Global Partners, June 2023

Written by Lee S. Polansky, Senior Director of Executive Initiatives and Special Projects | Published: June 12, 2023

Girl Up Initiative Uganda

Girl Up Initiative Uganda advances educational and economic opportunities for women and girls in central and eastern Uganda. The organization, led by Executive Director and Co-Founder Monica Nyiraguhabwa, inspires girls to be leaders so they can make a powerful impact on their families and communities. Lee S. Polansky, Senior Director of Executive Initiatives and Special Projects, spoke with a few of the girls who participate in Girl Up’s programs.

Girl Up Initiative Uganda (GUIU) was founded in 2012 by Monica Nyiraguhabwa, a young Ugandan woman who grew up in the urban slums of Kampala, and Kimberly Wolf, a young American woman passionate about girls’ rights and leadership. GUIU’s mission is to build a vibrant movement of girls and young women through transformative leadership, sexual and reproductive health education, and skills development.

Monica and Kimberly dreamed up the idea of Girl Up after visiting Monica’s community together and identifying the need to advance educational and economic opportunities for young women and adolescent girls in slum areas. Girls and women in Uganda face many obstacles, including lack of educational opportunities and high rates of child marriage, gender-based violence, and teen pregnancy.

Through the organization’s comprehensive programs, GUIU offers trainings and mentorships to help girls gain confidence, as well as vocational and leadership skills. The team also delivers sex education and provides sexual and reproductive health services. In addition, GUIU’s critical work to engage boys and challenge harmful gender norms helps fight gender-based violence.

From its humble beginnings, Girl Up Initiative Uganda is now a thriving, respected, and growing organization for adolescent girls.

Peer educators and college campus ambassadors participate in a health service camp at Kyambogo University. Girl Up Initiative Uganda

Aisha, 18

I live with my parents, and I’m the second of two brothers and three sisters. When Girl Up visited my high school, I joined the Champions of Change program. My experience has been so exciting, learning things I didn’t know as a girl and building my confidence. I have opportunities to speak out, especially as a member of the Girl Advisory Council, and I enjoy the freedom of expression. What I like best about Girl Up has been learning about sexual and reproductive health and the changes in my body, and understanding that everyone is best the way they are.

When I am not in Girl Up, I study biology, chemistry, math, and computers. I enjoy being at home with my parents and siblings. It also keeps me away from the violence in my community. At school, I connect with friends—studying helps us attain what we want in life.

Pauline, 18

I’m in secondary school studying biology, chemistry, math, and computers. I am the youngest of six, and a twin. I joined Girl Up at my friends’ urging. Learning about peer pressure and communication skills was useful, since girls here grow up with considerable peer pressure. I learned to communicate my feelings openly and respectfully, and to distinguish good and bad peer pressure. Girl Up taught me about my rights, my body, and my society and how to contribute to it. The coaches are supportive and informed.

I study when I am not in Girl Up. Education is the only direct pathway for me to become what I want to be in the future, a neurosurgeon. I encourage every girl to use every opportunity. Nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it.

Latifah, 17

My mother couldn’t pay for my schooling, so Girl Up invested in my education. I’m thankful to Coach Monica for the gift of education. I live with my mum, stepfather, and four sisters. I’m the third born, and the only family member with a secondary education, a great achievement.

I was in primary school when I learned Girl Up taught life skills. My English teacher knew my situation and encouraged me to join. I learned to be assertive about my body’s changes and about myself. Girl Up gave me direction. I represent other girls on the Girls Advisory Council. I know I can do a lot for my society. When I’m not with Girl Up, I’m in school or at home, preparing for my future.