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Being a Champion of Change

Girl Up Initiative Uganda has been engaging in a new aspect of Plan International Uganda’s Ni-Yetu Youth Program- Champions of Change! The Champions of Change (COC) project is a community wide strategy to promote gender equality and positive social norm change through peer to peer mobilization. It aims to: 1) empower adolescent girls and young women to take control of their lives; 2) provide a platform for young boys and young men to reflect on social constructions and enable them appreciate girls' issues; and 3) provide forums/spaces for adolescent girls and boys to interact and share experiences on gender equality.

In Kampala, we are working closely with six youth facilitators, three boys and three girls who are reaching out to 2 existing football youth groups, one of 30 girls and the other of 30 boys, with information on life skills and sexual and reproductive health. The main aim of Champions of Change is to catalyze a youth-led movement that challenges social norms by raising community awareness and support for the promotion of gender equality and girls’ rights in Uganda. As David Onenchan, Project Manager at Plan International Uganda, told participants:

“In the COC program girls are encouraged to be assertive while boys are encouraged to promote gender equality.”

(Photo: COC Facilitators for the boy’s group; from the left Enoch, Solomon and Emmanuel)

The facilitators lead trainings for the players during breaks and after practice. The male facilitators have led sessions on topics such as: showing solidarity for girls’ rights, non-violence, sexual decision-making, and being a champion of change committed to gender equality.

(Photo: Enoch leading a training with the COC Boys Group)

Enoch is one of the COC Boy’s Group Facilitators. He told us what it means for him to be a Champion of Change in his community:

“As a champion of change I believe in the use of anything in my reach to promote gender equality, inspire and empower the girls in my community. I have used my life skills like photography, graphics designing and football to inspire young adolescents in changing perceptions and encouraging boys to be leaders.

I take many photos of different situations and places that portray gender inequality and I ask the youth to reflect on the different behaviors they exercise towards each other based on the picture. I always ask the boys to put themselves in the girls’ shoes to have a feel of what it means to be a girl and how much protection and empowerment women deserve. This has helped me change the mindset of a number of boys in my community on their understanding of gender and promoting equality.

The different sceneries of pictures bring about inspiration and restoration of hope so that the girl/boy who had lost hope in her/his future can feel empowered to chase their dreams. For example, a picture of a girl pushing a wheelbarrow on a construction site can inspire a boy to become a hair dresser because it rings a bell in a boy’s mind that what women can do, men can do as well.

Through football I have created an impact among my fellow players. Here in my community most boys love soccer and it brings many people to the filed to watch us play. We use this chance to interact with the players and spectators to change their mindset on social norms and promote gender equality. I am so grateful to be a COC facilitator. It has helped me understand gender in-depth and interact with different youths with different ideas.”

Stephen is a Champions of Change participant. Stephen shared with us his story of how one of the sessions made him reflect on his own conception of gender compared with societal conceptions. He told us that during the “River of life” activity were participants were asked to outline the most challenging and most good moments in their lives as they grew up and name the people who supported them throughout, Stephen pointed out the most difficult times in his life and noted the name of the person who was there to help him. He realized that most of the times it was his mother and sisters that helped him in the hard times. Stephen now respects girls/women more because he has understood the crucial role that they play in his and other youth’s lives.

(Photo: Stephen, on the left, with fellow COC participant Bob)

The male participants have found the mode of delivery very interesting and youth-friendly since most of the activities involve active participation. For example, in one activity for the boys called “the caring experience”, we tasked them to keep a balloon filled with water for three days to represent taking care of the people they love most. At the end of the experience, the boy participants reflected on what they learnt and how they can apply the same type of care while relating with other family members, friends, and peers.

(Photo: COC Facilitators for the girls’ group; from the left Joan, Fancy and Ekel)

The Girls’ Group is led by three young and passionate women. Their sessions focus on the following modules: assertiveness and communication, gender and patriarchy, body image and self-confidence, sexual and reproductive rights, gender-based violence, and economic empowerment.

One of the participants shared her story related to gender stereotypes with Joan, one of the facilitators. She comes from a community where it is believed that education is meant for only the boy child and the girl child is simply marriage material. Unfortunately, her parents followed this idea and denied her the right to education. They told her that her role as a girl is to cook and look after the home and her male siblings who were attending school. She told Joan:

“I was amazed when I was given the opportunity to be part of the Champions of Change program because I thought such programs were for only for the boy child. Now I have learnt about gender equality and why my parents made the decisions they have. Even if I am not in formal school, I can take the lessons I have learnt here with me forever.”

While the groups meet separately for most of the sessions, there is one session that we lead where both the girls and boys are brought together for a dialogue on gender equality. The youth get the chance to share their different ideas on gender roles assigned to them by the community and how they can act of change agents to challenge these societal roles.

The Champions of Change methodology has been extremely effective in changing mindsets on gender equality among youth, particularly the boys. When the boys first joined, they didn’t support gender equality because they felt that their authority was being challenged by the concept of “girls’ empowerment”. However, throughout the project, our facilitators have led them through activities and trainings that have shifted their mindsets on gender. Now these participants are equipped to be leaders and encourage their peers to adopt more gender equitable behaviors and attitudes.

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