Part 4: The sexual exploitation of adolescent girls in the Kanungu District, Uganda: barriers to the implementation of the “Sugar Daddy Awareness” lessons


All 32 teachers who participated in the interviews and questionnaires confirmed that they had heard about and/or are involved in the “Sugar Daddy Awareness” lessons introduced by U-SHAPE. They believe that it is important to impart SDA and sex education classes to their students as it aims to improve children’s health and gives them hope for a brighter future in education. Both male and female teachers think that sugar daddies, HIV/AIDS and teenage pregnancies are prevalent issues in the Kanungu District and feel that the SDA programme has been pivotal in educating learners about these issues.

Before collating the data, I expected there to be a disparity in gender relations among male and female teachers, in terms of reinforcing traditional gender roles. Owing to the patriarchal nature of rural Ugandan society, I deduced that this ideology had manifested in the education system and was, thus, oppressing female teachers by assigning them to educate schoolchildren on sex-related subjects. This is because it is a social norm for women teachers to make students feel more “comfortable” on discussing matters of sexuality “openly”. However, with the implementation of SDA lessons, ‘even male teachers have been brought on board, they’ve had an opportunity to share, this time they share when children are combined together, when boys and girls are together in the classroom, they are able to communicate issues related to sugar daddies in the class and/or in assembly’ (the schools’ inspector).

In reading literature surrounding education and empowerment in Africa, I assumed that the “hidden curriculum” was being practiced by teachers, hence implying a gender bias through stereotyping ‘on the basis that boys need careers and girls need husbands’. Therefore, if the gender inequalities propagated in teacher-child relationships, then it would be a limitation for young girls’ empowerment and consequently, a barrier to SDA implementation. It is suitable to argue that this study verifies an even distribution of roles and responsibilities between male and female educators in teaching SDA, which does not underpin traditional gender roles or gender stereotyping. Gender bias was not found in teacher-child relationships and so, was not a factor in ‘limiting the kinds of futures that girls are able to imagine for themselves’. The design of the SDA programme has been integral for both teachers and students in addressing gender equity issues, such as the risks of cross-generational sex, and improving gender relations which, enhances its empowerment potential. It has the ability to contribute towards attracting and retaining girls, from poor backgrounds, in school.

The themes which arose in discourse are: lack of resources/funding, training, time/support, and cultural attitudes.

Lack of Resources/Funding

Results from the questionnaires show that ‘lack of resources/funding’ was most frequently indicated by teachers (20 out of 24) as a barrier for putting the SDA lessons into effect. The “resources” that I refer to here are material (school equipment) and economic (financial).

During the in-depth interviews, teachers revealed that not all children absorb information well from the mainstream participatory teaching methods of: reading/writing what is on the chalkboard/in textbooks or listening/repeating educational songs. Children learn using a variety of methods: auditory, kinaesthetic, reading/writing and visual. As key stakeholders in the programme, it is vital to examine the capabilities of the children themselves; in ascertaining effective learning methods, it is then possible to cater to students’ needs. Presently, the SDA lessons are not accustomed to the needs of the visual learners as none of the schools have learning aids, such as a projector, to watch the UNICEF cartoon film that was originally shown by U-SHAPE’s facilitator of the SDA lessons. The teachers said that videos are beneficial to a child’s learning as they can see how an older man is luring a young girl into a sexual relationship and so, comprehend the “tricks” that sugar daddies use. All teachers disclosed that with a projector, they would not need in-class support from the SDA facilitator, only for initial training purposes. The senior man teacher at Mothercare accentuated that ‘when you’re introducing that (the concept of sugar daddies), it’s going to create a problem. Children will ask “what do sugar daddies look like?”, “where are they from?”, “how do they act?” and there is nothing to show them’.

Teachers mentioned that poverty is a causative factor for the lack of resources in primary schools in the Kanungu District. The levels of poverty vary as some schools are in a less impoverished state than others. For instance, schools which are located in the harder reach areas of the Kanungu District, and are mainly funded by the government, have more poor quality class resources than private schools. In comparison to the schools in urban areas such as Kampala, where there is improved access to electricity and where better-quality learning resources (projectors, computers, TVs) are utilised to aid sex education implementation, schools in rural areas are more poverty-stricken and so, have less availability of resources. Hence, a teacher’s capability to facilitate SDA is influenced by poverty.

The schools’ inspector testifies to this assertion: ‘because there are no facilities, such kind of videos have not been run in schools here… I think teachers would wish to have such gadgets… otherwise right now, facilitation is still limited, but with wanting these changes… the financial component comes’. If teachers are given access to adequate material resources for SDA lessons, and utilise them properly, it can allow students of different learning capabilities to ‘interpret the content correctly’. On a micro scale, this has prospects of empowering children in classrooms. Teachers articulated that if the students had multiple opportunities to watch this film, they could then comment and give their opinions – it enables an open space for communication and group discussion about risky sexual behaviour. Poverty, defined by the lack of and access to resources, restricts a teacher’s ability to “function” and implement quality SDA lessons, which has consequences of disempowerment for both educators and students. Since teachers do not have “control” over their resources, the capabilities of teachers must be appraised on meso and macro levels with respect to the processes of governmental and non-governmental establishments.

Firstly, it is imperative to examine the meso-level interaction between teachers and U-SHAPE. Teachers said they were promised to be loaned micro-projectors by U-SHAPE. Yet, due to the absence of communication, these were not provided thus hindering the implementation of SDA lessons. Respondents from both private and public schools agreed that there is limited government funding and no extra financial help is provided by either internal or external stakeholders to supply these projectors as they are too expensive. Secondly, on a macro level, U-SHAPE require economic resources (capital) from the government and/or other private stakeholders to fund the material resources for the teachers. As a key actor in the process, the state “controls” the means and access to the material resources that teachers receive. Since the Ugandan government do not have an agenda or clear national child protection policy ‘to guide those who are working on child protection issues’ such as SDA, there is very limited funding available for U-SHAPE. This implies that the government are independent of all decisions made related to SDA, at the grassroots level – in schools. It is clear that there is a dependency on funding for the supply of educational resources, through the wider social structure, which impedes the facilitation of the SDA lessons.

Lack of Training

After ‘lack of resources/funding’, the questionnaires indicated that ‘lack of training’ was most frequently mentioned (17 out of 24) as an impediment to implementation.

In their interviews, teachers uncovered that they currently have insufficient guidance on how to conduct the SDA lessons. They expressed that they need more training sessions, in order to absorb the content, and learn relevant techniques to effectively instruct their students. Participants stressed the importance of having all teachers trained, not just pastoral leads and senior men/women teachers. The pastoral leads and senior men/women teachers are well informed about the SDA lessons. “Other” teachers, those who do not teach P6/P7 or science classes, declared that they have not been adequately trained by U-SHAPE on SDA but they wish to receive first-hand information. They affirmed this as the reason for why they lack confidence and are “fearful” of teaching SDA, despite senior men/women teachers trying to train them. The head teacher at Kazuru articulated that the SDA training should ‘include others. In case I may not represent very well, the other one may’. Hence, increased access to social resources (intellectual knowledge) by means of sufficient training would ‘empower teachers to enlighten students’ (head teacher at Mothercare). However, 15 teachers, of both the interviews and questionnaires, confirmed that they had not attended either the Pastoral Lead Network or School Engagement meetings run by U-SHAPE where the training sessions are held. This may be because they are not adequately trained by U-SHAPE, there are external dynamics between the senior teachers and “other” teachers that I am unaware of, and/or the senior teachers are using insufficient training methods to teach the “other” teachers about SDA which needs to be explored further. Resultantly, this can be seen as a crucial indicator of why teachers lack in training or are not fully trained, thus acting as a barrier to implementing the SDA lessons.

Lack of Time/Support

All interviewees mentioned that one another problem they are facing in running the SDA lessons is actually having the time to teach it. Given that SDA is not incorporated in the written syllabus, ‘it is not an examinable subject’ (head teacher at Kazuru); hence, teachers feel obliged to teach the set curriculum with the intention of helping children to prepare for their exams. Teachers struggle to execute the SDA classes as ‘it interrupts class time’ (senior man teacher at Mothercare). The teachers commented that, they briefly lecture children on SDA during assemblies, in science lessons and during personal hygiene inspections but do not have a specific time or day of the week/month/term set for the SDA lessons. This infers that teachers exercise agency as they choose to make time for teaching SDA, even though it is not included in the structure of the schools’ curriculum. Given that educating students on SDA is in the best interests of the children, and also in the teacher’s self-interest to learn about sugar daddies as a new concept in sex education and to become more gender-aware, they are able to become empowered.

Some teachers confirmed that their sex education classes take place at least twice a week. Yet, this allocation of time varies across the other primary schools in the district. In contrast, some schools teach sex education only once or twice a term. The teachers admitted to not discussing the topic of sugar daddies all the time, but at least once in a while. This finding particularly draws attention to the relationship between the teachers and U-SHAPE. There seems to be a miscommunication on U-SHAPE’s part of how and when they believe that SDA lessons are run and how the teachers actually deliver them.

‘Lack of support’ was another hindrance of SDA implementation exposed in the interviews. Teachers claimed that they required support primarily from their peers, head teachers and human resources (the facilitator of the SDA lessons). Some teachers expressed they need attendant support from the facilitator because they do not feel confident in running the SDA classes on their own. For instance, since the schools do not have projectors and cannot show students the UNICEF film, teachers explained that they require the facilitator’s skills and expertise to engage the children in acting out a play or drama which is based on the theme of sugar daddies. This is to cater to the needs of the kinaesthetic and visual learners. At present, there is no system of accountability by U-SHAPE to ensure that sufficient support is given to the teachers as well as by the government in institutionalising sex education in schools.

The senior man teacher from Kazuru brings to light that ‘they (teachers) may be having problems for example because I said I am a science teacher I’m supported by the head teacher. Other teachers may not be supported by the head teacher or by other teachers or they might not be science teachers’. On the contrary, some teachers may not be supportive for they find the topic to be a “joke”. When SDA or, more generally, sex education is talked about amongst staff members at break or lunch time, these teachers dismiss it entirely and do not get involved in conversation. Therefore, for these teachers, their ability to implement SDA lessons is inhibited by the lack of motivation from their peers.

The questionnaires revealed that 20 teachers think it is not their individual responsibility to deliver messages of sugar daddy awareness and/or sex education. All 24 respondents ticked each answer choice box for the question: “where do you think children learn sex education?”. The options were: at school – signs on the wall, in school lessons, assembly, other children, parents/guardians, radio, newspaper, church and community events, other. Therefore, teaching the SDA lessons is a collective responsibility which necessitates support from micro to macro level. Young girls have the potential to be empowered, through the implementation of SDA lessons, with the support of: parents and guardians, church leaders, community leaders, health workers from hospitals, political leaders and the government.

Cultural Attitudes

Moreover, 6 teachers experience barriers to SDA implementation on the basis of ‘cultural attitude’. During the interviews, participants noted that some teachers, even those who have been trained by U-SHAPE, still maintain the traditional “African” attitude. This attitude regards conversations about sex in public, or even parents discussing sex with their children, as a “taboo”. The importance of informal institutions, such as the social norm of teachers being custodians to schoolchildren alike to parents, is elementary to the implementation of SDA lessons. This is because teachers can exercise their ‘decision-making’ power, as active pedagogic agents, to diverge from the formal ABC and PIASCY strategies, so as to encourage equal gender relations through safe-sex information. As the SDA lessons are not regulated by the government’s gender-insensitive sex education policies, teachers have the capability to break the taboo by educating children on cross-generational and transactional sexual relations and its consequences of HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancies and early marriage.

The schools’ inspector emphasised that ‘we’re saying now, change a bit… you may not have to go into detail, but you must talk about sex’. In other cases, some teachers explicated how parents have told them personally that they do not want their children learning sex education in school, especially not a new concept such as sugar daddies, because the children misinterpret the teacher and believe they are being encouraged to “play” sex. As a result of these curious students, ‘they (the teachers) get demoralised because even after all the sensitisation, and the effort they put in, some of these students go out and still do what they’ve been advised against’ (female teacher at Kazuru).

Especially for some girls, due to socio-economic circumstances of being poor and their parents unable to pay for basic amenities, they have no choice but to have an older “friend” (a sugar daddy) to engage in cross-generational/transactional sex in order to pay for hygiene goods such as sanitary towels and soap. Since Uganda’s HIV-prevention policies are vested in abstinence-only values from the early 1990s, which were proven successful at the time, the government have resisted prioritising the teaching of power imbalances in sexual relations as well as the risks of cross-generational/transactional sex under ABC and PIASCY. Instead, with a political incorrectness of sex education as endorsing “promiscuity”, young girls have been unable to differentiate between a friendship with an older man and a sugar daddy relationship. As there is no established law to protect young girls from sexual exploitation, since it is often connected to prostitution, this ‘makes bad for social and gender analysis’. Therefore, gender inequality is reproduced through ABC, PIASCY and the schools’ syllabus, as young girls remain oblivious to the risks of cross-generational sex.

Given that sugar daddy relationships are a socio-cultural norm in Ugandan society, there is no evidence to prove that the male teachers themselves are not sugar daddies. This factor cannot be ruled out as a major barrier to the implementation of SDA lessons.

Looking ahead

This study suggests a need for teachers to challenge structural power relations at all interactional levels. This research has implications for Uganda’s sex education policies on the grounds that they need to be more gender-responsive to unequal power relations. In openly discussing the nature of sexual relations, the Ugandan government has the capability to break the “taboo” in society which, at present, binds them to outdated and ineffective HIV-prevention strategies.

Despite this, poverty is still a multi-dimensional, causal factor for both social and gender inequalities in rural Uganda. This is administered by the state as they have the ability to “control” the network of all public and private, as well as formal and informal, institutions by means of perpetuating gender inequality through their organisation and processes – such as the school’s curriculum and the current sex education policies. The organisation of inequality through this structured system is thus an even greater problem which necessitates collective action from public services, non-governmental organisations and civil society to break down its barriers.

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Part 2: The sexual exploitation of adolescent girls in the Kanungu District, Uganda: barriers to the implementation of the “Sugar Daddy Awareness” lessons

Issues in the Country

The Republic of Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa and today, is one of the poorest nations in the world. In 2014, it was estimated that around 95,000 people were infected with HIV in Uganda. Specifically, in the southwest region, the 2011 AIDS Indictors Survey indicated that HIV prevalence increased from 5.9% in 2004/5 to 8.0% in 2011 and to 8.4% in 2012 in the Kanungu District. Of these figures, 3.7% of young women and men aged 15-24 were HIV-positive. In this age group, just under half of males who have multiple partners actually use condoms and only 38.1% of young females and 39.5% of males have a correct comprehensive knowledge of HIV/AIDS; this increases exposure to risky sexual behaviour.

Unprotected sex puts young women at danger of HIV/AIDS and unwarranted pregnancy; hence, Uganda has a high teenage pregnancy rate and HIV prevalence. Since little awareness has been raised about the laws and policies on abortion in Uganda, especially for poor young women living in rural areas, it sometimes leads to unsafe abortions and, irrespectively, girls drop out of school. In the Kanungu District, the situation of teenage pregnancies, as a result of sugar daddy relationships, has heightened the spread of HIV/AIDS ‘as more teenage girls are forced to settle with older men’. Therefore, “Sugar Daddy Awareness” (SDA) lessons, on the topics of condom usage and the risks of cross-generational sex, is significant.

Background of the SDA programme

The SDA programme is built on ABC and PIASCY, the existing government strategies, together with the SDA Campaign, which was initiated by the non-governmental organization, Uganda Sexual Health & Pastoral Education (U-SHAPE) and assisted by the charity, Volunteer Uganda (VU). The programme intends to inform children, both girls and boys who are in their penultimate year (P6) and last year of primary school (P7) in the Kanungu District, of the risks associated with cross-generational/transactional sex. This approach has practical goals of increasing adolescents’ knowledge of HIV/AIDS and condom usage, as well as the strategic goals of reducing HIV/AIDS transmission risks, unwanted teenage pregnancies and early marriage. Through SDA, girls are empowered to say no to sex until marriage, and are encouraged to complete school.

The executed SDA initiative in Uganda is a revised version of the “Relative Risk Information Program” (RR) on sugar daddies, which was carried out in two rural districts of western Kenya as part of the schools’ syllabus.

‘During the training, teachers discussed the material in the official HIV/AIDS curriculum and learned how to discuss HIV/AIDS issues in class. Teachers were also trained on how to set up a health club in their school, to encourage HIV avoidance through active learning activities such as role plays. Finally, they were given the latest estimates of HIV/AIDS prevalence in the region of study’.

The RR programme is based on a 40-minute session, conducted by an NGO worker of International Citizen Service. Its design consists of scripts and resources to elucidate the risks of cross-generational relationships – between sugar daddies and young girls. Evidence from this programme suggests that sugar daddy awareness classes changed the sexual behaviour of adolescents in contrast to the national HIV/AIDS curriculum which promotes an abstinence-only message. ‘The relative risk information led to a 28 percent decrease in the likelihood that girls started childbearing within a year’ and teenage childbirths with men who were at least five years senior. Teaching young people sex education in schools therefore lessens incidences of unprotected sex and improves use of contraceptives. Thus, my study intended to discover how teacher training was executed in the SDA initiative in Uganda.

The provision of SDA lessons was first deliberated at a community outreach meeting in March 2014 which was attended by health workers from Bwindi hospital, religious and community leaders, the local district education officer, the schools’ inspector, pastoral leads and teachers from 30 primary schools in Kanungu. Using a micro-projector, they were shown the UNICEF film, entitled ‘Sara: The Trap’, which illustrates the risks of sugar daddy relationships and, the findings from Kenya. During this time, teachers were open to embracing the same plan in their own schools and were even conferring provisional lesson structures – of presenting adolescents with local data about the risks of HIV in conjunction with stimulating classroom activities that are limited resource-friendly. As the SDA programme incorporated a participatory approach, the full involvement of the local community, children, teachers and families in planning and implementation was encouraged so that the programme can be sustained from the bottom-up.

The SDA lessons were piloted in 16 of the 30 primary schools (8 government, 8 private) across the Kanungu District in 2015 – one male member of U-SHAPE staff is assigned to the teachers. Presently, 60 teachers are being supported through the Pastoral Lead Network. In hindsight, SDA classes should run for two hours. The U-SHAPE staff member covers each school at least once a year to initially introduce SDA to the new P6 and P7 classes. Subsequently, the facilitator must go back each year to teach the next P6 and P7 class; hence, the need for teachers to be fully trained and supported. From the last school engagement meeting in February 2016, which are held on a quarterly basis and train teachers in SDA, only 5 teachers expressed that they felt confident in running the SDA sessions without support from the facilitator.

Research Objective

My main research objective was to elicit accounts from the teachers, schools’ inspector and facilitator of the SDA programme, in relation to their experiences and understandings of the SDA lessons, in order to uncover the barriers to implementation. I intended to explore the following research questions:

  • What difficulties are teachers facing in implementing the SDA lessons?
  • How have the ABC and PIASCY policies influenced the implementation of the SDA initiative?
  • How have contextual factors (economic, social, political, cultural) shaped the implementation process?

Justification of Study

This study intended to bridge the gap in existing research as the introduction of this SDA initiative by U-SHAPE is the first of its kind in rural Uganda. Published implementation studies of school-based sex education programmes in Sub-Saharan Africa are scarce. There are currently no published studies which specifically investigate problems of SDA implementation. For policymakers, researchers and education specialists, my results present how the SDA programme has actually been received by educators, their involvements in teaching the SDA lessons and sex education, the logistical and practical role that U-SHAPE has played in supporting primary schools, and teachers’ attitudes on the issues of HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancies and early marriage in the local area. U-SHAPE, as of yet, have received no funding from the government or other stakeholders. In understanding the barriers faced by teachers in conducting the SDA lessons, and thus finding ways to overcome them, the SDA initiative has the potential to be rolled out in schools as a nation-wide sexual and reproductive health education programme.