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Engendering equality: working holistically in a Ugandan slum neighbourhood to challenge gendered inequalities, sexual ignorance and abusive sexual behaviours.

Principal Investigator:

Professor Jane Plastow, Professor of African Theatre & Deputy Director, Leeds University Centre for African Studies, University of Leeds


This project will work in 7 schools (4 primary, 3 secondary) in the working class/slum neighbourhood of Walukuba/Masese in Jinja, Uganda. The project builds on related work over the past 3 years with communities in Walukuba that has evidenced widespread gender inequalities and sexual and reproductive health challenges, particularly amongst girls. It privileges a dialogic, participatory and creative methodology that prior work has shown to be richly generative and impactful. This action research project brings together arts, public health, education, gender and anthropology researchers from the UK and Uganda to work with 280 young people (aged 13-16) and local community arts activist organisation ‘We Are Walukuba’. The project aims to promote gender equality and health and well-being in relation to sexual relationships and activity among young people, as well as support for regional and national authorities in delivering more effective and impactful sexual and reproductive health and gender education programmes in schools.

Project Description:

This project builds on five years of arts-based community-centred action research by Jane Plastow (African theatre specialist) and Katie McQuaid (anthropologist), in Walukuba/Masese, a slum district of Jinja in Eastern Uganda. A central finding of much of our earlier work was a situation of both widespread gendered inequality and of a dangerous lack of information among many in the community about a whole range of issues relating to reproductive health. We also found that there is an urgent problem of adolescents engaging in unprotected sex and resulting issues of a proliferation of teenage mothers and sexual disease. Our programme is therefore working in 7 schools in Walukuba/Masese, 4 primary and 3 secondary, with 13-16 year olds, to first understand their perspectives on gender roles and then engage with local public health providers to develop relevant gender and reproductive health education.

There are a number of innovative elements to the programme. We are enrolling the young people as co-investigators, valuing their experience and knowledges in designing the work as it progresses. We are working in the first place with boys and girls separately, to encourage them to freely voice gendered concerns and perspectives. We are using an arts led methodology, where each week workshops are instigated through a relevant creative activity that opens up questions and critical discussion. Although it has only recently begun our process is already revealing that potentially highly dangerous myths proliferate in this community about sexual relations. So, for example, many young women think you cannot get pregnant the first time you have sex, or that you cannot get pregnant if you have sex in daylight. We are also finding that sex is often conceived in transactional terms, as a highly monetised activity, where sums of around a dollar are seen as a sufficiently large incentive to lead many young girls into sexual activity. Our work has only just begun, but the need and appetite for relevant knowledge is already very clear amongst our volunteer participants.

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