Literacy day: overcoming social shame to promote education. Innocent’s story

AVSI has been working to sensitize teachers about accepting teenage mothers and to help girls like Innocent to overcome the stigma of teen pregnancy and menstrual shame.

Literacy day 2023 Innocent, student from Uganda
Countries Uganda
Date 08.09.2023
Author by Solomon Tumusiime, AVSI Uganda Communication officer

On Literacy day we share our efforts to build the foundation for sustainable and peaceful societies overcoming stigma that girl learners still have to face

The sound of a tyre rim hit with a stone signals Innocent to trot gently to class. She is dressed in her bright yellow uniform. She goes to primary seven in Aywee Primary School, Uganda. At seventeen years she is a mother to a one-year-old baby. The first born in a family of seven children, her parents had high expectations of her but were frustrated when they learnt that their daughter was pregnant. Innocent had to stay home to look after her baby and didn’t know if she would return to school again.

I stayed home the whole day taking care of my baby because she is my responsibility. I didn’t know when I would return to school until a Community Incentive Worker from AVSI was informed about my case, he encouraged me to attend the life skills sessions and reminded me that I still had a good life ahead of me.

Innocent resumed school and the AVSI staff involved in a project funded by Education cannot wait reached her school to sensitize the teachers about accepting teenage mothers because there was growing stigma toward them.

I am now able to study more consistently and I am grateful that AVSI reached out to me,” says Innocent, whose transition has so far been smooth and her grades have improved. Her teacher, Jennifer, also affirmed that “She just returned to school but she is already scoring good grades in tests.

Menstrual shame: escaping the shame and stigma from menstruation

Innocent had another problem that deterred her from regular school attendance. Menstrual hygiene is one of the factors that cause teenage female learners to pause going to school every month. Dignity kits are expensive and young girls often stay home during their menses. They are afraid of mockery from fellow learners incase their dresses get stained.

“I also got reusable Afripads, knickers, a bucket and a small bag in which I store my toiletries. The menstrual health kit I was given was timely and reduced the cost of buying soap. We were taught how to maintain body hygiene. Above all, now I do not feel ashamed anymore to go to school when I am having my menses.

A total of 3,427 menstrual hygiene kits have been distributed to school going girls to support them in attaining an uninterrupted education - thanks to Education Cannot Wait, the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises.

Today, Innocent enjoys studying mathematics and english and hopes to get a first grade in her Primary Leaving Examinations and pursue her dream of becoming a teacher.

International Literacy Day

Since 1967, International Literacy Day (ILD) celebrations have taken place every September 8 around the world to remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights, and to advance the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society. 

International Literacy Day 2023 will be celebrated worldwide under the theme, ‘Promoting literacy for a world in transition: Building the foundation for sustainable and peaceful societies’.