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UNESCO helps varsity students stay healthy

A survey shows 72% of students in higher education institutions are sexually active

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT |In Uganda, adolescent pregnancy is one of the main factors causing girls and young women to drop out of school, often putting an abrupt end to their education. The country currently has the highest school dropout rates in the East African region.

To empower young people to stay healthy and educated, UNESCO is working with the Government of Uganda and other partners through its Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future Plus (O3 Plus) to provide skills and information on health, well-being and sexual and reproductive health.

This work supports learners in higher education institutions to make informed decisions that will benefit their education and their future.

“With the knowledge and life skills I have gained through my involvement in O3 Plus activities, I now confidently help my fellow university students navigate some of the sexual reproductive health challenges that we always find ourselves grappling with,” says Evelyn Onying, a young woman aged 22 and third-year student at Makerere University in Uganda, one of the higher education institutions in which UNESCO’s O3 Plus project is underway.

Born in Kakira, a town in Jinja, Uganda, Evelyn is the only girl among her five brothers. In her town, many young people, in particular girls, drop out of school to seek livelihood. But with a gap in sexual and reproductive health services and information, young people’s development and lives are put at risk.

“While growing up and going through school, I definitely needed guidance and pointers on how to deal with sexual reproductive health challenges,” says Evelyn. “Teenagers in my community engaged in practices that I thought were meant for adults. I had to deal with a lot of peer pressure and sexual advances.”

With support and encouragement from her parents, Evelyn is now pursuing her Bachelor’s degree. However, she is observing a similar cycle at university-level: “A majority of people I know have ventured into risky behaviours while at the university to sustain their survival due to financial hardships. Some lost confidence due to sexual traumas,” says Evelyn.

A survey conducted in selected universities in the country revealed that 72% of students in higher education institutions are sexually active. And that nearly 12% of young women become pregnant while enrolled at university, with 35% of these being unplanned pregnancies.

A voice of support to her peers

“Thanks to the life skills education I have gained through O3 Plus, I have learned proper negotiation skills and I can now better handle myself in the face of pressure to get involved in sexual activities.”

Evelyn credits UNESCO and the O3 Plus project for changing her perception on sexual and reproductive health and rights, an issue she now confidently advocates for. She has also provided support to her peers through one-to-one counselling and advocacy: “Using larger platforms, I shared knowledge on sexual and reproductive health and rights through community radios, especially during the 16 days of activism (to end violence against women and girls).”

Evelyn also joined the Technical Working Group and the National Steering Committee for the implementation of the O3 Plus Project in Uganda and as such, has participated in various activities and trainings under the project. She hopes to continue her work as an advocate taking these skills and messages at the grassroots level so that young people can stay healthy and educated, and have a greater chance of achieving their life choices.

Like Evelyn, young people in higher and tertiary education institutions in East and Southern Africa deserve to access the information, knowledge and skills they need to put their health and education at the centre, and in turn, to reach their full potential.

In Uganda, UNESCO’s Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future Plus (O3 PLUS) project is currently underway in three higher education institutions, one of which is Evelyn’s university. The project seeks to ensure that young people across 24 higher and tertiary education institutions in East and Southern Africa realise positive health, education and gender equality outcomes by reducing new HIV infections, unintended pregnancy and gender-based violence.

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