By Agnes Kabonesa, aged 23, Youth Leader, World Vision Uganda
I have a great interest in gender inequality as in the Ugandan context women and men are not given equal treatment. This generates an enormous gender gap that is reflected in unfair situations for women. One example is the widespread practice of child marriage due to lack of awareness and traditional practices. Since I became a child rights advocate, I have used my personal experience to teach community members and leaders, government officials and civil society about the negative impact of child marriage for girls.
My parents married me off at the age of 15 and I put up a strong fight as I did not want to get married as I was a bright student and wanted to pursue my education. When I got married, I was sexually abused and denied of the right to education. This experience was a very real and serious consequence of gender inequality that many girls and I suffer every day.
As many girls were facing the same problems I decided to make a change in my life. I started to be very active in sensitising the community about this issue and I felt empowered by being able to speak, to breakthrough and raise the voices of the voiceless.
I strongly believe that gender equality can only be achieved when women and men enjoy the same rights and opportunities across all aspect of life such as education, health, economic participation and decision- making. I work with girls to empower them by creating spaces where they can share their experiences, develop their full potential and build their confidence.
I have been an activist for more than three years and I am confident to say that my work has contributed to a change in Uganda. My work, together with the work of other people has opened up the debate on child marriage and there is evidence that this practice has been reduced though slowly. Through my speeches and one-to-one visits, I convince families and leaders at local and national level that it is very important to keep girls at school and not to force them into marriage.
My work also connects child marriage to other forms of violence and abuse, such child trafficking, sexual exploitation and neglect. In order to make my work more effective, I reach out to government officials and NGO workers to engage them in addressing the issues affecting children and young people.
When I attended the Pan-African launch of It Takes a World campaign in Ethiopia, many of the government representatives were touched by my testimony and they said that I provided new perspectives. It is crucial to bring together representatives from government and NGOs in campaigning for an end of child marriage and ask them for clear commitments. I am confident that I have contributed to make an impact with the general public through my interviews and speeches as many of them have told me that they changed their beliefs about the topic after hearing my stories. I hope they will be prioritising this issue in their political agendas.
About the author
Agnes Kabonesa, aged 23, is a children’s rights advocate and young leader with World Vision Uganda. She volunteers to support children and young people as a peer educator and life skills trainer. She advocates for the protection of the right of children and young people, especially around the issue of violence against children, especially ending child marriage and child sacrifice.