Economic empowerment for women is key for meaningful leadership and participation in politics


Categories: Jo Cox Memorial Fund, Learning, Women
11 March 2021

Overview

The most recent Ugandan election highlighted the success of Uganda’s national non-partisan organisation, Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE).

  • 88 women from the communities FOWODE works in, ran for a leadership position in the 2021 general elections
  • 66 were successful in securing a position of power and influence.

Beyond this, women in the communities are engaging not only in politics but in their communities and civic spaces too. They are stepping up for cultural and religious positions and are using their agency to speak up.

Background

FOWODE has been working for the past 25 years on advocating for women’s rights to participate in leadership and decision-making in Uganda.

In 2019, FOWODE was awarded a Jo Cox Memorial Network Grant from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), to deliver a project which would further strengthen its work on promoting economic self-reliance as a catalyst for participation in leadership and governance in five rural districts. The title of the project is: Women’s Empowerment and Leadership Project (WELP).

This project was preceded by a pilot – implemented in three districts, for two years – which tested the approach of empowering women economically, so they were able to speak up and lead. The project was impactful in building the knowledge and skills of women to realise their economic rights and participate in decision making processes. The women gained the confidence to take part in decision making at all levels, from household to political, and one of the most outstanding impacts was raising civic consciousness within the target communities to hold their leaders accountable, and demand services which are inclusive and mindful of the differences which affect men and women.

An internal evaluation of the project proved that it was an efficient model to securing both rapid empowerment and political involvement, which led to the upscale which the Jo Cox Memorial grant is supporting today.

FOWODE works with women to overcome fears they may have about participating more actively in public life, and to unlock their potential to be emboldened and speak up and speak out.

FOWODE also engages closely with the tribes and communities of the women, to ensure they are supported and understood at home.

In more detail

Women in these communities tend to be ‘time poor’ and although they may want to attend self-development workshops and trainings run by FOWODE, they do not have time to do so because of their other commitments (unpaid care work, primarily to do with sustaining their families.)

To combat this, the programme has worked on entering the spaces in which women are already coming together and engaging with them there. These may be trading groups or support groups. FOWODE uses these safe spaces as training grounds to unlock and develop the women’s entrepreneur and leadership skills. They look to discover what skills the women already have and build on them to support their economic independence.

Additionally, FOWODE believes that for the women in these communities to speak in public and participate meaningfully in leadership and decision-making, they must have self-belief. That they deserve to be there and can achieve change. Therefore, as part of the project, FOWODE provides social confidence and practical leadership skills training for the women. With these new learned skills, they are speaking up in front of others, for example, which perhaps they did not feel able to do before. This confidence is further strengthened by the support they receive from other women in their groups.

The organisation believes that it is crucial to have communities to champion the women’s rights and their ability to lead, and therefore also included ‘male champions’ in their project design. Male champions are men who have demonstrated within their communities that they believe in and champion women’s rights and the potential for women to be great leaders. They conduct outreach to other men in their communities, and challenge and dismantle the negative stereotypes around women’s empowerment and leadership.

Testimonies from the outreach activities have shown the positive impact this is having on attitudes to women in leadership, and the effect this is having on the families and communities overall.

In addition, husbands who have been part of these activities, have noted the positive impact of having a more empowered wife to consult, make decisions with, and sharing the work of household chores.

Read more about Jo Cox and the Jo Cox Memorial Grants on the Jo Cox Foundation’s website.

A woman supported by the project stands up and talks in front of male members of the community. Photo credit FOWODE.