Women’s Day: Celebrating Female Trailblazers in Uganda’s Informal Sector

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As Uganda prepares to join the rest of the world to commemorate the International Women’s Day on March 8, it’s only right that we commend the work of the women in the informal sector who have facilitated positive change in communities but more so empowered other women to take up various roles and better their livelihoods.

This year’s Women’s Day is themed “Building on Women’s Strength for a Better Future in a COVID-19 World.”

Some of these are the least known, unsung heroes whose unwavering dedication to uplifting the girl child continues to strengthen the base for the female gender to dream more and accomplish tasks that would otherwise only be a far-fetched possibility.

From amplifying voices of the down-trodden overseas workers, teaching girls how to navigate their menstrual cycles comfortably, quashing fallacies about the dependency nature of the female species to equipping the young adults with life-saving, self-help project management skills, these ladies are trail blazing in their own right and what better way to celebrate them than highlight their works.

Mariam Mwiza

Mwiza is an anti human trafficking activist who is fully dedicated to solving mysteries surrounding the intricate cases of stranded migrant workers in the Middle East.

She hails from Rweibare Kashari in Mbarara district, born in the early 90s and holds a bachelors degree in Business Administration from Makerere University.

Since the inception of her Overseas Workers Voice Uganda (OWVU) organisation in December 2018, Mwiza had, as of 2020 when she spoke to ChimpReports,  aided the rescue of 104 human trafficking victims and repatriated three (3) dead bodies; two from Oman and one from Dubai.

While profiling some of the numerous Ugandan victims and survivors of human trafficking, Mwiza’s name appeared in almost all the rescuing, repatriating processes, and fighting for justice, freedom and wellbeing of Ugandan girls who were at crossroads and needed a helping hand as they tried to survive in the Middle East.

Mariam Mwiza with one the girls she rescued.

Having rescued over 104 victims and brought them back to their helpless families, Mwiza is a hero whose encounters are intriguing and success stories a ray of hope for many human trafficking survivors and those still awaiting their freedom.

Some of the human trafficking victims she rescued include; Sharon Josephine Nakiwunga (whose story was published by ChimpReports), Resty Nalubowa, Shamimu Namuddu, Joyce Nanyonjo and many others.

Barbra Itungo

Apart from being the better half to Uganda’s music icon and former presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Sentamu alias Bobi Wine, Barbra Itungo Kyagulanyi is celebrated in the philanthropy sphere and she has garnered popularity for her girl-child empowerment moves.

Through her Caring Hearts Uganda, a registered youth Non-Governmental Organization founded in 2012; initially working in Kampala slums with the ghetto youths on issues of HIV/Aids, drug abuse and menstrual health in its early stages, Barbie has taken the initiative to the other parts of the country with more diversified activities and problem solving approaches.

Mrs. Kyagulanyi or Mama Kyadondo as she is affectionately referred to by many, has over the years made tangible donations to vulnerable young girls in various communities and formations, with the highlight of her initiative being training young girls (and boys) how to make reusable sanitary pads in hard to reach communities.

This, she says, will enable girls to stay in school while the boys can help out their sisters and mothers with the new skill gained from the training.

“We have had a fruitful training. Girls and boys equally participated. Some boys made a pad for their sisters and mothers,” Barbie was quoted as saying after a training at Kapkwata Secondary School in 2019.

Babra Itungo Kyagulanyi teaching students how to make reusable sanitary pads.

The mother of four, who is also nurturing two daughters, has recently become known for her steller mantra passed on to school girls “close your legs and open your books” which goes along with commitment cards signed between herself and the girls as a vow to stay in school and desist from engaging in sexual relations “until the time is right.”

Barbie has also amplified voices on the fight against Gender Based Violence.

Speaking at a Global Conference in Canada, she pushed for open conversations about GBV in households, a strategy she said would get all genders involved in the reality of the situation.

Barbie Kyagulanyi with students and at St Lawrence Horizon campus

“Sadly, we have not opened up discussions about these transgressions. We are silently hearing of or even painfully experiencing these gross atrocities and we are not doing much to change the situation,” she said.

“The discussion about Violence towards women and youth should be made in our homes and with our leaders,” she said adding that cases about violations towards women should be given better attention and all evils committed in this line brought to book.

Sheebah Karungi

Much as Sheebah has become a household name as regards Uganda’s music industry, her proclaimed ‘feminist’ personality has in the recent years brought to light the strong-willed and powerful woman Ms. Karungi is as concerns girl-child and female empowerment.

Having been raised by a single mother, cutting her studies short and raising above all hardships of an ordinary 15 year old girl, chasing her dreams and seeing them manifest, Sheebah’s reality is relatable in many ways.

With her beautiful story, Sheebah has preached against the notion that females are less powerful and their success is aided by the men who come along as they grow up. She has rooted for building self esteem among young girls and went further to invest in feminine products that she envisions will boost girls’ confidence.

“Please teach your daughters that there’s more to life than male attention. Teach your daughters to first love themselves and work hard for themselves then everything else will fall in place,” Sheebah posted on her social media recently.

The 31 year old has also teamed up with various personalities, Mrs. Kyagulanyi included, to make donations to girls in different groups and communities across the country.

In October 2020, Sheebah donated 1500 packs of Holic sanitary pads to the Uganda U-17 National women football team that was in camp then, preparing for their FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup Qualifiers double-header against Cameroon.

In October 2020, Sheebah donated 1500 packs of Holic sanitary pads to the Uganda U-17 National women football team that was in camp then, preparing for their FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup Qualifiers double-header against Cameroon.

With her blossoming career and success, Sheebah has used her platform as an artist and woman to share her grass to grace story that she says will touch the many young girls; “who don’t have means to get an education, those who are struggling to find their life’s purpose and all the underdogs that are still waiting on their breakthrough moment.”

Hellen Bareke

In an era where Gender Based Violence and preconceived misconceptions about women are still on a raise, surviving in Kampala’s slums was a daily dread for then 15 year old Hellen Baleke.

After enduring hardships and physical attacks in Katanga’s corridors dominated by ‘ghetto-smart’ boys,  Baleke vowed to empower the girls in her community to not only learn how to physically defend themselves from such encounters but also gain skills in self-help projects like tailoring.

Baleke, now 33, has been boxing professionally for 15 years. At the 2019 African Games, she won a bronze medal and became the first Ugandan woman to bring home a boxing medal in 18 years.

In an interview with CNN, Baleke revealed that she started boxing “because I didn’t want any man to stand in front of my face. In Katanga, you have to fight if you want to survive, most especially girls.”

As such, the boxing professional is not only teaching women skills in the boxing ring, she also owns a tailoring business where she hires young girls and teaches them how to sew.

She aims to show young women the importance of financial independence and stability beyond a boxing career.

Hellen Baleke with some of the beneficiaries of her training initiatives.

Baleke also emphasizes that one’s situation, be if financial or social, should not determine what their life should be, “especially for many of these young girls born in the slums, who see less of success and role models within their locality.”

“It doesn’t matter where you are or where you live. I live in the worst slum but it did not stop me from following my dreams,” the Bronze medalist said.

Source – ChimpReports

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