Women’s economic empowerment is essential to achieving gender equality and addressing the structural barriers that restrict women’s socioeconomic opportunities. In Uganda, creating livelihoods opportunities for women not only enables them to have an equal opportunity to participate at all levels of society, but also serves to protect women and girls from violence by eliminating economic vulnerability.
Humanitarian Assistance and Development Services (HADS) serves as an implementing partner of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) under the joint United Nations (UN) / European Union (EU) Spotlight Initiative designed to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls. Through the economic empowerment approach, HADS envisages that the vulnerability that women and girls encounter, due to lack of economic livelihoods and/or sources of income to sustain families, will be reduced.
Through the provision of training and resources, HADS is contributing to building a movement of women groups, associations and networks that regularly convene and use this platform to share knowledge, skills and networks to enhance economic opportunities and at the same time devise strategies for them to eliminate violence against women and girls.
Link between economic activity and violence against women and girls
There is a strong and complex relationship between economic activity and violence against women and girls, especially in the home and communities. On the one hand, earning an income and owning assets has the potential to protect women and girls from exposure to violence, sexual exploitation and abuse within and outside the home. It has the potential to increase their confidence, self-worth, self-esteem, decision-making and negotiating power. They can also decide to seek justice and/or take leave from an abusive relationship.
In fact, it is also true that this economic empowerment approach can expose women and girls to various forms of violence, since they are seen to be challenging men’s control and power in homes and communities. This is why HADS is combining livelihood interventions with women movement building – to bring women together and create a support network in which women can help, learn and grow together economically as well as address issues of gender-based violence (GBV) should it occur.
Driving legislative and policy change, challenging social norms
Women’s movements are also instrumental in driving legislative and policy change, challenging social norms and delivering services to survivors. By ensuring that these women’s groups are informed about their rights and services available in their district, such as access to justice and sexual and reproductive health (SRH), members are not only economically empowered but also better equipped to respond to issues of violence against women and children.
Many communities throughout Uganda have suffered from the economic shocks brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. For one women’s group in Kitintale, Nakawa, known as the Focus for Development Women’s Group, they had been growing and selling mushrooms and art crafts for several years but had struggled to sustain their business due to low yield resulting from the pandemic. HADS came in to support the group through the provision of 1,000 mushroom gardens as well as the construction of a shelter. The group started business within a week, harvesting around 10 kilograms of mushrooms in their first week with the weekly yield since increasing. Selling the mushrooms at 6,000 Ush per kilogram, the group has found a high demand for the produce within their local community. Given this initial success, the women’s group foresees mushroom growing as a sustainable opportunity for income generation. Ms. Lugayizi, a member of the women’s group, testified that “The project has empowered us as a group and revived the group energy. It has been very helpful and timely especially given the pandemic”.
HADS is using the same economic empowerment approach with the Faith Women Tailoring, Saving and Borrowers Group in Kampala, and the Merikit Women’s Super-Tailors Group in Tororo to eliminate violence against women and girls. HADS supported the tailoring group in Merikit, Tororo with 15 manual and two electric sewing machines, as well as training on tailoring skills, entrepreneurship skills, financial literacy and understanding of GBV and how it can be addressed. The group, founded by a community member passionate about helping young mothers and teenage girls to eliminate GBV from their households, comprises youth and young mothers between the ages of 14 and 25, with 15 members in total. With their tailoring skills, group members set up a workshop at Merikit Trading Centre and they have begun earning an income by designing and selling outfits. They are planning to pass on these skills by running a training facility to support more girls that are experiencing similar challenges.
Similarly, the Faith Women Tailoring, Saving and Borrowers Group in Kampala received 11 sewing machines as well as assorted materials such as machine oil, tape measures, rolls of material and threads. The group, comprising 35 members, previously owned only three machines and had limited capital to invest in their business activities. The group’s capital has since increased following the provision of these resources and as one member notes, “As a group we used to operate in capital of about 300,000 Ush but as we speak, we can now reach 2.5 million Ush in operating capital”.
HADS are supporting similar initiatives to empower women’s groups engaging in a variety of activities from tailoring to poultry farming. Through the ongoing provision of training and resources, the project aims to increase women's participation in existing markets, take control over their own time and activities, and increase their voice, agency and participation in economic decision-making in their homes and communities to both promote women’s economic empowerment and eliminate violence against women and girls.