Are we putting our money into right initiatives to economically empower women to spur progress?

Ms Peruth Atukwatse (Photo/File)

By Peruth Atukwatse

As the world gears up to celebrate the International Women’s Day- 2024, under the theme “Invest in women, accelerate progress” it is important to contemplate the current status of women and the serious challenges that persist in their journey towards economic empowerment.

One of the pressing concerns for women is the lack of finances and land to enable them to engage in sustainable production and supply especially those at the grassroots engaged in small-scale income-generating projects.  

I recently participated in a stakeholders’ meeting organised to disseminate a study on financial inclusion mechanisms for the artisanal and small-scale gold miners (ASGM) in the country. The study also did a comparative analysis with other sectors like Agriculture.  From the study, it was clear that women face disproportionate challenges in accessing finance not only in gold mining but also in agriculture.   Whereas from the study, it was clear that the agriculture sector is better in as far as financing is concerned,   the question of whether that has led to the economic transformation of women who make up 70%   in the agriculture sector lingers on.   

 The government of Uganda has from time to time come up with many financial initiatives and mechanisms mainly targeting women and the agriculture sector including the Parish Development Model (PDM), Emyooga, and Uganda  Women Development Entrepreneurship Programme among others but still, the economic empowerment of women is still very wanting and not felt on the ground. 

The upcoming Women’s Day celebrations provide an opportune moment to spotlight some of the hindrances and ask ourselves hard questions including, what are we not doing right? Is the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development have women at heart? It is a moment to reflect on whether the planned initiatives for women’s economic empowerment are actually benefiting the real targeted women or is being diverted somewhere along the chain and women at the grassroots just receiving droplets which can’t change much. 

Having worked with grassroots women for many years now and being a woman, myself born and raised in the rural setup, I know firsthand what women go through to provide food for their families and save some surplus to sell to get money for other family needs. Despite this huge responsibility that women have at the household and community level, there is still a problem of them owning land or having full user rights over family land. So all the time, women need to request their husbands or other male household heads for where to dig or establish any sort of enterprise and in most cases, at the end, the men come up and own up to whatever the women have produced and even take away the proceeds to use as they wish. The issue of women’s rights to land still needs to be addressed.

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The issue of most women not being the real owners of land even limits their chance to obtain credit facilities from financial institutions which always want collateral. The Government needs to know that this issue is still big and requires to be addressed seriously. While few women who are working and have money can buy their own land, the majority of women in the countryside don’t own land because even their own parents are still finding it hard to bequeath it to them as an inheritance. 

This year’s theme “Invest in women, accelerate progress”, should serve as a stepping stone to design programmes that are well-planned to uplift the most vulnerable populations and can cause an everlasting impact on the ground.  Women, women groups and women-led cooperatives should be involved in planning of the interventions if sustainability is to be realized. 

There is a need to involve women and build their skills on the whole value chain of production and supply.  I have on many occasions interacted with grassroots women, especially from the Bunyoro Subregion that AIBIS is working with who are trying to add value to their millet, honey, and vegetables, but the struggle is real.  They have capacity gaps in processing, branding and marketing among others. 

The public-private partnerships (PPP) could collaborate in addressing some of the value chain challenges and gaps so that women are in total control of the production and supply chain if indeed they are to realise meaningful financial independence. 

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Addressing these challenges impeding women’s economic empowerment requires collective actions from various stakeholders. It is also important for many actors to work together to create an enabling environment for women to thrive in the business world. 

The writer is the Senior Programme Officer for Gender at the African Institute for Biodiversity and Sustainability (AIBIS)

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