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UNITED TO ACHIEVE ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT

 

Amuria

How does the economic empowerment of women contribute to gender equality in Ugandan communities which are inherently patriarchal?

For Apio Gorreti, “In a community like mine which is deeply patriarchal, you wouldn’t expect to find a man helping his wife operate her business without trying to take it away from her. I am proud that my husband is defying the odds to help me out. This all started when I opened up my business after attending a FOWODE training on entrepreneurship.” Goretti is a member of Orungo United Women’s group, one of the groups in Amuria district that have benefitted from the Women Entrepreneurship and Leadership Project (WELP) being implemented by FOWODE.

This project aims to economically empower women at the grassroots as a catalyst for their participation in leadership. Among the project activities were training sessions on Entrepreneurship and leadership through which women obtained skills on how to navigate the world of business. As a result, Goretti was inspired to start up her own business.

“Before the training, I was a housewife who depended on my husband to provide everything. Little did I know that this was weighing him down. After the training, the skills we were given gave me the confidence to start my own business. I added the money we were given for transport refund during the training to my savings of Ugx 30,000 to start a plastics business. To my surprise, the business grew, but what made me even happier is that our home became more peaceful. I attribute this to the fact that through proceeds from my business, I now help out with some of the bills in the house. And sometimes, when I am caught up with chores, my husband helps me run the business,” Narrates Goretti.

CHANGING ONE MIND AT A TIME

ddFor Jogga, his wife’s duty was to take care of the home. And although she is a salary earner, he never allowed her to make any decisions because he believed she did not have any developmental plans.  However, all this changed after he attended the FOWODE outreach sessions organized in his community.  My eyes were opened, and I become empowered. As a result, I started giving my wife the respect that she deserves. We now plan for our income as a unit; this has made my home a happier one.

Over the past ten years, FOWODE has worked with male champions in 15 districts to disrupt community power dynamics and advance women’s empowerment, resulting in a more conducive environment for women to thrive. Given that men are gatekeepers of patriarchy, we continue to engage them as strategic allies to promote gender equality. In the communities where we work, we identify men who; are Gender-sensitive, good communicators, and are proactive. And enroll them as champions of gender equality and women’s rights. They are then trained and equipped with further knowledge and skills in gender, community facilitation and mediation, basic legal frameworks for protecting women’s rights, and pathways for GBV management.

These training sessions increase men’s knowledge and skills on gender, women, and girls’ rights for their sustained engagement in advocacy for gender equality.  They then carry out outreach sessions periodically for their fellow men in the community.

The male engagement strategy has also been fundamental in challenging negative stereotypes and reshaping the narrative on women’s leadership, thus creating an enabling environment for the female aspirants. Women from our districts of operation testify that their spouses supported them in their quest for leadership during the 2021 general elections

HOW REDUCTION IN HEALTH SECTOR BUDGET WILL AFFECT WOMEN AND GIRLS MOST

By Twine Hope Rebecca Arinaitwe

While women comprise 52% of Uganda’s population, a typical woman continues to grapple with critical health issues that are only slightly addressed by the current budget support to the health sector. A glance at the national budget for financial year 2021/2022 doesn’t appear to emphasize enough the health rights and wellbeing of women.

There is a notable reduction of 9.3% in the health budget from Shs. 2.781 trillion in financial Year (FY) 2020/2021 to Shs. 2.523 trillion. This reduction specifically affects two parts of the health budget; the Uganda Cancer Institute and Uganda Reproductive and Maternal Health (RMH) Programme, whose interventions address critical women’s concerns. The five-year RMH World Bank-funded programme received Shs. 178.9 billion in FY 2020/2021 which will reduce by 51.6% in its last year of implementation to Shs. 86.5 billion in FY 2021/22 while funds for Uganda Cancer Institute will reduce by 96.1% to Shs. 2.68 billion. These two health budget items almost exclusively affect women.

At such a time when the country is reeling from a debilitating pandemic whose effects are yet to be fully known, any reduction in the health budget will exacerbate the plight of women and girls. For instance, it has already been reported that there is an acute rise in teenage pregnancies which has most likely surpassed the National Average of 25%, leaving thousands of girls out of school and at a higher risk of long-term health consequences. Relatedly, a significant number of girls have been married off at an early age exposing them to unsafe abortions and sexually transmitted infections such as HIV/AIDS. A report released on 1st March 2021 by the National Annual Maternal and Perinatal Death Surveillance shows that abortion-linked deaths accounted for as high as 8% of all the recorded maternal deaths of mothers in Uganda. In 2018, studies showed that women were the most cancer-affected demographic, with breast cancer and cervical cancer being by far, the most prevalent forms of cancer recorded.

There’s no doubt that government made an effort to increase health funding for Local Governments and Regional Referral Hospitals according to the National Budget Framework Paper FY 2021/22. Some might argue that the increased allocations to those entities should sufficiently address the needs of women and girls. That is where the problem lies. When funds meant to address issues peculiar to women are pooled with funds for other activities, there’s no assurance those women-specific issues will be addressed.

National Statistics reveal that 28% of Ugandan women have an unmet need for family planning and about 7,500 babies are infected with HIV annually. With COVID-19, most of the gains made in the previous years could be lost. Anecdotal evidence from Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE)’s work on Sexual, Reproductive Health expenditure tracking in Mityana and Busia districts in 2020 showed that 4.9% of the teenagers who had received antenatal care in Busia did not give birth at the health facilities which is considered risky in case of any emergencies. Cervical cancer screening was still low compared to vaccination of young girls with the HPV vaccine and on average, less than half of the respondents within the community did not receive family planning services largely because they could not access the services or had limited knowledge on family planning.

Although financing for Reproductive and Maternal Health care has been availed over the years, it has not been sufficient to meet the challenges women face. Most maternal and neo-natal deaths could be averted with timely management by a skilled health professional working in a supportive environment. Uganda committed to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights under the Sustainable Development Goals and the Beijing Platform for Action and to allocate 15% of the budget to health (The Abuja Declaration). How then, is the reduction in the health budget moving us closer to attaining those targets? We call on government to replenish the Reproductive and Maternal Health fund that is phasing out in 2022 and increase funding to the Cancer Institute in the short term. In the medium and long term, it should gradually shift from external financing to a more sustainable domestic fund in order to ensure that pregnant mothers and newborns receive the right care at the right time, hospital-acquired infections are prevented and those who need referrals obtain them without delay.

Twine Hope Rebecca Arinaitwe is the Program Manager, Gender and Economic Justice at the Forum for Women in Democracy

A version of this article was published in the Daily Monitor Newspaper on April 28,2021 pg.14