Felicity Palmira Acan is Private Sector Development Specialist/ Gender Focal Person for SKY project AVSI Foundation, Uganda. On the 25 Semptember 2018 she spoke at the panel "From Vulnerable to Protagonist _ Empowering Women against Human Rights Denial Committed For Her Own Good” ath the United Nations headquarter in New York.
My name is Felicity Acan Palmira, I would like to share my experience in regards to todays’ topic. I am an agriculturalist by profession with 15years of experience in development work with a passion in promoting farmers’ wellbeing in a more sustainable manner through integrating gender mainstreaming while putting into consideration environmental concerns.
I am born and raised in a family of 3 in Kitgum town north of Uganda, we did not grow up as a nuclear family but had cousins who grew up with us.
I could say my, parents are my first inspiration in respect to human rights especially children’s rights. They believe that every child has a right and every child is one’s child. My father in particular would not allow canes or shouting on any child irrespective of what the child did but believe in mutual discussions to make him or her realize his mistake, which is not very usual in the African culture. He believes in all round education not only what is taught in class. May mother is a very hard working women who believes a woman must work and contribute to the family welfare and for herself, even now in her seventies, she does all her house chores by herself. I got the spirit of hard work from her and I still remember her saying to me one time “Your job is your first husband, let no man deceive you to leave your job’’. All these gave me great ideas to plan for myself and my future. My dad is now 79 years of age but 5 years ago, he read to us his will in one of the family meetings and which came as a surprise to us since he shared equally his properties particularly land between us the children. This is not a common happening in most African culture specifically in the Ugandan context. The boy child is usually the heir and has all the other privileges to inherit properties. For me, my first place of empowerment was my home where I learnt the spirit of hard work and where I started building my self-esteem and confidence, where I first learnt that men and women have equal rights and so in doing development work. My parent’s way of life also impacted positively on parents of similar caliber who were our immediate neighbors, because they try to copy their life style. I now have my own family, the girl child in my house has equal rights as her male counterpart. I have one son who does house chores like the girls and no special attention is given to him because he is a boy, which is not a common happening in most households. Most times he would want to take refuse to the family but because of our family norms he doesn’t find soft landing either. Instead I take extra interest on my girls’ wellbeing since they are prone and vulnerable to the outside threats.
Why I am saying all these; through my family experience, I can testify and strongly believe that, the family is the starting and soft point where we can have mindset change to promote human rights especially protecting the girl child and the married woman’s rights and dignity. My passion and interest in promoting women empowerment as an individual in addition to the nature of my rural agricultural development started from here. In my work, I always interface with many rural women with diverse situations and as a female, they find it easier to confide in you with sensitive issues and I advise accordingly.
FROM ORGANIZATIONAL PERSPECTIVE
In most cases it is very difficult for organizations to allocate funds towards gender mainstreaming and advocacy program. Though they believe it’s a good cause, few moves this agenda forward. From my experience, there should be somebody in the program who has passion and can push for women’s empowerment interventions with clear action plans to implement otherwise it becomes a forgotten story.
Involving the lead person; I stand here today to witness AVSI Foundation’s work towards women empowerment and promoting the rights and dignity of every person in relation to the fundamental principles: the person at the center; the person aware of his/her own value; starting from the positive. A
VSI Foundation’s SKY (Skilling the Youth for Employment in Agriculture) and other projects is determined to contribute to achieve SDG #5 and makes deliberate actions towards women’s empowerment. SKY project idea mentions out of the 8000 target youth participants, only 40% should be female. - With this, I realized that, if there was a staff pointed as a Gender focal person by then, this figure could have been different and a specific budget line allocated to support specialized female youth empowerment and gender mainstreaming activities. I also experienced that gender was not taken keen interest as specialized activities until my supervisor appointed me to be the gender focal person.
Capacity building for all to understand the benefits of women’s empowerment, the strategies, approaches, actions and more so the benefit to be integrated to the greater program activities. The project participants need to understand why and how to go about with the interventions. I am privileged that I have been continuously receiving trainings in regards to gender mainstreaming and women’s empowerment and this widens many understanding on how to deal with cases. It has empowered me to continuously advocate for equality in the food security and livelihood programs I work with.
Integration of women empowerment advocacy activities as part of the bigger project work; through experience most people always want to separate women’s issues, staff and partners who are directly involve in the women’s empowerment activities most times tend to demand for pay rise and see there is always laxity in the staff to take on their role seriously unless one is naturally passionate by the gender issues. .It is a good practice to develop Action plans to give a road map. The activities are better implemented when integrated into the bigger program work plan and day today work.
FROM FIELD LEVEL PERSPECTIVE
Getting the men involved; this helps the men to understand and realize that may be over working or violating women’s right. Through my work experience, sometimes some men are not aware that they are doing injustice to the women. Continuously sensitizing and doing the activity profiling with them makes men to realize their mistakes. I quote Bakama Johnathan during my training session. ‘’ Madam, I am so happy to have been part of this training, I am among the men who think that a woman is a machine to do work and after harvest I locked my store; see my keys are here’’. Johnathan is a potato seed farmer in Kabale in South Western Uganda who became one of the community change agents to advocate for equity and women’s rights.
I give a story of one single mother of two, Belinda who is one of the AVSI project participants. After her skilling program with the SKY project, she started a farming business and here Belinda’s welfare and that of her sons improved. Since she was doing fairly okay, the father of the children came back to her but this was not for her success because Belinda confined in me and asked for advised on what to do since the man was getting money from the business for his own use but not replacing. In this case, I talked to the Belinda on a personal basis and advised her to discuss with the man and later her mother who initially invested in her. In doing this the man undertook the business was for the good of whole family but not his welfare alone. As I talked now; Belinda’s business improved greatly; this shows extended benefit that comes with a woman’s empowerment.
Building confidence by giving opportunity to a woman to exercise her role; most women in Uganda because of low level of education still shy away from group discussions, taking on leadership roles and taking on decision making processes. Therefore; there is need to build their capacity to participate willing in group activities and discussions. In one case where we proved that, women lead farmers could do equally well as the male lead farmers. In this particular rice farmer groups, no woman was selected as a lead farmer partly in Uganda rice is a considered a male crop as well as the perception that women are not good leaders. After introducing the gender training and advocacy activities, I made deliberate efforts to have a formative actions to put 2/3 of the farmers’ leads to be female. At the end the agribusiness farmer groups realized lead women’s plots were performing much better than men’s plots. The women took more time to attend to the plots and was keen on every actions they did. This example shows that taking lead by women and in achieving gender equity and women’s right is a long protracted process that has to be pursued with caution and sensibility with integrated approaches and sound policies.
Creating space for women to participate friendly helps in active involvement and self-esteem, e.g. sitting arrangement at community meetings, paying attention to sensitive issues, scheduling times that suites them. All these encourage and gives room for women to participate and receive trainings but it’s not easy, nor is it a one day happening. I have always experienced hardship in promoting this especially within the groups with strong cultural and religious values that under look woman’s self-worth.
Human rights are not subsidiary to any other goal we might pursue. Without keen attention to gender equality in our efforts to realize human rights, we will fail in the most fundamental aspect of our common responsibility.