Rufina, 23, is from a small village in Uganda. Bias, threats and lack of money make it difficult for young Ugandan women to participate in politics. As a member of the local youth council, Rovina wants to change this. “I would like to create a safe environment for girls.”
“Most people don’t realize the potential of women. Women can do great things for their communities if given the opportunity,” says Rovina. But in our society, it is difficult for girls to get involved in politics. Many people believe that only men belong in politics and that Women have to do the housework.”
Moreover, there are many preconceived notions about women participating in political elections, says Rovina. “When young women get involved in politics, many people assume that they got that position through sexual relations or favors. Because of this bias, many girls don’t dare to get involved in politics.”
“I was too shy”
Rovina learned from Plan International to develop politically. “Before that I was very shy and didn’t even dare speak in front of ten people,” she says. “I didn’t dare share my thoughts. I learned more about advocacy from Plan International. I realized I had many ideas about developing my community. It gave me the confidence to get involved in politics.”
On the Plan International course, I realized that I had many ideas about developing my community. This gave me the confidence to get involved in politics
No money for a successful campaign
In 2020, Rufina participated in the elections for the youth mayor of the Western Department. Here, however, she had to confront a powerful young man, the son of the local vicar.
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Her small vegetable stand didn’t produce enough to run a successful campaign. “You need money to run a successful election campaign, but like many girls, I didn’t have enough money,” she explains. “This is especially true for men from wealthy families. On the last day of the election, the deputy’s son won.”
Not only was money an obstacle, but Rufina was also threatened with sexual and physical violence because she ran in elections as a woman. “Because I refused to take a bribe, I was threatened with violence and gang rape,” she says. “I almost gave up because it scared me so much. Luckily nothing happened to me in the end.”
Adolescent pregnancy and child marriage
Despite these setbacks, Rufina eventually won the position of secretary at the Youth Council. As part of her work, she organizes sessions where young people can obtain contraceptives and learn more about menstruation and hygiene. She hopes that in the future the government will provide financial support for teenage mothers, reducing their risk of dropping out of school or being sexually exploited.
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“Teenage pregnancies and child marriages are common in my area,” she says. “In my community, girls who get pregnant at an early age are often forced to marry the child’s father. This means they have to leave school.”
Talk to Parents
To stop this, Rufina went out into the community to talk to the parents and change their way of thinking: “Parents in the community were told about the consequences of girls getting married at a very young age. I have already convinced many fathers not to force their daughters to marry after pregnancy. This allowed many girls to continue to going to school “.
Social norms change
To encourage girls’ political participation, Rovina believes that social norms in society need to change. “We need to change the idea that girls should be behind the kitchen sink so they can participate in politics and stand up for their rights. When their voices are heard, girls naturally find the courage to participate in politics.”
Set a good example for other girls
Looking into the future, Rufina would like to become the chairperson of the Youth Council and eventually even a Member of Parliament. She is determined to continue her political career and wants to set an example for other girls. I am not afraid of facing challenges. I want to fight social norms and injustice so that other girls can become leaders too.”