The Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry once said “we know that when women are empowered, they immeasurably improve the lives of everyone around them-their families, their communities, and their countries.” This is a testament to the fact that for holistic sustainable development to happen, the role of women is central yet in societies like ours, gender inequality still looms. Without recognising the predicaments of women especially in developing countries like Uganda, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the UN General Assembly in 2015 to be achieved by 2030 will be challenging. As we celebrate this years’ International Women’s Day with the theme “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”, it’s paramount to reflect how women can be involved to attain these goals.
With the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, most of the women and girls were sent several years back economically and socially. The World Bank highlighted that many women compared to men who owned businesses had to close doors due to the long lockdown Uganda experienced. Besides losing their sources of income, most of the women and girls experienced sexual and physical abuse as a result of the lockdown and the closure of schools which acted as safe havens for many. This left them vulnerable to their abusers whom they were “caged” within the same houses, compounds and communities where some girls got pregnant, with others forced to move in with their abusers as husbands while others are raising children at their parents’ homes. Despite the government call for every school going child to return to class whether pregnant or breastfeeding, A mere fact that the future generation is raising another generation within their own, has attracted prejudice and discrimination of those who have dared to get back to school. The majority have refused to go back citing stigma and lack of facilities to take care of their children Surprisingly, only a handful of perpetrators of sexual gender based violence and family neglect interfaced with the law, with the majority of them continuing with their normal businesses or probably plotting to destroy another girl’s future with empty promises of marriage and “good life.”
Therefore, unbearable conditions of life have forced many women and girls to engage in unpaid or poor paid jobs and some have sought employment abroad with the hope of changing their story and redeeming their families from the jaws of poverty despite different ordeals shared by those who have first-hand experience including losing their vital organs associated with “kyeyos” in Arab countries. However, not all is lost within the country, for example, the Uganda Women Empowerment Program and the Youth Livelihood Program under the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development were designed to better the standards of living among women and girls. Though the aims of these programs have been affected by the coronavirus outbreak, the highest impact of these programs prior to the outbreak of the pandemic were felt only within the capital city. According to the UNDP, 'gender equality is not only a human right but a precondition for sustainable development’. Therefore, there is a need for different actors to join hands to ensure that women and girls are empowered holistically across the country to ensure sustainable development. Non-profit organisations like Imagine Her are already working with women and the youth to accelerate their power and potential through social enterprise skills development and access to interest free revolving loans to support agribusiness and climate change ventures where they are the most affected. With single, uneducated and jobless teenage mothers on the rise, the government and development partners should concern themselves with how to skill these girls and women to be able to meet their needs and those of their children and families to build a sustainable tomorrow.
Written by: James Otai
Organisation: Imagine Her (IH)-(Women empowerment organisation)
Position: Co-founder/Business Development and Operations Lead