United Nations in Uganda Supports Efforts to Empower Grassroots Girls and Women in Uganda
KAMPALA, March 8, 2013 – Today Uganda joins other countries worldwide to observe International Women’s Day. The occasion provides an opportunity to recognize the important contributions and roles women play in the development process.
Over the years, progress has been made by the Government of Uganda and various partners to ensure that women at all levels are empowered. Progress towards ending harmful practices such as sexual and gender-based violence, including female genital mutilation has been made while efforts have also been made to increase women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services. Women’s education has been boosted by ensuring universal access to primary and secondary school education while more women are supported to participate in development processes in various sectors that include agriculture and employment.
While the people and Government of the Republic of Uganda have a lot to celebrate,the Uganda Demographic Health Survey (UDHS 2011) indicates that challenges still remain;
Rural women have limited skills due to high illiteracy levels at 66 per cent and are engaged in low income jobs or are self-employed in the informal sector. While women contribute almost 80 per cent labour to the agricultural sector they reap less than 30 per cent from it. Low levels of income by women subject them to economic dependency and contribute to unequal gender power relations at the household level, impacting on their ability to contribute effectively at the community and national levels.
Women also have limited authority when it comes to decision-making in areas of education, reproductive health care and protection and legal rights. An estimated 6,000 women die each year (UDHS 2011) due to complications related to pregnancy and childbirth while less than three in ten women use modern family planning methods.
Sexual and other forms of gender-based violence continue to be widespread; the UDHS 2011 reports that 28 per cent of women have experienced sexual violence; 43 per cent have experienced physical violence at the hands of their husbands or partners. Despite the enactment of a law, Female Genital Mutilation still occurs in some communities in the Karamoja and Sabiny sub-regions.
This year’s national theme: “The Gender Agenda: Connecting Grassroots Women to Development,” therefore provides an occasion to reflect on ways to respond to the needs of grassroots women who face particular challenges.
Due to their low socio-economic status as well as their inability to negotiate safe sex and make critical decisions about their reproductive health, grassroots women are more disproportionately affected by these issues. Girls in rural communities especially, face the pressures of societal traditions and are forced to drop out of school to become child wives and mothers. This not only impedes development, but also exposes them to high health risks associated such as HIV/AIDS.
“The United Nations System in Uganda is committed to supporting efforts towards empowering grassroots girls and women to ensure that they contribute meaningfully to national development. For this to happen, the Government of Uganda through the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development and the Ministry of Education and Sports with other key stakeholders in civil society are being supported to continue prioritising the needs of grassroot women,” says Ahunna Eziakonwa-Onochie, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Uganda.
We must widen access to education and skills development to equip girls and women to take advantage of new economic development opportunities..
“There is global recognition that gender equality is central to human development and human security, as stated in the Millennium Declaration. That is why this year’s national theme gives us a unique opportunity to reflect on the level of participation of women in the development process, and on how they are benefiting from socio economic development. Gender equality is not only fundamental to democracy and justice; it is an economic imperative towards the middle income objective! Equal rights and opportunities underpin happy and healthy families, strong economies and politically stable societies. We cannot afford to leave women out! Of course connecting grassroots women to development will require the adoption and implementation of appropriate legal frameworks and policy to protect them from discrimination, and taking measures to enable realization of their rights,” says Paulina Chiwangu, UNWOMEN Representative in Uganda.
Functional health facilities create access to the demand and utilization of family planning that provides women with choices to have healthier children and still have time to be involved in socio economic productivity. This reduces the economic burden and allows them to invest more in their children’s care and schooling, breaking the cycle of poverty. When women are able to have choices on their fertility cycles, through use of family planning, this creates opportunities for them to improve their skills and participate in income-generation, contributing to the development of their households and communities.
Ensure that young girls are protected from child marriage by implementing initiatives against child marriage. Girls, who stay in school, are less likely to marry young. They are more inclined to work and eventually contribute to their nations’ development.
Today, as International Women’s Day is commemorated in Nakasongola District, it is important to take the time to celebrate achievements made for women and by them. But more interventions are required to strategically address the gaps that remain.
For instance, key legislation that supports the empowerment of women like the Domestic Violence Act - 2010 and the Female Genital Mutilation Act - 2009 need to be implemented comprehensively. This is the responsibility of everyone -- from the household, to the community to the nation. Empowered women are development drivers.
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