I’m in Kampala this week, attending the International Conference on Family Planning on behalf of the day job. Tonight at the opening session, I was surprised to see the first lady of Uganda on the program.
Before today the only reproductive health activities I’d ever heard of her taking part in were events to promote abstinence. She has led a march of virgins, offered scholarships for virgins (not sure how one would prove eligibility) and last year held a big virgin party. During her speech tonight, opening the conference and welcoming participants to Uganda, was apparently the first time she had ever uttered the term “family planning” publicly. That may not sound like much, but in a country where birth control pills remain highly controversial,women have an average of two more children then they want, skyhigh rates of unintended pregancy lead to skyhigh rates of unsafe abortion (it’s legal only to save a woman’s life here) which in turn lead to skyhigh rates of maternal death, it’s a pretty big deal. To thank her for participating, the conference organizers presented the first lady with a gift. They wanted something made by Ugandans entirely out of Ugandan materials. Their choice: a handbag made of recycled drinking straws cleaned at soda factories, flattened by hand and woven by a local association of women artisans.
There you have it: progress + upcycling. Not a bad start to a meeting.