This post is written by Jacqueline Auma.
With inspiring stories, dance, music and poetry the first TEDxNakaseroWomen certainly lived up to expectations. Curated by Prossy Kawala and held at Sheraton Hotel, the event brought together women and some men from different fields to share experiences and ideas around the theme of improving the situation of women in Uganda. The twelve speakers covered topics such as human trafficking, sexual objectification, rape, maternal health and disability and told of how they had overcome discrimination and had gone on to succeed and of the work they are doing to make a difference to the lives of women in Uganda.
So often we allow our circumstances to determine our destinies, their stories proved that we have it within us to do something with what we have. Agnes Igoye told of how her birth, girl number six of six children, caused a stir in a community that valued boys over girls, where boys were sent to school and girls kept at home to learn how to be good wives. When the opportunity to go to school was presented to her at thirteen, she grabbed it and has never looked back. Around the same time Professor Maggie Kigozi was enrolling in medical school as one of only eleven girls out of a group of 140 entrants even though more than half of the county’s populace was women. Despite these setbacks both women have risen to the top of their field with Agnes heading the taskforce dealing with human trafficking in the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Prof. Kigozi holding various prominent positions including University Chancellor and consultant to the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation. Both their inspiring stories showed that discrimination against girls, an age old problem, can be overcome with hard work and the right attitude.
Grace Natabaalo tackled the issue of sexual objectification of women head on by challenging the stereotype that a woman cannot be both beautiful and intelligent. She shared her experiences of working as a woman in a male dominated newsroom and told of how often reporters were encouraged to concentrate on a woman’s sexuality rather than her other achievements. She challenged women all over Uganda to tell the media to stop portraying them as sexual objects.
Martha Engole and Hajat Rehmah Kasule both self-starters and now leaders who run programmes promoting learning, entrepreneurship development and self-sufficiency for Ugandan women were proof that inspiration comes from within and that we all have it within us to make a difference, no matter how small. Jacqueline Asiimwe and Jonathan Tusubira on the other hand reminded us that there is still a lot of work to do to recognise the humanity of womanhood. Highlighting the issues of rape, domestic violence and disability discrimination particularly amongst deaf women and the negative treatment of women within the criminal justice system, they told how of how the lense is often focused on the victim rather than the perpetrator because of society’s attitude towards women. Jacqueline Asiimwe questioned the current approach of imprisoning women arguing that “justice is not just about how many people are convicted but how many lives are rebuilt”.It was saddening to learn that of the twenty four commercial banks in Uganda, only one is headed by a woman, and furthermore that the private industry In Uganda lags behind government when it comes to employing women and closing the gender gap. Let’s hope that they heed Professor Kigozi’s call to find space for women in their organisations because women in employment and in position of leadership can only be of benefit to society as a whole.
Anna Verwaal a maternal health nurse and nursing instructor called on men to support their wives during pregnancy and birth. Littered with funny African proverbs, her talk was both informative and fascinating. Her approach of involving men resonated with me, quite often with gender based discussions men are marginalised, are told they are the cause of most of women’s ills but are never given the opportunity to learn and be part of the solution.
In the true spirit of TED, there was plenty of entertainment in between the talks to give the audience a chance to relax and maybe reflect on the issues raised. The show included a poetry recitation, a dance performance by the Forgiven Kids of Africa (terrible name), a group of very talented girls and boys aged between six and fourteen which left the audience mesmerised. Halima Namakula, who at fifty four still has the swag, almost had me on my feet as she bellowed two lively numbers from her greatest hits.
The evening came to a close with a cocktail reception where guests had the opportunity to network with the speakers. I left feeling inspired and that the future of women in Uganda is bright. TedxNakasero Women had proved this. And days later I still feel inspired and equally challenged as I ask myself what I am doing to improve the condition of women in Uganda.