The Rescue Women Foundation is bridging inequality in Uganda by empowering vulnerable women and girls.
by Portia Ladrido
Uganda is one of the poorest countries in the world. In a report by the World Bank, it says that “poorer households tend to have older and less educated household heads, and are more likely to be headed by a woman.”
With this fact in mind, Miriam Nabasirye Kiwummulo sought to address this growing issue by quite simply acknowledging the importance of empowering women. When she was a young employee, she heard stories of at-risk women and girls, and so felt obliged to extend help for their school fees or even talk them out of sex work.
Kiwummulo knew about micro capitals and saw the help that local women’s loan support groups have provided her own family. She then felt this scheme is one that she can duplicate in a larger scale, and so she built the Rescue Women Foundation in 2017, with the mission to promote economic, educational, and health progress of vulnerable African women and girls through sustainable livelihoods.
Kiwummulo, with the aid of a colleague, answered some of INKLINE’s questions regarding the foundation. Here are edited excerpts from our interview.
INKLINE: What is the ultimate goal of Rescue Women Foundation and what are the programs that make the organisation whole?
Miriam Nabasirye Kiwummulo: The ultimate goal of the Foundation is to empower vulnerable women and girls for sustainable development.
The following are programs that make RWF a whole:
Empowering Women Economically (EWE) Project, whose goal is ‘to strengthen women’s businesses for sustainable economic development. The objectives of this Project are two-fold; ‘building grassroots women’s capacity in basic bookkeeping to track the viability of their businesses’ and ‘strengthening smallholder businesses led by women for economic resilience’.
Girls’ Education Project (GEP) addresses barriers to girls’ education including instructing girls to make reusable sanitary pads as one sustainable solution to keep girls in school. This project directly pays school fees for vulnerable girls.
Teenage Mother Support Program (Teen Mom Project – TMP) seeks to support teenage mothers through counselling and equipping them with entrepreneurial skills including tailoring and hairdressing among others.
I: Can you give us a little context regarding Uganda and why it is necessary to support women on this level?
K: Women and girls are disproportionately affected by poverty; in terms of paid employment, men are more engaged in economic activity than women and girls. For instance, between 2012 and 2013, while 60.1% of men were engaged in economic activity, only 48% of women were. These numbers decreased further between 2016 and 2017 to 56.2 and 39.8 respectively for men and women.
These figures underscore the fact that in addition to the disparity in employment between men and women, women were less engaged in economic activities than men. Yet while more men were ‘paid’ employees, more women worked as ‘contributing family workers’ (shop attendants at shops owned by another person, baby sitters, etc.) and ‘own share workers’ (entrepreneurial businesses). These findings show that men had more opportunity for paid employment than women. However, women were more entrepreneurial than men. In fact, entrepreneurship among women grew from 48.7% of all women between 2012 and 2013 to 58.2% between 2016 and 2017.
It is important to support women and girls because supporting girls’ education contributes to the development, several-fold. The reverse is also true; not supporting it retards development. Keeping girls longer in school counters early marriages and increases the age of first sexual encounter.
It lowers the chances of acquiring diseases, including cancer of the cervix and HIV/AIDS, among others. Most of all, education imparts an inalienable skill that empowers girls for work in addition to the ability to make decisions for their future. It is therefore paramount to address barriers to girls’ education.
Supporting women’s health will ensure that that teenage girl who gets pregnant will be supported to deliver a healthy baby, thereby reducing maternal and neonatal mortality. Supporting women’s businesses will directly lift women out of poverty through advancing affordable loans and start-up capital for women’s businesses. It will foster entrepreneurship, promote employment and job creation. It will also build assets and may make women less prone to GBV. It will help bridge the gender gap.
I: Can you share some stories of women who you’ve helped through your program? What was their life like before and after being part of Rescue Women Foundation?
K: Amanda (not real name), 14 years of age, worked as a house-help when she was raped by her boss. Both her boss and his wife relocated, leaving her helpless. She used her savings to raise a shack in which she lives. At eight-months-three-weeks pregnant she had never done an antenatal visit to a hospital. Rescue Women Foundation found her, raised funds through partners, she has now sought antenatal care, and is awaiting the birth of her baby. A similar story is Anna’s (not real name).
Another is Jennifer (not real name), a teenage mother was enrolled into a school to study hairdressing under a Rescue Women Foundation arrangement after the birth of her baby. The Foundation would later give her a start-up loan through a partner to set up a hair salon. The conditions for the monetary support are that Jennifer trains up another teenage mother and repays the loan amount advanced to her.
Sarah (not real name), a single mother of seven took a start-up loan from Rescue Women Foundation for a business. She has since taken out and fully paid up three loans cycles. With the money, she built a business which has enabled her to build a home for her family, fend for her children, and take her to school.
Rescue Women Foundation has worked to take a young woman off sex work. She dropped out of school at age 14. The Foundation has since taken her back to school and enrolled her into an ‘education-for-adults’ program, and gone on to skill her and find her a decent job and housing away from the slums – effectively taking her off sex work. The organisation has also skilled and found a job for her younger adult sister who dropped out of school at age 12.
In this part of the world, it is normal for a girl to drop out of school because she cannot afford United States Dollars (USD) 24 worth of sanitary pads to take them through a school year. Rescue Women Foundation has found innovative ways around this; ‘reusable’ sanitary pads worth USD 3, are enough to take girls through a school year. As such, we piloted training for 60 girls attending a rural school on making ‘reusable’ sanitary pads. At the beginning of every school term our we will partner with schools to skill girls in making low cost sustainable sanitary pads.
I: What are the biggest challenges of running the organisation?
K: The overwhelming levels of poverty, unemployment, teenage pregnancy, violence, injustice, and inequality against women and girls, as well as a lack of resources to adequately address the unmet need, remain a huge challenge. Resources include monetary and non-monetary ones like facilities for training and skilling, etc.
I: What is the one thing that the Ugandan government should do to support your cause?
K: While strides have been made in promoting women and girl’s causes by enacting and implementing policy, the government could commit funding for non-governmental organisations dedicated to these causes.
I: What is your dream for the Rescue Women Foundation?
K: Rescue Women Foundation’s dream is to see that the barriers to education for more and more girls are addressed. It is also to see the economic gap being bridged for more and more women and that there is more wealth created for women.
The dream is to see that more and more women are empowered to confront gender-based violence and other social injustices that undermine women. Given the opportunity, we want to grow into that organisation that will be a fast responder to bridging inequality.
Portia Ladrido is a multimedia journalist specialising in social justice, culture, and the arts. She is a human rights journalism fellow at the Philippine Human Rights Information Center and the Metro Manila hub coordinator of the Solutions Journalism Network. She currently writes speeches for the Philippines’ first female socialist senator. Previously, she worked as an editor and writer at CNN Philippines.