Nestled along the border with the Congo, in the far North-West corner of Uganda, forty women are changing the world.
I wanted to make use out of my time in exile by learning from the gender work of the Uganda Cooperative Alliance, CCA’s Uganda partner. UCA has been chipping away at gender stereotypes and educating men and women in empowerment, family planning, and HIV for over five years – making UCA’s gender program five years older than UGAMA’s. With an amazingly talented and open Gender Coordinator, Mary, at the helm, the organization has established local-level gender committees, has trained women in business and leadership skills, and has supported women’s groups in developing much-needed income generating activities.
When I told the UCA’s Program Director about my work in Rwanda and what I hoped to learn while in Uganda, he insisted that I meet the Mungudit Women in North Western Uganda. Reaching them requires a bit of effort; after an 8-10 hour bus ride from Kampala, it’s a bumpy moto ride on a dusty road dodging goats, cattle, and potholes.
About ten kilometers South of the bustling rural hub Nebbi, the local extension worker and bike driver, Patrick, and I headed West on a nondescript dirt road. From there it was about an hour to Erussi, our destination and the home of the Mungudit Women.
With scattered huts that blend in to the lush vegetation of the hills, it’s hard to tell that Erussi is home to some twelve thousand people. We arrived at the Sacred Heart Center, central meeting place for the Mungudit Women’s Group, just after eleven.
Our wheels had barely stopped spinning when the group’s women rounded the corner in full welcome train cheer, singing, dancing, and clapping. It’s not the first time I’ve experienced such a welcome – visiting women’s groups in Malawi I’d be greeted in the same flurry of song and dance, and, of course, be expected to provide laughs and solidarity by dancing along.
Less than three years old, the group has established 6 different income generating activities, and continues to search for new opportunities for growth. From baking bread and cakes to fish farming to hand crafts to growing mushrooms, the women are ambitious and business savvy. Their activities are perfectly timed so that while the fish are maturing in the pond, mushrooms are ready for harvest and so on.
I’m in awe of their ingenuity and uncomfortably aware of my youth and privilege as they treat me to beautiful fresh flowers and center stage.
Recently, my Canadian colleague Emilie and I launched a program working with women cooperative members on developing income generating activities. A colleague asked “Why women? Should we also include the men?”
In fact, targeting women for skills development and income generating activities is proven to benefit every member of society. When women have access to trainings and business opportunities, poverty rates drop and economic growth spikes – for everyone. And, more often than not, women empower those around them by sharing their skills with family and community members. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Point in case: In December, profits from the Mungudit Women’s projects were divided for each of the members, but the women unanimously voted to hold payment till February when school fees for their children would be due. In a society where resources, regardless of the earner, somehow make their way into the hands of the head of house – the man – the women knew that holding payment till February would mean their earnings wouldn’t be squandered on liquor or Christmas consumerism.
Every day, forty women tucked away in the furthest corner of Uganda are changing the world. Forty wives are talking to forty husbands about gender-based violence and how their gender roles prevent both parties from being free. Forty partners are showing their children that a good relationship is built upon communication and partnership. Forty mothers are, based on the Ugandan average of 6.7 children per woman, giving 268 children the opportunity of education, of possibilities they never had. And 268 children are the next generation of change.
And that is the power of empowering women.
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” – Arundhati Roy
This post is from my November 12, 2013 visit to the Mungudit Women’s Group in Erussi, North Western Uganda. Apologies for slacking : )