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Despite the common notion that development cannot be maximized without equal opportunities for women, men and young people, there is still a deficit of women and young people being actively involved at cooperative level. Gender equality is viewed in the context of women and youth being positioned to participate (advise, collaborate, represent, empower, decide) on the same footing with men.

From 17th to 19th August 2021, NAWOU conducted meetings about confidence, leadership and decision making among the women, men and young people in Pawel Agany, Pupwonya and Purangagem Primary Cooperatives in West Acholi region.

Josephine Namatovu addressing participants from Pawel Agany Cooperative Society in Patiko Sub county, Gulu district.

Dialogue meetings on equal participation in leadership and decisions making were held among men, women, and youth cooperative members affiliated to West Acholi Cooperative Union (WACU); a partner organization in the Harnessing Women and Youth Potential Project funded by We Effect. The meetings served as platforms for experience sharing and learning to improve women and youth participation in decision-making processes at cooperative level. Several issues (as below) emerged as causes of unequal participation in decision making at cooperative level.

Spousal sabotage.

Cases of spouses being generally unsupportive with deliberate sabotage to the wives’ and children’s leadership pursuits were noted. Some women expressed that their husbands do not support them or would rather they remained rendering their support only to family matters which inherently robs them of the opportunity to participate in community meetings, cooperative forums or even district leadership positions. The obligations to children and family roles also swayed women from participating and tapping into opportunities of gainful involvement in decision making spaces.

With the cultural biases towards women in decision making still persistent, a view of leadership and influencing or making decisions “being inconsistent with the values of a good woman/ child” continues to place women and young people in the disadvantaged class. Also, a distinctly masculine model of leadership is prevalent in which women have to work extra hard to gain respect /recognition given that feminine traits are associated with weaknesses.

Education plays an important role.

Women and young people (young females mostly) being less educated has deterred them from growing and holding influential positions at the various levels. With no or very low education attainment comes questionable qualification. The general perspective still holds that it is better to have qualified men only in leadership positions than to enforce affirmative action and have less educated women.

It is worth noting that with low education attainment comes low qualifications and thus it is feared that the “gender balance” composition risks promoting generally lower quality of representatives and compromised effective participation of women.

Tadeo Odong, Pupwonya Primary Cooperative Secretary is one of the youngest members in the cooperative. The senior four drop out attributes his rise in the cooperative society to his literacy level. “When I contested for the position, I knew I was going to win because I could read, write, and keep records better than my opponent since I had some educational background,” Tadeo said. “Many women and girls in my group did not have the privilege of going to school. That somehow inevitably disqualifies them from contesting for positions within the cooperative society or community level to a certain extent.”

Tadeo Odong sharing his experience with NAWOU Programs Officer.

Importance of gender trainings.

As a result of NAWOU extending gender technical support to WACU cooperative members, there have been stories of change registered among co-operators towards gender equality.

Youth have embraced leadership especially in cooperative developmental projects like savings groups, women are stepping up to community leadership roles including membership in the Area Land Committees beyond cooperative level.

Susan Aber from Pawel Agany Cooperative Society challenged herself to stand for Local Council 1 (LC1) in Patiko sub county, Gulu district. Though she lost the contested position, she became a member on the LC Committee, her husband fully supported her through the whole process and continues to support as a member of the Area Land Committee since 2020. The Committee serves as a mediator on land issues within communities. Susan’s position on the LC and Area Land Committee is not only an inspiration but an opportunity to advocate for the equality agenda.

Susan Aber

What needs to be done better.

Strategies/approaches like model couple’s trainings should be expanded to reach more grass root communities to influence attitudes towards positive masculinity right from household level.

More women and young people should be targeted in leadership skills trainings to boost confidence and technical know-how of the electoral processes as this is a gap that has been observed.

It is of great importance to collaborate with the education ministry and community to expand/ amend the school curriculum to include topics that address gender issues.

Stronger collaboration with cultural/ traditional leaders in form of engagements on gender equality will go a long way. Having such influencers on board is likely to promote a positive culture that is more accepting and supportive of women and youth as leaders.

Celebrating the small achievements is key but much more still needs to be done in order to support equal involvement and inclusion of women, men and young people in leadership and decision-making spaces.

NAWOU, with support from WE EFFECT is implementing a 4 years’ project-Harnessing Women and Youth Potential to contribute to enhance rights of women, men and young people in four (4) districts of Uganda; Wakiso, Mukono, Gulu and Zombo to access, own and control productive assets including finances, land and adequate hosing for improved life by the end of 2022.

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