East African countries have been grappling with the issue of teenage pregnancies and governments don't seem to agree on what solutions to pursue or even on national policies that will at least lower the rate.
Every country in the region is applying stop-gap measures but it is obvious that the war is nowhere near being won, with Uganda reporting 23 per cent, Kenya 18 per cent and Tanzania ranging from 13 per cent to 45 per cent (depending on the region) teenage pregnancies in girls between the ages of 13 and 17.
It was therefore a breath of fresh air when the reigning Miss Africa, Quiin Abenakyo, 23, who was Uganda's contestant at the Miss World pageant 2018 held in the Chinese coastal city of Sanya on December 8, 2018, declared war on teenage pregnancy in her 90-second speech of the ‘‘Beauty with a Purpose’’ segment.
Abenakyo made a passionate appeal: “Good evening ladies and gentlemen. My ‘Beauty with a Purpose’ project is 'Fighting Teenage Pregnancies.'
“One out of four girls in Uganda, aged between 13 and 17, is either pregnant or a mother. This is very disheartening, and as I look at all the ladies here, I must say we are really blessed that we don't have to go through all this. But we cannot say the same for our sisters out there.”
“There is a story of a certain Daisy. Daisy was sexually molested by her father at the age of 12. The father died and she had to live with her grandfather, who ended up sexually molesting her too. She became pregnant and had her grandfather's child. This is happening a lot in Uganda,” Abenakyo added.
“I come from the east of Uganda, which has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies. What am I doing about it? Together with the Miss Uganda Foundation, we have a ‘Keep a Girl Child in School’ programme, and this is to enable and encourage these girls to go back to school after motherhood.
We give them the necessary resources and skills. I believe when you educate a girl, you are educating the entire community.
“The biggest platform one can ever have is Miss World. I have talked to a few of the other contestants and we all have this problem in our countries. How about we all come together, come up with common goals and objectives to fight this, so that we can stand up for our sisters that cannot do this for themselve?. Thank you so much,” Abenakyo concluded.
Last year, Kenyans were shocked when newspapers reported what seemed like an increase in the number of teenage girls either sitting the end of primary school national exams or giving birth during the exams.
Over 400 pregnant girls were also reported sitting their national secondary school examination. The Ministry of Education then declared teenage pregnancy a national disaster.
In Tanzania the previous year, President John Magufuli earned regional and international wrath when he proclaimed that teenage mothers would not be allowed back in school. But this was never made into policy, following sustained condemnation of the proclamation.
So Abenakyo’s win and giving purpose to her win came at just the right time. She is a powerful role model as a beauty with brains.
She is a graduate of the Makerere University Business School (2019) where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Computing.
Beauty with a purpose
As a fashion model too, Abenakyo is using her influence as a world beauty for advocacy addressing teen pregnancy. She is currently working with the Miss Uganda Foundation.
She said: “Fighting teenage pregnancy is a project under the Miss Uganda Foundation, aimed at keeping girls in school. The foundation runs campaigns in schools sensitising girls and parents on the importance of education because once girls get pregnant they tend to drop out of school.
“This project is dear to me and I would like to carry on with it after my Miss World Africa reign is over.’’ She has made the foundation’s work her purpose.
Abenakyo, the Uganda entrant at the Miss World 2018 pageant, made it to the top five at the 68th Miss World pageant finale, with Mauritius’s Murielle Ravina being the only other African.
Abenakyo finished third overall, and was automatically named Miss World Africa — a first for Uganda. The Miss World title was won by Mexico's Vanessa Ponce de Leon.
Having made it to the top five, Abenakyo is now assured of being part of the Miss World 2019 Beauty with a Purpose tour.
The Miss World Africa title is very dear to Abenakyo.
“It was one of the happiest moments in my life. Making it to the top five meant a possibility of winning either the Miss World Africa title or the overall global crown.” Or both. She won the former and the fact that it came with a purpose project delighted her.
“It means a lot to me because I am now a brand ambassador for Miss World for Beauty with a Purpose.”
The annual Miss World competition is the world’s oldest running international beauty pageant and the judges look out for two main qualities in the contestants: Confidence and eloquence.
“Beauty entails much more than physical appearance. Having beauty is having a purpose. In every beauty pageant, the judges and the public are seeking what purpose or difference you are making in your society,” she told The EastAfrican.
According to the Miss World presenter Frankie Cena, the contestants at the global pageant are “bright, beautiful and empowering young women,” adding that Abenakyo exuded the right balance of exuberance, calmness and conviction in explaining her cause.
Abenakyo comes across as a courteous, humble, confident, bright and softspoken young woman.
Her father, Charles Sembere, described her as ''a disciplined girl with morals and values. She is a down-to-earth person, focused and an achiever.”
She says she always wanted to be a fashion model but did not know how or the right channels to actualise her dream.
But the more she read and saw past Miss Uganda title winners and what they were doing for their communities, the more she was motivated her to enter the Miss Uganda competition. She was encouraged by the support of her family and friends.
Abenakyo, said: “I remember when I told my mother about my wish to enter the Miss Uganda competition, she encouraged me and kept telling me that I had the right height for it. My dad was also supportive and he did not object. They accorded me help whenever I needed it.”
On her way to the global beauty contest, Abenakyo first had to win the Ugandan competition where she beat 21 other contestants for the Miss Uganda 2018-2019 crown. She was crowned Miss Uganda on August 10, 2018 at the Kampala Sheraton Hotel.
On January 23 this year, Speaker of parliament Rebecca Kadaga directed the ministries of Tourism and Public service to come up with a proposal on how the government could fund the Beauty with a Purpose project and work with Abenakyo for the benefit of the country.
State Minister for tourism, Godfrey Kiwanda said the country will use Abenakyo's win to push various tourism promotions, especially through initiatives such as the Tulambule and Twende Uganda campaigns.
“We appointed Abenakyo as the Goodwill Ambassador of the Tulambule drive. She is going to be in charge of the domestic drive, Twende Uganda, destination Uganda and Pearl of Uganda Campaign. She will also take part in the international campaigns to promote tourism,” Mr Kiwanda said.
Besides organising the Miss Uganda pageant, the Miss Uganda Foundation focuses on community projects like education for the girl child, and the fight against teenage pregnancy.
“What Abenakyo’s winning the Miss World Africa title means is that the perception has changed in regard to what Miss Uganda Foundation is all about. Some people have been misinformed about what we actually do and it has been brought to light by this achievement,” the executive director of the Miss Uganda Foundation, Brenda Nanyonjo, told The EastAfrican.
Abenakyo’s advice to young girls is that, first and foremost, they should have self-belief.
“Because it all starts with you believing in yourself. I also add that they should stay in school to complete their studies and after that they can pursue their dreams.”
Abenakyo, who hails from Mayuge district in eastern Uganda, was born on February 11, 1996 in Mulago Hospital, Kampala, the second-born in a family of three; two girls and one boy.
She attended Kitante Primary School and the St Joseph’s Girls’ Senior Secondary School Nsambya for her O-level, and Merryland High School in Entebbe for A-level.
But Abenakyo’s win was not without controversy. While congratulating her soon after her arrival from China as the newly crowned Miss Africa, President Yoweri Museveni caused an uproar when he told her off for wearing a weave by a statement posted on his social media platforms saying:
“Abenakyo is indeed a tall, beautiful Musoga girl. My only concern is that she was wearing Indian hair. I have encouraged her to keep her natural African hair. We must show African beauty in its natural form. Again, I congratulate Muzukulu Abenakyo on this feat. Going forward, the government will support the Miss Uganda Foundation.”
But this notwithstanding, reflecting on her Miss World experience, Abenakyo, says, “It was an amazing experience and I got to learn new things, made new friends, and got to know the other contestants and their different attributes.”
The proposal will also show how the government will fund the beauty pageant’s Beauty with a Purpose project.
The ministries were given two weeks to come up with the proposal and present it to parliament.