Throughout my life I have worked for positive changes in the lives of African women. As a young school girl, I remember going along with my mother to teach reading, writing and nutrition to women in her community- based groups. When I first joined Makerere University as a Lecturer, I was concerned that the young female students did not have access to any counselling services. Along with a professional counsellor, I worked hard to address this, until the University agreed to establish and institutionalise a counselling service for all students. In 1985 I founded Action for Development (ACFODE), out of my concern for the marginalisation of women at all levels. For the rest of my professional life, I have focused on working towards transforming policies and programmes to address gender inequalities and women’s empowerment. In 1995, I began a dialogue with a colleague at the Pre-Beijing conference in Dakar, about the difficulties of accessing donor support for our collective activist work. We concluded that we needed to start a fund to support African women’s activism. On this journey we met another woman with the same passion and mission- and together created the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF). The reality of this fund is that it touches, and in different ways transforms, lives of women across the continent.
I recently retired from the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, where I worked as Regional Advisor on Economic Empowerment of Women. I have since returned to Uganda and established the Mentoring and Empowerment Programme for Young Women (MEMPOROW), an organisation that focuses on enhancing social survival skills for young women. We organise training programmes for young girls and women aged between 15 and 25 years, hold a monthly intergenerational dialogue between young women and older gender equality activists and feminists, and organise gender sensitisation workshops for pubic and private institutions.
In all areas of my life I uphold values that are feminist values. For decades my work has focused on transforming gender relations and especially those that perpetuate the subordination of women. I believe in women’s leadership and work towards seeing women in decision-making and leadership positions. We still contend with entrenched negative patriarchal values, most of which are an imposition from colonial rule, religious fundamentalism, and persistent undemocratic processes that sustain abuse of women’s rights in many of our countries. All of this demands a feminist response.
In my personal life, I try to make sure that I identify the patriarchal norms and practices and refuse to be guided by them. I make it clearly known that I am a feminist, so that there is no debate about who I am, and in this way, most people I interact with know what I stand for, what I can and can’t accept. Together, and through greater networking and dialoguing, we can empower more women. We also must be more engaged across different generations, and keep including young women to ensure rejuvenation and replenishment. Each of us needs to make the personal commitment to this work of transforming women’s lives, and to walking the talk.