Stepping It up for Gender Equality

Reflections from Our Regional DIrector – Mrs. Priscilla M. Serukka 

As I reflect on the International Women’s Day celebrations, I am challenged on behalf of our organization to really see if we are doing our best to ensure that women, girls are still not treated as secondary humans. Being an organization that is keen on development, we have learned that development of any community cannot be fostered if our mothers, sisters, wives, daughters are left lagging behind. We have progressed from advocating for just educating the girl child to empowering the women through Microfinance. This article shared a few highlights from our work in the hope that many other organizations could pick a few lessons or come alongside us on this journey.

The Bonga program reaches out to vulnerable adolescent girls to equip  them with life skills, numeracy, literacy and vocational skills.
Over the past five years, we have empowered over 6,904 adolescent girls in Eastern and Northern Uganda. Our goal this year aims at empowering at least 2,370 girls in 79 bonga centres.

Highlights from the Bonga program:
– 5,986 graduated girls have been able to mobilize savings and started Income Generating Activities
– 1,384 Adolescents are trained and engaged in farm and non-farm based income generating activities
– 566 girls have been able to get back to school
– Graduated girls and animators have been involved in campaigns on social issues through community theatres and other ways. Out of this xxx latrines have been constructed, improved nutrition, hygiene and sanitation in homes
– Participating girls have reported increased stability in their homes and reduced domestic violence
– Adolescent girls and their plight is becoming more and more recognized in the local communities of intervention

Bonga has helped me regain my self-esteem.
“Becoming a fashion designer seemed far even though I had always desired to be one. I often asked myself, where will I get money to even study?
After completing my primary Seven, I had nothing to do, my family was poor and they couldn’t afford to take me to school. I used to be redundant at home until Bonga came along.
Bonga helped create a sense of responsibility within in me. The life skills we did in our meetings helped me realize that I am important and that I have a say in whatever concerns my life. That’s when I woke up and started taking my life seriously despite the challenges I had gone through. And now I and my friend own this sewing machine, we use it to earn a living. I can buy my own basic needs and also contribute to my home. I no longer have to wait around to be told what I should do so that the men can give me upkeep. I like this feeling.
I am not desperate to get married but I want to have children some day and I will make sure they stay in school and become important.” ~ Kaynet Mourine, 20 years old (Bonga graduate under WENIPS Nebbi)

Economic Empowerment of the Women.
As a development organization, we do not believe in handouts but rather we focus more on hand ups. We prefer to work alongside the women or other community members in bringing about both individual and community development. Our work is implemented through partners who are based in the local communities. In economic empowerment, partners are trained in delivering what we call the Community Managed microfinance (CMMF) program. This program involves community members mobilizing themselves into groups of 30s to save and borrow amongst themselves. They together come up with a constitution, choose their leaders including a treasurer and they decide how often to meet. The model is unique in a sense that it allows members to take ownership. We have introduced the CMMF program to all our Bonga groups as early as the first 3 months. For some, by the time they graduate, they have already saved up enough money to buy equipment to continue with whichever trade they will have acquired skills in.

Other than the adolescent girl, this community development program emphasizes that for each partner organization enrolment be 70% in favor of women. We focus on women because according to human development statistics, they are the most marginalized especially in sub Saharan Africa. Many women in Africa are left to cater for their families after their husbands die or abandon them. We find that rural women bare the biggest burden when it comes to providing basic needs to their families. Therefore we thought if we empower this woman to a favorable level of financial freedom, she can live confident, securely and able to cater for her children. This is the reason why we target at least 70% women to participate in this intervention. As at the end 2015, we had managed to reach 52,880 women in Uganda. In 2016, our target to reach out to 8,750 women in rural hard to reach areas of Uganda.

However, this is not enough. Our government needs to come up with a strong policy that is followed through to protect adolescent girls. Teenage pregnancy is still a big issue. Girls below 18 years are sadly still being treated as clan property and offered into marriage in the rural areas. There is a great need of sensitization if we are to see this vice adjudicated. If left unabated, we are still raising a generation of illiterate young people who may also never value Education of their children
It is still common to find girls dropping out of school to look after their siblings or in favor of the boy-child. Strict enforcing of Education for all needs to be done, whereby school-age children should not be found at home during school hours. Girls need to be taken as important as the boys.

Many girls drop out of school during puberty. It starts with them missing four days of school each month, resulting in lagging behind in class and eventually losing interest in school. Assistance should be made for girls to remain in school even during seasons of menstruation. Adequate places of convenience and provision of sanitary towels should be made. Sending girls to school by the age of six years also helps avoid girls beginning school late.

Our approach moving forward is not far from other international development bodies. We intend to utilize our strategic plan to work towards the UN goal of Planet 50-50 by 2030. We are pledging to step it up for gender equality. We shall continue with existing programs geared towards empowerement of adolscent girls and women. But most importantly we want to stregthen civil society through the CMMF selfhelp groups and BONGA centres.

We would like to see more advocacy carried out on gender equality in the communities we work. Community members need to be enlightened, women and girls need to be aware of their rights so that they can confidently keep the duty bearers accountable. We shall also focus on improving livelihoods through our microfinance programs. Some communities are still behind in gender issues due to poverty and we believe that when people acquire financial literacy, they begin to fight poverty and some of the backward cultural traditions are rebated.
We need to together with the group members address the real root causes of poverty, issues of domestic violence and empower the communities to address the root causes.

In conclusion, as an organisation we are committed to empowerment of vulnerable girls and women so as to foster community development. When you empower a girl/woman, you have empowered a nation and future generations.