Valerie Mahar provides program support to the Gender Roles, Equality and Transformations (GREAT) Project at Georgetown University’s Institute for Reproductive Health Washington, D.C. headquarters office. The GREAT Project is made possible through support provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the terms of the Cooperative Agreement No. AID-OAA-10-00073.

GREAT Logo; partners IRH, Pathfinder, Save the Children

GREAT Logo; partners IRH, Pathfinder, Save the Children

Many of you reading this are likely familiar with the long history of civil conflict that plagued northern Uganda for more than 20 years.  This conflict led to massive disruption of health services, internal displacement of people, the erosion of traditional social and family structures, and a generation of young people who have grown up surrounded by violence. Because of the heavy toll the conflict has taken on northern Uganda, these youth are particularly vulnerable to poor reproductive health outcomes (e.g., unintended pregnancy, HIV infection) and gender-based violence.

Born from an understanding that gender norms significantly influence the reproductive health of boys and girls, partners Institute for Reproductive Health, Georgetown University, Pathfinder International, and Save the Children began collaborating in 2010 on the Gender Roles, Equality and Transformations (GREAT) Project with the hope of promoting gender-equitable norms to provide the youth of northern Uganda with a strong foundation for building healthy lives. 

Local Ownership: Involving Everyone

Photo Credit: Chad Stevens, Save the Children

Working with youth to lay this foundation can be challenging, but in the two years since the project began, the GREAT team made extensive strides in engaging stakeholders and local communities, especially through the formation of a technical advisory group (TAG) and a participatory project design process.  The project design was informed by a workshop with the TAG, consisting of representatives from district local governments, NGOs, cultural institutions, police and officials from the ministries of Health, Gender and Education. Also at the heart of the GREAT team’s efforts is a comprehensive community mobilization strategy known as the Community Action Cycle (CAC), designed to reinforce intervention activities by building the capacity of community, religious, and clan leaders to be agents of change in their communities.  The Project will recognize and celebrate community champions who demonstrate commitment to gender-equitable behaviors and plans to work with village health teams who support the expansion of youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services through a comprehensive Service Linkages Strategy.

Grounding Community Transformation in Evidence

The GREAT team used ethnographic research findings to design activities that resonate positively with these communities in northern Uganda. Centered on a radio drama (which was identified in our program review as a powerful means to catalyze discussion and promote wide-scale behavior change), a series of cohesive and scalable products were designed with overarching themes, using the same characters to create a unifying thread for all products. This enables groups to discuss the common plot, extrapolate the themes to their life experiences, and move into action.

After participating in activities developed by the GREAT Project, one boy concluded:

“We are all children of the family. I want my sister and I both to be healthy and have bright futures.”

Other young boys ages 10-19 responded in a similar way, committing to help their sisters with household chores in an effort to protect them and give them equal time for schoolwork.

Photo Credit: Lisa Sherburn

While still in its early stages, initial findings from the GREAT Project have given the team hope that large scale transformative change in gender norms and adolescent sexual and reproductive heath outcomes is attainable. 

For more information about the early 2013 rollout of scalable products in northern Uganda or the intervention design, check out our Phase I project brief and our recently published ethnographic research findings.

Stay tuned for future updates on GREAT!