By Innocent Hamalla
“We should mean not to produce children accidentally,” said Njoze, Butaleja district vice Chairperson. This district is unique not only in offering to counsel survivors of gender-based violence in the area but also because it is led by women in accessing family planning services.
As a result of inadequate resources, the Butaleja district authorities are unable to provide essential social and health services to the people living there. Instead, community-based organizations were filling those needs – yet they were organizations led mainly by men. This left some survivors of gender-based violence, and women and girls more generally, reluctant to come forward in search of assistance.
But now, a group of women and men in Village Health Teams (VHTs) has come together to change that, thanks to a district partnership with Reproductive Health Uganda (RHU) and the Butaleja district.
The women and men are members of the 21 VHTs, a community-based team in the Butaleja district that sensitizes, mobilizes, and counsels community dwellers to address the specialized needs of child spacing, survivors of gender-based violence, and to increase community engagement on these sensitive issues.
The women themselves, who are also accompanied by men in most cases, participate in related community activities through the VHT Network, which was created by Butaleja district health office in cooperation with the RHU.
Inspired by what they’d learned, the Butaleja district leadership came together in 2021 to establish new spaces at seven health centers for men and women to access family planning services. With funding from the Bergstrom Foundation through RHU and support from Butaleja district, they launched the new Breaking Barriers to Access II project.
“The beginning was always challenging, yet these challenges are our future successes,” said Jackson Chekweko, Executive Director RHU.
In one year, 177 permanent methods were offered, 123 to women, 3,897 long-acting reversible contraceptives, and 2,584 short-term methods at RHU Clinic, Bubalya HC III, Bugalo HC III, Busaba HC III, Busabi HC III, Kachonga HC III, Nakwasi HC III, Nampologoma HC II, and at the outreaches.
In this case, just like Chekweko says, the challenges they encountered paved the path to the people’s future in terms of health rights, access to family planning, and spacing their children.
Butaleja district Chief Administrators Office reports that in order to gain traction among people in the communities, their first order of business was to conduct a needs assessment in the community, which revealed that local women were often uncomfortable expressing themselves in the existing spaces run by men, besides fewer men’s engagement in family planning issues. Those spaces provided services to the broader community, not only women. When women wanted to address sensitive issues such as family planning, domestic abuse, psychological violence, or sexual health matters, their concerns were often met with an intimidating lack of privacy or expertise.
“Our health Centres are now places where women, men, and young people can visit any time any day,” said Herbert Himigu from Butaleja CAOs Office.
The success of their efforts, VHTs, and RHU has inspired others as well. “We hope to replicate this initiative in other communities in more parts of the district, where it is needed the most,” said Dr. Peter Ibembe, RHU Director of Programs.
RHU supports vulnerable and underserved people in Uganda by ensuring access to essential sexual and reproductive health services.