3 issues above.  However, because of my pervasive eye and desire to point out challenges in society in a bid to forge a better tomorrow, am inclined to break my own code of conduct.
I have been involved in a few projects that have given me the opportunity to travel within this country, in December 2012 and around January this year, I was in Western Uganda precisely Fort Portal and Kasese districts, I saw behavior of teenage girls, their willingness to move out with men they barely know and possibly engage in sexual acts with them.
A few months ago, I got the opportunity of being drafted as part of the technical team for the Internet Nowproject of Oxfam Novib in the greater northern Uganda, thus several travels to Gulu (about 300 kms from Kampala) and the whole Acholi sub region. What my eyes did not go void of seeing is the behavior of teenage girls.
During the LRA war in Northern Uganda, there was a practice known as night commuting in Acholi region, this involved hundreds of children moving from their households at night to go sleep in the safer urban centers. The effect of this way of living probably did not end with the war; young girls have continued to come to town in the night, not only to look for money through sexual acts but also to seek plain sexual satisfaction through actively involving themselves in sex. As opposed to the urban notion where women who engage in commercial sex, do it in exchange for money, in Gulu, females have desire for intensive sex just for enjoyment, a situation I accept is human but very bizarre. Further, “night commutants” were used to free food among other social amenities, therefore going back to work to get social amenities is not easy thus preferring to continue coming to town in the night.

 This partly justifies the HIV prevalence rate of 6.9% as opposed to 6.7% national average. The young girls on the streets are not afraid of HIV; they are rather afraid of (teenage) pregnancy which stands at 25% in Uganda, a situation very mindboggling. This has contributed to an HIV prevalence rate of 22% within Gulu Municipality alone – almost 4 times the national average. Young people are particularly at risk as they become sexually active, with 45% of new infections in those aged 15 and over occurring before they reach 25. This is happening at a time when many organizations, government agencies and donors are investing and tirelessly working towards fighting sexual prejudice, HIV and child related vices.

On interacting with a few teenagers in Gulu town to find out why they prefer this mode of living than getting married and have sexual pleasure in marriage with a defined partner (for those who have attained the marriage age), they vehemently pointed out the disadvantages of marriage and obstinately concluded that it was not a solution. They would not want to be tied down in a marriage yet their interest in sex is very high thus needing satisfaction. Further, waning to the fact of some young women in the region are very sexually hyperactive; it is hugely not matched by the same sexual behavior of men from the same area consequently leaving some women who would want to be committed very frustrated by limited hours of intimacy with their partners as reported in New Vision April 24th, 2013.
On an encouraging note, the girls agree that there is high HIV prevalence and will not walk away without telling you (a visitor) to be careful, but will always point out that women at some other areas are worse off, citing as far as Uganda – South Sudan border pointing at young women in a place called Olego whom they say are more sexually active, to a point where they can even detain a man who does not heed to their sexual demands.
I asked my taxi driver what could be done about this uncouth social life. He responded by saying it is very hard to control girls. He continued that it is difficult to know the number of sexual relationships one has, because these are acts that are perpetuated in private. He also continued that the existence of human rights makes it harder, because it is not to possible to arrest and detain young girls wasting their future on streets, human rights agencies will support what may be immoral yet legal.
According to my respondents, having a TASO regional center in Gulu has partly made teenagers less afraid of HIV because they are sure it will not kill them as long as they can access free medication.

In a rare perspective he applauded the Watoto church system where one cannot work with them unless they are married. He admitted that this creates some level of fidelity and confirmed that a few friends who went to Watoto to look for jobs were asked for marriage certificates and had to be Born Again. Organizations like Save the Children, Child Voice International, Child Fund, War Child Holland  among others are working tirelessly towards improving life of children.

In a nutshell, there is dire need for behavioral change in Gulu and several parts of rural Uganda in a bid to fight child abuse, thoughtless sexual behavior and HIV as a whole.  Government needs to look into this and legislate on amicable solutions in regard to social life; partly reviewing amount of time of exposure to alcohol could be a worthy measure. Leaders in Acholi sub region and northern Uganda at large need to come together find workable solutions towards child protection, come up with viable governance polices and support NGOs towards the girl child, CBOs and the religious leaders.
Note: This article was equally published by The Observer Newspaper of Uganda on August 1st, 2013.

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