As many celebrate in the U.S. through gender reveals, elaborate baby showers, and photo shoots… becoming a mother is a start of a new chapter in a woman’s life, while ending another. It’s a time to learn about strengths you didn’t know you had and fears you never deemed a part of your existence. If you’re black and pregnant, the delivery of your new bundle becomes a risky event. If you’re an adolescent and pregnant…it becomes even riskier.
The stories of many adolescents in developing regions today remain untold. This is unacceptable when approximately 12 million girls aged 15–19 years and at least 777,000 girls under 15 years give birth in these regions each year. Complications during these births and pregnancies are the leading cause of death for 15-19 year old girls globally. Furthermore, less documented…is the stigma placed on their backs.
In Eastern Africa, in the country of Uganda, this problem still remains the same. To date, the teenage pregnancy rate is 25%, making Uganda the possessor of one of the highest rates in sub-Suharan Africa. In communities marked by poverty and limited access to sex education, barriers to information, sexual and reproductive health services, and education persist. Many girls will leave school, as a result of being shunned. Some are married off, where they then face a higher risk of domestic violence. And some…are phoenixes rising out of ashes. Reborn every day, they rise….and they overcome.
Meet Nantale Proscovia, Project Director and the mother of two beautiful girls, from the Iganga district in Uganda. I met “Prossy” through +256 Youth Platform, a charity dedicated to empowering the youth of Uganda through non-formal education, employment and practical skills, and opportunity. Here, Prossy does a significant amount of sexual and reproductive health advocacy. Prossy, unapologetic in her own story, shares the stigma, many perceptions, and lived experiences of teenage mothers in the Iganga community of Uganda. Welcome, Prossy.
Q: Hi Prossy!!! Welcome to my blog. I am so, so glad and grateful to be in this space with you to not only just share your story but to speak on the experiences of so many girls and women and Uganda. So before we get to started, why don’t you tell us about yourself? Who is Prossy? What do you like to do? And what are you up to these days now?
A: I am Nantale Proscovia, a female, Ugandan aged 27. Am a mother of two beautiful girls and a resident Nakilurwe village of Iganga District. My educational status is senior six, which I attained from PMM Girls School in Jinja. I currently work with +256 Youth Platform, a community-based organization in the Iganga District, where I am the Project Director but also coordinate our sexual reproductive health and rights department. I have also worked as a Community Administrator at the Malangha Foundation Academy in 2019 and as a Field Officer for Keikereza Mukagwa project at +256 Youth Platform, a project that supported communities to make vegetable gardens during the COVID-19 lockdown this was funded by GIZ. Am passionate about working with youths, especially girls and young mothers. I have worked with girls and young mothers for the past three years. I chose this path, because it was a challenging moment when I was a teenage mother. I had no skills and knowledge to mitigate the challenges, and no one could comfort me… which frustrated a lot hence losing hope at that time. When I got a chance to join +256 Youth Platform, I was given the attention I needed all along. I was trained and gained different skills that could support me while mitigating my challenges. Looking at the space I was in, I found out that many girls had the same challenges like I had. I choose to use my experience gained to restore hope and impact my fellow mothers. In the due course, they are able to realize their worth, become determined and resilient women who make informed decisions…thus living a positive life. I am a loving and caring woman who feels the pain of others and stands there for them till they are fine. I hate seeing a woman or girl embraced or abused, therefore I feel settled when women and girls are at peace. I want to become an advocate for women. These days, I am working upon modernizing our workshop called the TEENAGE MOTHERS GARAGE. This workshop is spearheaded by teenage mothers who are taken through a series of trainings in carpentry, plumbing, electricity installation, motor vehicle mechanics, and painting in addition to the crafts and computer training we take them through. At the moment, the workshop employs five boxers. Am looking at fighting gender inequalities and promoting leadership in women. Our slogan at the workshop is “WOMEN CAN DO WHAT MEN DO.”
Q: As deep as you’d like to go, can you pull us into your world and tell us about the times you got pregnant? What was the impact on your life? How did you feel? What would you go back and tell the younger Prossy?
A: It was a hard moment for me. This came at a time when I was a student in school. Moreover young, I was the only hope of my parents. I was bright, and teachers loved me a lot. But when I conceived…every one departed from me ranging from teachers, students, and the community people. And my dad. It was only my mother that was there for me though. At times, she also accused me for having messed up with my life. I felt small and uncomfortable. I could hide myself in quiet places and had a lot of pressure because the man who impregnated me couldn’t afford to take care of me. It was a hustle, and I developed million ideas…among them was committing suicide, attempting abortion, becoming a prostitute…such that I get money to sustain myself and selling drugs. I dropped out of school. I grew old in appearance because of the stress I had and lack of care. My mindset grew dull, and I no longer thought as I used to do. My dreams were blocked. After birth, I got responsibilities of taking care of my baby. Therefore, my piece of advice to young girls…is to stay focused, concentrate on their academic and abstain from sex until the right time for them. Also, to learn income-generating activities to be able to become self-reliant.
Q: Explain some of the cultural factors that play a role on and impact teenage pregnancies in Uganda.
A: In my community, many girls are given responsibility to look after and take care of babies for their parents or employed to do such. This prepares them for motherhood and have a feeling they are ready to have their own babies.
In my community, it’s also a sign of disrespect for a girl to look into eyes of elders while speaking, which reduces their esteem. Something as this affects an ability to ask questions or negotiate about sexual issues.
Imitating parents, mothers as role models could be sited as a reason for early pregnancy…i.e. a mother who gotten pregnant say at 18 years…finds it hard to prohibit or to counsel her own girl child not to engage in early sex…as she is also a victim.
Family reactions, mostly in African tradition culture, believe that a girl child at the age of 16- 19 is ready for marriage…as again for bride price and other privileges.
Religion and our culture doesn’t believe in abortion which makes it hard for a teen girl who gets pregnant. As a result, she carries on the unwanted pregnancy up to delivery, hence an increase in the number of teenage pregnancies.
Culture prohibits teaching of sexual reproductive health and rights to adolescent girls. This also plays a big role in the increasing number of teenage pregnancy….because of lack of knowledge and skills about sexual education.
Religions doesn’t allow girls to go in for family planning contraceptives…that it’s an abomination before God…leaving behind high chances of getting pregnant among these adolescent girls.
Some religion give in their girls for marriage at an early age or just as soon as their first period. This is so because they have a belief that when a girl conceives at her parents’ home…it is a sign of a curse to the family. This increases the number of teenage pregnancies.
Q: What are the perceptions among teen girls in Iganga, specifically, around pregnancy?
A: Most girls think that when they get pregnant, this will act as security of their relationship and increase love between her and the partner. So many girls have gotten pregnant as that reason.
Perceived control over getting pregnant. This refers to an adolescent girl perceived ability to control when she gets pregnant and with whom…based on the status of her relationship and her plans for family.
Perceived readiness for pregnancy. This refers to how well prepared and interested an adolescent girl is to have a baby based on her economic status and housing stability.
They also have a perception that when they produce…they will be respected and taken as mature and responsible persons in the community.
Q: Did you, at any point, face any discrimination once you were pregnant? How did your pregnancy affect your education? Explain.
A: Yes. There is a lot of discrimination in our communities, and I personally faced it during my pregnancy. Most times, they could deny me job opportunities. They could tell me that pregnant girls have no energy and knowledge to run businesses. Not only that…but also, they said that pregnant girls don’t attract customers…hence leaving me unemployed. Parents could refuse their daughters to associate with me…saying that I was going to spoil them. Also, I stayed lonely. That frustrated me a lot. Pregnancy affected my education in that I stopped going to school and in the due course…a lot was covered when I was absentee. After birth, I went back to school but students were far in the syllabus. I had nowhere to begin. Time had already gone and finally this led me to pass with a grade that I never dreamt of.
Q: Tell us more about your role with +256 Youth Platform. How do you strive to advocate for, help and educate young girls of Uganda currently? What needs to be done to address teenage pregnancy in your own town/village?
A: I am a mentor mother who acts as a role model at both +256 Youth Platform and the community at large. You know in our communities…teenage mothers are segregated, marginalized, and also pressured by both their relatives and the community. Thereby, they end up frustrated and as a result they lose hope, making them live a miserable life. This pushes me a lot and always my concern to make sure that these communities change their attitudes towards teenage mothers. So, for those reasons…I get up to support and advocate for this vulnerable group of people.
Take an example during the lockdown. I used to foot and at times ride a bicycle to take food and other necessities that we could get to the teenage mothers…and also offer them with psychosocial support through counselling and this restored hope in them.
I also carry out parent-child dialogues to settle disputes that may result into copying different morals… that at times result in teenage pregnancy. Some parents have developed a tendency of forcing their girl children to go in for men without prior willingness and this increases quarrels amongst themselves. Take an example during the total lockdown, I used to check on these girls to devise means of mitigating such challenges. Perhaps one of them who had misunderstandings with the parents who were forcing her to go for marriage so that they can gain wealth. The incidence happened in Kasolo village of Bulamaji sub- county in Iganga district.
I advocate for different programs. For example, computer skilling, art and craft, career guidance and mentorship at +256 Youth Platform…where I enroll girls both in and outside school into the program at a free cost so as to empower and prepare them for available opportunities, keep them busy and avoid boredom…which may tempt them to go in for men and perhaps restore their belief that they can also do something for themselves in the community.
In coordination with +256 Youth Platform, responsible health personnel and health centers available, I always procure medical support for these girls and antenatal services for pregnant girls. For example, during the lockdown when transport was at a standstill, I sought support from the COVID-19 task force of Iganga…so that in case of any medical need we could be able to attain transport services easily and reach the nearby health facilities for medication, especially for antenatal care services
Occasionally, I committee and share different ideas about the challenges and needs that our girls are to overcome and sustain respectively…and as a result many of them deliver support in form of clothes, food, money, counselling and guidance programs through meetings and video conferencing with those friends who are abroad and in Uganda…hence enabling girls to live happy lives.
There is an adequate need to empower teenage mothers in Iganga and Busoga region with both life and vocational skills to enhance their livelihood and that of their babies through widening employment chances and ability to run and sustain businesses. This will help build resilience amongst teenage mothers to advocate for gender equality in such a land characterized with gender roles and marginalizing culture and religious beliefs. That’s why today at +256 Youth platform… we are fighting tooth and nail to equip the teenage mother’s garage workshop, such that we can impact many girls and young mothers in Iganga and the country at large.
At 18 years old, I delivered a beautiful girl called Shube, and at that time, I was in senior four.My mother remained with the baby, and I went back to school till I completed senior six. At this time, my parents ran short of money to pay my tuition and the little they could get... they had to support my youngest brother who was in primary level by then.
I had to settle and raise my baby, hoping that I would go back to school. Because of the factors that we all know as Ugandan,I conceived again. During the pregnancy, I had million ideas and suggestions in my head...but thanks to God, I didn't take any of the ideas. This time around, I brought in another cute baby girl...called Hatima.
The two babies earned me a title of "mother" but also earned me many titles like "failure,teenage mother etc". These titles pulled me down, because I could not walk with my head up. Thank God ...that out of crying and lamenting through my endeavors...I am able to do something at +256 Youth Platform. I reached +256 only to find 99% of the males in boxing and rapping. It was challenging and seemed impossible to have something female-based . I convinced myself that this is the only opportunity I had to do something that would prove a point that girls can compete and add to something on development.
For the two years I have worked with +256 Youth Platform, I decided to do everything as I learn...ranging from aerobics, boxing, singing, carpentry, painting....but also used my team to support teenage mothers because I have a master degree in that field. I studied while raising the two girls I have. I have proved a point that as I talk and am the Project Director, overseeing 5 coordinators of +256 Youth Platform.
Today, I managed the first orientation meeting in taking on the role and orienting the team about our next directions.
Thanks to everyone who has played the role of mentoring me to reach here.