By Citizen Reporter John B. Thawite
Photos via WRA Uganda

Journalists have been urged to avoid merely reporting numbers of women and girls whose sexual and reproductive rights (SRHR) are abused. The call was made by long-serving New Vision editor, Catherine Mwesigwa, was recently speaking at a three-day citizen reporter advocates training, at Grand Global Hotel in Uganda’s capital Kampala.

The training, organised by White Ribbon Alliance in partnership with the UN Women and The Guardian newspaper, attracted participants from Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda.  

“There has been more visible advocacy for SRHR both in the community and the media. Question is whether the coverage goes beyond events and occurrences to provide information that will cause action for change”  - Catherine Mwesigwa, New Vision.

Presenting a paper, 'Journalism Trends In Uganda And Their Focus On SRHR' Mwesigwa said, “interpret statistics; there are people behind the numbers,   tell stories of people’s real life experiences.”  Mwesigwa challenged the journalists to expose social-economic factors that continue to impact negatively on the SRHR of girls and women in Uganda. 
She asked the journalists to explore factors such as the ones that force many to produce many children in developing countries including Uganda.

“Many women often produce more children than they need merely to fulfill the wishes of their husbands,” she noted. She added, “Women in Uganda get an average of two more children than they desired number because of not using contraceptives and because it is their husbands who decide on family size.” She said Uganda’s total fertility rate is an average of 6.2 children per woman, with rural women having twice as many children as urban women. She said women who suffer obstetric fistula stands at 200,000 with 1,900 cases reported every day, urging the participants to be interested the experiences that such women go through.

Mwesigwa said other newsworthy areas include high teenage pregnancy rate currently standing at one out of every four girls aged 15-19yrs. She said factors behind large families include low Contraception Prevalence Rate (CPR) - the percentage of currently pregnant women currently using contraception. 

“After 50 years of modern contraception, only 30% of married women use any contraceptive method, (26% use a modern method,” she said, adding that according to the Uganda Demographic health Survey of 2011, fifty-two percent of sexually active unmarried women are using some method of contraception.    
Mobilise, Inform and Educate

She advised the journalists to mobilise, inform and educate, understand the development needs and policies and reach the most affected to understand their aspirations - “Link government/policy makers and the people, provide information that will empower the citizens but give facts, interpret them and draw conclusions.” She asked citizen journalists to use new media to expose injustice, improve transparency and accountability. 

“New media act like megaphones rather than a rallying cry. They spread information outside rather than inside,” she said. To communicate basic information about SRHR, Mwesigwa noted, Citizen Journalists should understand the subject right from the basics of reproductive health in terms of physiology, biology, to the social, cultural, health system set-up in your environment and the regional and global standards). The UN Women representative also told the citizen journalists:

“Keep it simple. Avoid technical jargon. Understand first then communicate clearly. Be accurate, balance all views, and aim for fairness and objectivity. Build rapport with technical experts”  

While giving opening remarks at Makerere University, Ms Anna Mutavati, the Deputy Country Representative of UN Women said, “Many women who experience disrespect and abuse during childbirth are less likely to seek skilled health care in future. Maternal health services must include rights-based respectful maternity care.”

Ms Robina Biteyi , the National Coordinator of White Ribbon Alliance Uganda said, “We are very proud to be working with our partner UN Women in leading the way in Citizen Journalism, especially with a rights-based focus.”

The training at a glance

During the three-day regional training workshop, the participants were equipped with skills in Citizen Journalism (CJ) and informed about Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). The training was conducted with the aim of empowering citizens to monitor, track progress and demand accountability for commitments made towards maternal, sexual and reproductive health and rights by their leaders. It was also to familiarise them with the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals in the context of SRHR.

The participants shared their own and their communities’ experiences of rights abuses and violations – and the solutions – while creating a series of media pieces including blogs, tweets and articles, to share across the region. They also discussed Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and how to communicate SRHR experiences and policy recommendations to different audiences, including those on the local, national and global level. 

One participant, Winfred Ongom, a Nutrition and Health Associate from ABJA P.H Consultancy, who participated in the training, was chosen to take the participant’s experiences and report live at the 70th United Nations General Assembly from September 19-26th in New York, USA.