Source: The New Vision
Women and girls are at the heart of our families, communities and countries. They also need to be at the heart of our political, economic and social arenas.

The governments of Uganda and that of the UK are committed to supporting the increased visibility of the women in Uganda's development.

The last few years have witnessed dramatic improvements for women and girls, with deliberate interventions to ensure that the women's voices are not only heard, but respected as well.

A testament to the foregoing is that Uganda has 135 women in Parliament; more girls than ever before are enrolling in primary education, and the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development played a critical role in the passing of the Domestic Violence Act in 2010.

But there are still challenges and more work to be done. For instance, more women than men lack education, there is inequitable access to resources for most women while others suffer social discrimination and violence.

In the reproductive health sphere, a disturbing 3,800 women are estimated to die in child-birth every year; only 42% of girls complete primary school (compared to 55% of boys); and only 17% reach secondary school.

Up to 68% of Ugandan women have experienced violence of some kind and 39% have experienced sexual violence.

This is why the Governments of the UK and Uganda are working together to tackle violence against girls and women, to get girls through secondary school, to delay the incidence of the first pregnancy and to ensure safe childbirth.

Although the Domestic Violence Act is a great achievement and a real signal of Uganda's commitment to stopping abuse, much more needs to be done to put it into practice.

The British and Ugandan Governments, in partnership with ActionAid and the UN, are supporting the creation of 10 protection centres that will help women and men who are survivors of gender and sexually based violence to overcome the trauma and reconstruct their lives.

Access to education is vital to give girls opportunities in life. The partnership between the two governments is also supporting the Girls Education Movement (GEM) in Ugandan. This is a voluntary movement led by children and young people that aims to help girls and boys to complete their primary education and go on to secondary schools.

Through GEM, we aim to help 100,000 children return to school and complete their primary education, and to support the award of bursaries for girls' secondary education and vocational training.

The challenge to Uganda is to ensure that there are sufficient job opportunities in the economy, and that graduates are well trained and equipped to be gainfully employed.

If girls have control over their own lives, especially during adolescence, they are better able to pull themselves and their families out of poverty.

This is why Uganda and the UK are working together to improve reproductive health including expanding access to family planning services. While six out of every 10 women would like to use contraception; only half that number has the opportunity to do so.

The UK Government is funding programmes to increase choices and availability of contraception, through the public and private sectors in partnership with USAID.

The year 2012 is a remarkable one for both Uganda and the UK. Together we will commemorate the historic 50 years of Ugandan independence. There will also be the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic and Paralympics Games in London.

The year, therefore, lends us the unique chance to celebrate what we have achieved together and most significant, Uganda and the UK will remain resolute in raising the voices of women and girls with the aim of achieving equality.

The writer is the UK ministerial champion for tackling violence against women and girls overseas. This article was jointly authored by Rukia Nakadama Isanga, the Uganda's State Minister For Gender And Culture Affairs

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