International Women’s Day 2019: Think equal, build smart, innovate for change

The theme for International Women’s Day 2019, which will take place on 8 March, is “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change”.

The theme will focus on innovative ways in which we can advance gender equality and the empowerment of women, particularly in the areas of social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure.

The achievement of the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires transformative shifts, integrated approaches and new solutions, particularly when it comes to advancing gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. Based on current trajectories, existing interventions will not suffice to achieve a Planet 50-50 by 2030. Innovative approaches that disrupt “business as usual” are central to removing structural barriers and ensuring that no woman and no girl is left behind. Innovation and technology provide unprecedented opportunities, yet trends indicate a growing gender digital divide and women are under-represented in the field of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and design. It prevents them from developing and influencing gender-responsive innovations to achieve transformative gains for society. From mobile banking to artificial intelligence and the internet of things, it is vital that women’s ideas and experiences equally influence the design and implementation of the innovations that shape our future societies.

Echoing the CSW63 Priority theme, IWD 2019 will look to industry leaders, game-changing start-ups, social entrepreneurs, gender equality activists, and women innovators to examine the ways in which innovation can remove barriers and accelerate progress for gender equality, encourage investment in gender-responsive social systems, and build services and infrastructure that meet the needs of women and girls. On 8 March 2019, join us as we celebrate a future in which innovation and technology creates unprecedented opportunities for women and girls to play an active role in building more inclusive systems, efficient services and sustainable infrastructure to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs and gender equality.

RSVP for the International Women’s Day Commemoration in New York

16 days of activism – 2018

The theme of the 2018 Campaign is “End Gender-Based Violence in the World of Work.” This year’s theme builds on the momentum and achievements during the 2017 campaign, when over 700 organizations in 92 countries campaigned around the theme of “Together We Can End GBV in Education.” Our goal for 2018 is to continue to target the institutions in which gender-based violence is perpetuated and push for systemic change and accountability.

rom 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign is a time to galvanize action to end violence against women and girls around the world. The international campaign originated from the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute coordinated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership in 1991.

For far too long, impunity, silence and stigma have allowed violence against women to escalate to pandemic proportions—one in three women worldwide experience gender-based violence.

The time for change is here and now.

In recent years, the voices of survivors and activists, through campaigns such as #MeToo, #TimesUp, #Niunamenos, #NotOneMore, #BalanceTonPorc and others, have reached a crescendo that cannot be silenced any more. Advocates understand that while the names and contexts may differ across geographic locations, women and girls everywhere are experiencing extensive abuse and their stories need to be brought to light.

Investing in girls now will pay dividends in the future

Why is it that we still need to talk about women’s economic empowerment in 2017? Once you peel back the layers of data and statistics, you get to the bottom of the issue. It’s raw, and most people don’t want to hear it, but it’s at the root of all: girls are less valued than boys.

A lifetime living in the shadow

It’s possible to accurately tell the gender of a foetus from 18 weeks. From this point onwards, not having even left the womb, girls are under greater threat than boys. Gender-biased sex selection is not a new phenomenon, and it’s estimated that 117 million women* across Asia are “missing” because of it. If a girl survives this first hurdle, as she grows and reaches school age, she faces her next major barrier –getting an education. One in 5 adolescent girls across the globe continue to be denied their right to education. The reasons for this aremany, but think on these two statistics:
  • More than two-thirds of all child domestic workers are girls.
  • Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday. More than 1 in 3 – about 250 million – were married before their 15th birthday.
Depending on how her education has fared, and if she’s avoided marriage at 13, and escaped domestic servitude, she will enter the workforce, and face the barriers working women face daily. And don’t forget that to find work is a major achievement: girls and young women make up the majority of the world’s 628 million young people who are not in education, training or employment.

Girls and women bear the brunt of unpaid work

Our girl will probably be expected to do some work for free. The unpaid work around the globe that keeps our economies ticking along lands disproportionately on the shoulders of girls and women. On average, women spend 3 times as many hours as men doing unpaid care and domestic work. But even small changes here can make a difference: a Gates Foundation study recently found that school enrolment rates for girls increased by 12% in one country when the time walking to collect water was reduced by an hour.

No investment and little protection

In 90% of countries there is at least one law that acts as a barrier to women’s economic equality. Economic equality is a contributing factor to gender equality. However, 190 million fewer women have an account at a financial institution than men. Why? Because if you’re a woman or young girl it’s much harder to get a formal credit history, to apply for proper identification, and in some countries you may need permission from your husband to open an account. How do you participate in public life and improve your understanding of finance when you can’t even open a bank account? According to the World Bank, in 90% of countries there is at least one law that acts as a barrier to women’s economic equality. Their research also highlighted that in 18 countries, a woman has to ask for her husband’s permission to work.

Added impact of gender-based violence

Forty-one countries completely lack laws against sexual harassment, while 46 have no laws addressing domestic violence. The prevalence of gender-based violence within the home, in public spaces, on the way to work and in the workplace also has a significant impact on girls’ and women’s economic performance. And yet still, in 2017, many countries still do not provide protection from violence and harassment for girls and women. Forty-one out of 173 countries examined by the World Bank completely lack laws against sexual harassment, while 46 countries have no laws addressing domestic violence. Is it any wonder with all these societal, educational, financial and legal barriers constricting a girl’s development, that 100 million young women around the globe can’t read a single sentence? This is no way to treat half of the world’s population.

Breaking the cycle

Girls don’t need empowering; they just need a fair start and a level playing field. That’s why at Plan International we are aiming over the next 5 years to make sure 100 million girls learn, lead, decide, and thrive.

Lessons learned: how to set up a village savings and loan association

After setting up a successful savings group pilot in the Arapai Sub County, Soroti, SCOEN share tips for other NGOs starting a VSLA

After it generated more than an average 40% return on investment for savers, showed evidence of benefits for women and reducing tension between ethnic groups, we are scaling up our pilot village savings and loans association (VSLA) programme in the Soroti District.

Despite our successes, the pilot didn’t run perfectly, so we want to share what we learned in the hope it might be useful for other NGOs entering this field with little or no prior experience in running VSLAs.

Research and observe

We spent a long time researching different microfinance and microcredit models before opting to explore the VSLA model after concerns about the overheated income-generation claims associated with microfinance. We reminded ourselves that our goal was to include the most disadvantaged groups in the region, people without assets for security, access to social relations, markets and financial literacy.

Savings and loans models were the best option, but we knew there was an “off-the-shelf” attitude to this approach. Having the opportunity to visit local VSLA groups cannot be underestimated – as with many complex programmes, it is only through observation and discussion with participants that one starts to gain a greater understanding of how the ideas can transfer to a different context.

Recruit the right team

The major expenditure related to VSLAs is staff costs. Unexpectedly, we found the appointment of three good field agents (FAs) more important than a strong team leader. The FAs need to have expert knowledge of local power dynamics, and be able to gain the respect and trust of local communities. However, as VSLAs are self-managed, they must also be able to guide rather than impose. Interestingly, we found that recruiting those with too much local influence can result in an awkward power dynamics.

For example, we recruited a well-educated, very thoughtful and well-connected local man who also happened to be a customary chief (local leader).In hindsight, he shouldn’t have been recruited – his role as leader came before his VSLA work. It created a hierarchy with VSLA members defaulting to him, rather than feeling comfortable in their own leadership. The other two FAs were younger, from the area, but with no customary leadership roles. The dynamics of these groups were much better.

Tap into the VSLA community

There is a global VSLA community – tap into it. VSL Associates and Savings Groups are the two major VSLA platforms – on these you will find ready-made training materials and online discussion groups. Seek out local VSLA programmes and see if you and your project team can visit them too.

Take a patient, open approach

We stuck very rigidly to the pure VSLA approach, but when we realised the pilot was taking longer than we had planned, we extended the time limit, rather than rushed to complete before we were ready. Our communities have coped with conflict and displacement, so are very resilient and are used to living with little or no state support, but it still needs to be clear what is expected of all parties. When we visit groups there is still often a request for us to ‘help’ by topping-up the kitty. This underlines the importance of open dialogue right from the beginning.

Dedicate time and money to monitoring, evaluation and learning

Because we wanted to track not just economic and membership data but impact on nutrition, shelter, education, health, women’s empowerment and social status, – monitoring, evaluation and learning has been the heaviest time burden on the team. It definitely needs to be planned and budgeted for.

Scaling up, we have invested in an assistant team leader to support this process. But as field agents built up excellent relationships with VSLA members, the learning gleaned is second to none. Qualitative assessment produced the real surprises, showing there was a consistent shift away from men dominating household decision making to joint decision making between husband and wife. The social benefits of the VSLAs in terms of social cohesion and intra-communal solidarity also seemed to carry as much weight as the financial benefits. And curiously, social norms of who owns livestock appear to be breaking down, with women and Ipei groups aspiring to own household development.

Getting feedback from participants also has showed us that we previously had a very limited view of how people manage their financial affairs on the plateau. Other credit and perhaps savings arrangements exist within the communities, and the key thing next is to understand is how VSLAs can improve the process of managing and planning complex lives, rather than imagining VSLAs replace them because they are better.

What was our impact?

Social impact is a notoriously tricky area to measure, and we feel we have only just started to scratch the surface through the findings mentioned above. How did our pilot compare to the performance of VSLAs elsewhere? This is difficult to say. Pilots tend to be more resource and support intensive, and perhaps coax out better performance than full scale programmes.

We know that there is a conditional VSLA programme also currently in the region that is linked to sending orphans to school. This is not a direct comparison to ours. We had toyed with the idea of explicitly linking the VSLAs to child wellbeing and education, since this reflects our mission as an organisation, but concluded pilots need to be stripped of unwarranted assumptions and external demands.

Time to Rethink Universal Primary Education

Most of the enlightened parents were, therefore, left with no choice but to withdraw their children from rural UPE schools.

Of recent, the Ministry of Education and Sports has been in the spotlight. Since the appointment of the First Lady, Janet Museveni, as the Minister of Education and Sports, the ministry has been in the spotlight. The mainstream media have carried headlines on the education sector almost on a weekly basis.

Whereas most stories carried have pointed out the wrongs in the education sector, there has been a great deal of remedies proposed to revamp the sector. One of such stories was about the recent meeting which was held at Golf Course Kampala on the ongoing education sector review. According to the story, key success stories were presented by selected head teachers and parents from model schools like Mbarara Municipal and Arua Hill Primary schools.

The success stories had a familiar best practice of a good relationship between the school authorities and the parents. The parents had agreed to contribute additional funding towards the education of their children in addition to UPE government funds. This best practice needs to be promoted, encouraged and replicated if UPE is to yield success stories across the board.

One of the major causes of poor performance of UPE, especially in rural schools is the neglected role of parents and guardians in the education of their children. In some of the rural schools, the once vibrant Parents and Teachers Associations (PTAs) disintegrated with the introduction of UPE.

The parents negated their role wholly to the government. Some enthusiastic leaders including a few Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) contributed to the magnitude of this trend whenever they threatened, paraded or arrested head teachers who attempted to obtain any additional dues from parents.

In some areas, dialogue between schools authorities and parents on additional shillings to support their children’s education were disallowed by fervent leaders. As a result, a rift between parents and teachers ensued in some areas. Parents accused teachers of wanting to fail government programmes, the teachers were demotivated.

Most of the enlightened parents were, therefore, left with no choice but to withdraw their children from rural UPE schools to either Urban UPE Schools or Private schools.

It should be noted that the good relations between teachers and parents provided the best monitoring and performance management tool for the diverse primary education sector. The rethinking of the UPE programme should, therefore, focus on reintroducing, empowering and enabling parents and teachers associations.

The notion of unguided teachers flocking offices of the Chief Administrative Officers seeking the transfer of teachers needs to be handled. The leaders at all levels need to be proactive in fostering good relations between schools and communities. The roles of District Education Officers (DEOs) and Inspectors of Schools should be stretched to include outreach sensitisation meetings to parents on their roles.

According to the National Planning Authority (NPA) Pre-primary and Primary Education in Uganda: Access, Cost, Quality and Relevance paper of Vision 2040, stabilising food availability in primary school stimulates increased enrolments and school attendance rates and thereby, reducing absenteeism.

Bringing back on board parents and caregivers to take part in the monitoring and management schools at partner level rather than umpire level will go a long way in improving the performance of UPE in rural settings. This has been attested in urban settings where enlightened parents and caregivers are playing a role.

The writer is a social worker

Atelamoti Community Water Spring

Stories and Community Profile

Executive Summary

Atelamoti community members rely on Onganyakonye Spring, which has always provided water for people here. However, the water source is both a blessing and a curse to its dependents: Locals, especially children under age 5, constantly suffer from stomach-aches and diarrhoea.

Women and children bring their containers and dunk them until they are full. Some find bending over too strenuous, and instead step into the spring to draw its water. This activity is one of many that contaminates drinking water; waste is washed into the spring when it rains, and animals are free to come and go as they please.

Welcome to the Community

Onganyakonye Spring is located in Atelamoti Village where people are peasant farmers who grow maize, beans and cassava as their food crops. grain is also planted in small patches to attract income, however little, from grain market.

When people wake up each morning, their first activity is to walk to Onganyakonye Spring to fetch water for the day’s needs. Some residents sell firewood – harvested from their own family woodlot; some bake bricks or hire themselves for casual labour to make ends meet. The region is adorned with beautiful, picturesque and peculiar outcrops of large igneous rocks that not only provide resting places for the villagers, but also act as ecological niches for reptiles like geckos.

 Water Situation

Onganyakonye Spring is the exclusive source of water for 100 community households as well as the 300 students of Atelamoti Primary School.  It has well-preserved catchment areas that have kept it from drying up, despite seasons of drought that sometimes reduce other springs to dry ground. This makes it a life-giving spring for over 1,000 people. (Editor’s Note: While this many people may have access on any given day, realistically a single water source can only support a population of 350-500 people.  This community would be a good candidate for a second project in the future so adequate water is available.)

“During rainy season water is a lot, but the population is too high for the spring to accommodate all households and the school in its current state. Consequently, the trend has been that people line up to almost midnight and others fight due to overcrowding,” said Madam Jessicah, at 60. She was caught quarrelling with Ruth to give her a chance to fetch water as well, for she had waited in the line since 6 AM, but in vain.

People have suffered typhoid as a result of drinking this unprotected spring’s water – more so children whose immune systems are weak.  Many people in this village have had diarrhoea that can be attributed to unsafe water from the spring. The older folks are fairly resistant, but they too have to buy Water Guard and use it when they notice that the spring’s water is outright polluted, especially during the dry season when the spring is under more pressure from so many users.

Sanitation Situation

Under half of the homes in Atelamoti Village have their own pit latrines which are fashioned from logs and have no doors. The wooden floors become worn out, making them unsafe to use. These pit latrines are very difficult to keep clean, attracting flies which spread diseases.

Rubbish is either disposed of in the garden or behind the homes where chickens scramble for it.  Only 25 – 50% of the homesteads have clothesline and dish racks.

Plans: Hygiene and Sanitation Training

At least 15 community members and health workers will attend hygiene and sanitation training for two days where a water user committee will be established to oversee all operations around this spring.  The facilitator plans to use PHAST (Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation), CLTS (Community-Led Total Sanitation), ABCD (Asset-Based Community Development), group discussions, handouts, and demonstrations at the spring.

Plans: Sanitation Platforms

On the second day of training, participants will select five families – who suffer most from a shortage of sanitation facilities – to benefit from new latrines.
Training will also inform the community and selected families as to what they need to contribute to make this project a success. They must mobilize locally available materials, such as bricks, clean sand, hardcore, and ballast. The five families must prepare by sinking a pit for the sanitation platforms to be placed over. All community members must work together to make sure that accommodations and food are provided for the work teams.

Plans: Spring Protection

This water is not safe for human consumption, yet these people cannot afford to protect the spring by themselves. They are willing and ready to work with the organization to help them protect their water point. Users of this spring are ready to garner all materials required from their side for the protection of this source.

Protecting a spring often results in a stronger flow of water from it.  So, protecting Onganyakonye Spring will alleviate overcrowding and long lines and ensure that the water is safe, adequate and secure.  Construction will keep surface runoff and other contaminants out of the water.  So, the community of Atelamoti will be healthier, happier and able to spend more of their time and energy in school, at work and taking care of their families.

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