As Makerere University in Uganda admitted new undergraduate students in August, trained “ambassadors of change” were able to speak about preventing sexual and gender-based violence and HIV transmission. The ambassadors were trained though workshops offered by the World Council of Churches Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Initiatives and Advocacy programme.
Brian Muyunga is leading the campaign, which impacted than 800 new students, equipping them with the knowledge they need to safeguard themselves from sexual and gender-based violence and contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
“You should be aware that at such a time, sexual abusers, sugar daddies, sugar mummies and other heartless people are determined to take advantage of you, based on the fact that you are new in the university community,” noted Muyunga during one of the sessions. “You must be confident enough to challenge such people without any fear or self-compromise so as to avoid future regrets.” Intergenerational relationships, transactional sex, bad peer influence, and damaging ideologies about gender were mentioned as risky factors that could render the students very vulnerable to sexual harassment and HIV infection.
“My senior six class teacher advised me to abstain from sex and focus on my studies during high school so that I could make it to campus where I would do whatever I want and enjoy life to the fullest,” said one of the new students, “but this program has helped me understand that I still have to be cautious with my life even at campus because I really don’t want to contract HIV.”
Many students also vowed to challenge the spread of HIV in their own capacities. They were encouraged to join advocacy campaigns that promote gender justice, such as Thursdays in Black.