Empowering girls to thrive and lead: Q&A with Girl Up Initiative Uganda
Written by Olivia Nater | Published: December 5, 2022
Through our Global Partners program, Population Connection supports a growing number of grassroots organizations around the world working to increase access to education, public health and family planning services. Their efforts make a vital difference in their local communities and represent the “final step” in our shared work to make the world a more just and sustainable place for everyone.
Get to know our wonderful partners in this Q&A series! Here we talk to Mia Serpico, Development Officer at Girl Up Initiative Uganda (GUIU). GUIU was founded in 2012 in Kampala, Uganda, by Monica Nyiraguhabwa and Kimberly Wolf. Their mission is to build a vibrant movement of girls and young women through transformative leadership, sexual and reproductive health education, and skills development.
What prompted you to start your organization?
Girl Up Initiative Uganda (GUIU) was founded in 2012 to address the unmet need to advance education opportunities for girls and young women living in resource-scare urban communities in Kampala, also known as slum communities. Like their rural counterparts, adolescent girls living in urban settings grapple with the double burden of poverty and patriarchy, limiting their access to quality, safe education and economic inclusion.
What programs or projects are you currently working on?
Our core, flagship program, the Adolescent Girls Program (AGP), is an in-school program that engages adolescent girls ages 9-15 in 30 partner schools throughout Uganda with life and self-leadership skills and age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health education. This program runs in synchrony with the school year and is implemented with partner teachers and youth coaches. Through this program, girls build the foundations of self-confidence and learn about their human rights and decision-making power as young people in regard to their bodies, education, and futures.
Our Boy Champions Project complements our in-school AGP, engaging boys in forming positive masculine identities and becoming allies for girls’ rights. Our Big Sisters Network ensures that AGP graduates can continue to access girl-friendly education and mentorship to become leaders in their home and school communities. We are working to incorporate an entrepreneurial component to this program, where girls are supported to co-create small start-ups, encouraging them to take control of their economic potential.
Our Mazuri Designs Hub trains out-of-school girls and young women with business and technical skills in tailoring and fashion design. This project has become increasingly critical during the Covid-19 and economic crises when many girls have become pregnant or economically unable to return to formal schooling.
Our Ni-Yetu Youth Program, with Plan International Uganda, focuses on extending access to sexual and reproductive health services for young, marginalized populations throughout Kampala. Together with the Ministry of Health, we are creating youth-friendly environments where young people can access services in-clinic services free from stigma and discrimination.
Our She Leads Program is an advocacy program creating opportunities for young women and girls to meaningfully contribute in decision-making spaces at the district, local, and national levels. We work together with the Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development so that budgeting and policy development processes include the input and experiences of girls and young women so that they are reflective and responsive to their needs.
What do you hope to achieve in the next five years?
Our plans and priorities for the next five years build off of our five-year strategy, Healing from the Past and Ready for the Future. This ambitious yet responsive strategy takes into consideration the lasting impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic’s economic and social toll on marginalized communities, especially girls and women, and how local, women-led organizations are contributing—and leading—meaningful community-driven systems transformation. We hope to extend our reach within schools, each year adding an additional five schools, totaling 25 schools in five years—80 girls per school.
In looking towards the future, we understand the increasing need to take up policy and decision-making spaces, especially as our programmatic success and community trust thrive. We want to contribute to the creation of policies that provide equitable education for ALL girls, specifically young mothers and pregnant girls who are discouraged, either socially or financially, from school re-entry. We also want to help support resilient communities in the area of climate resilience and preparedness, so that crises can be mitigated and marginalized people empowered.
What have been some of the greatest challenges you have faced? What are you most proud of?
We can answer these questions together, as overcoming our challenges is what makes us most proud. We are unapologetically a women-led and locally-run organization focused specifically on making the world a safer, more just place for women and girls to thrive and lead. Given patriarchal ideologies, it is difficult to stand firm in your beliefs that empowering, supporting, and investing in women and girls is the answer to making communities better for all.
We are proud that we enter into strategic partnerships with well-matched organizations and partners because we are strong in our values and know that to push our mission forward we need to be intentional and committed to our founding ideals. But our greatest challenge is securing trust-based, flexible, and multi-year funding to help us grow and sustain our work. It can be a challenge for local organizations, especially those in the Global South, who are always having to prove their worthiness and legitimacy to receive funding. Navigating these systems can be difficult for Black Africans, especially women and gender minorities.