When you empower a woman, you empower a Nation.
I couldn’t agree more with Kofi Annan’s statement that says; “the empowerment of women is the most effective tool for development.” I will use the community I come from as a case study. As I prepare to go to work every day, I leave behind women in my community who do not have the privilege to work, girls who do not have the privilege to go to school. This has happened for over 10 years and as a fellow woman or a girl (back then) I have not carefully empathized with the women or girls that are either not employed or educated until recently. Majority of the girls have dropped out of school and opted for early marriages. Poverty and illiteracy is deafening in this community. Child labor is the odd of the day.
In some instances, girls are working as maids. Women are battered like animals. All this is happening around me and somehow I feel helpless each time all this drama unfolds. I am very much aware that these women deserve better but because they lack information, they are not in position to make better or informed decisions. They need guidance but I am afraid to offer this guidance. How do I even start? Where do I start to offer them help? These questions have been going on in my mind for quite a long time.
One morning, a battle ensued between a girl and a boy that were co-habiting. The girl (perhaps 19 years) had had a miscarriage a few days after a fight with her partner. So this time round, the battle was about splitting property; just after parliament had debated the contentious marriage and divorce bill. If it had not been for the neighbors that had gathered to witness this battle, one of the partners or both would have lost their life. The contentious bill seeks among others to reform and consolidate the law relating to marriage, separation and divorce. The bill tabled in December 2009 provides for the types of recognized marriages in Uganda, marital rights and duties, recognition of cohabitation in relation to property rights, sets grounds for breakdown of marriage, and provides for rights of parties on dissolution of marriage. It deals with widow inheritance and separation, but also outlaws demands for return of marriage gifts given as bride price. The Marriage and Divorce Bill provides for the rights of cohabitees in sharing property after the termination of cohabitation, although it is not considered a form of marriage recognized in Uganda.
Role models at the community level are lacking and yet they are very important so that they inspire other women who are hopeless. Forget the members of parliament who take long to visit their constituencies and are unable to reach everyone in the community. Women need to voice out the problems they are facing without necessarily waiting for a Member of Parliament or councilor to speak on their behalf. Women should be empowered to raise their voices in the community. There is need to close the joblessness gap between girls and their male counterparts. Education for women should be mandatory and accessible to all. Girls who stay in school during adolescence have a later sexual debut, are less likely to be subjected to forced sex and, if sexually active, are more likely to use contraception than their age peers who are out of school. Worldwide, an estimated five million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are living with HIV. More than 60 per cent – 3.2 million of young people living with HIV are girls. Women are vulnerable and they need to be empowered with skills to acquire a dignified life.
I would like to honor all the women who are battered by their partners, the women who have not had the privilege to go to school, women who do not have honorable sources of income, women or girls who have been forced into marriage, women who are battling with HIV, women whose right to health has been neglected, women who have not given up looking for that light in the darkest of tunnels, women who stick in perilous marriages just for the sake of their children. Women that toil tirelessly for years (without leave) to sustain their families. Women bearing hardships, but still hold happiness, love and joy. Women that smile when they want to scream, sing when they want to cry, fight for what they believe in, stand up to injustice, women who go without so that their family can have, women who love unconditionally even when they are let down. These are the kind of women that deserve to be honored, respected and empowered. They make the best out of the tough situations that surround them. It is these women, girls or ladies that make me proud to be the woman I am today. I love you all.