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Learning from the COVID-19 shock to empower women

By Sostine Namanya

Added 29th October 2020 05:22 PM

A recent interface with women from Hoima and Kikuube districts during an alternative livelihood training workshop in bee keeping, honey value addition and kitchen gardening for sustainable rural incomes revealed that women need support not only to recover from the COVID-19 shock, but also get the affordable and lifelong alternative livelihoods.

Learning from the COVID-19 shock to empower women

A recent interface with women from Hoima and Kikuube districts during an alternative livelihood training workshop in bee keeping, honey value addition and kitchen gardening for sustainable rural incomes revealed that women need support not only to recover from the COVID-19 shock, but also get the affordable and lifelong alternative livelihoods.

OPINION

The restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic affected almost everyone globally, but women and girls could have faced it rougher.

Their sources of livelihood declined significantly, especially after the closure of open markets that connect urban women in business and those in farming in rural areas alongside transport restriction imposed in March 2020.

Worse still, some of the restrictions became grounds of gender and sexual violence due to the increasing level of vulnerability as reports from the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development indicate.

A recent interface with women from Hoima and Kikuube districts during an alternative livelihood training workshop in bee keeping, honey value addition and kitchen gardening for sustainable rural incomes revealed that women need support not only to recover from the COVID-19 shock, but also get the affordable and lifelong alternative livelihoods.

Imagine, Ninsiima a vendor of second hand clothes neither having food security in kind nor in savings to help her and her six children during the lockdown. But she did not keep hands folded. She inevitably moved to farmers in the neighbourhood seeking food assistance for her family.

She had just paid school fees when schools were shut down and children returned home complicating the family budget given the closure of weekly markets that determined her livelihood.

She says she received little compensation from her small piece of land that she lost to the oil refinery in Kabale in Hoima in 2013 and vending clothes to weekly markets was her major source of income. "When I got compensation, I bought a plot of land in Buseruka trading centre where I constructed my small house.

The land is not enough to grow food crops, therefore, I started vending clothes to get food and also take care of my necessities. But when the lockdown started, it heavily affected me. I was not prepared in terms of food and savings.

Much as the COVID-19 preventive measures were well intentioned, female traders and employees who are largely engaged in the small and medium businesses were negatively impacted.

For the market and cross border traders, sales made by women drastically dropped since they could not reach their suppliers and clients. Such women faced a harsh experience.

Indeed, it is better for women to diversify their income generating activities so they can have a different story to tell. Bee keeping, honey value addition, kitchen gardening and others can help a woman enjoy the fruits of livelihood and remains assured of food and getting money to access other basic needs.

Ninsiima is among the more than 55 rural women from Hoima district who benefited from a training on how women can engage in beekeeping, honey value addition and kitchen gardening for sustainable alternative livelihoods. The training was organised by National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE).

The training is part of a series of activities under the project called ‘'Participation and Opportunities for Women's Economic Rights''. The project is being implemented to economically empower displaced women or women at risk of displacement in Uganda to demand, promote and protect their land rights.  

The project is implemented in Uganda by NAPE, National Association of Women's Action in Development (NAWAD) and Womankind Worldwide with funding from UK Aid.

More than 55 women were engaged in practical training on how to grow vegetables in double dug kitchen garden, mound kitchen garden, mandala garden, sack mound garden, grow vegetables in sacks, jerry cans, bottles, make green manure and maintain small vegetable gardens on a small piece of land in their homesteads.

They were also taken through the process of beekeeping, honey value addition and visited apiaries, so that they can replicate and get alternative livelihoods.

Deborah Nakalanzi, an experienced Kitchen Gardening trainer from Kulika Uganda and an urban farmer from Wakiso district encouraged women to embrace kitchen gardening since its affordable and has sustainable income.

"My kitchen garden in my backyard was very helpful during the lockdown. I grow cabbages, spinach, pumpkin, coriander, green pepper, carrots, different food spices, onions, garlic and many other types of vegetables in my yard.

I used to feed my family and also sell from home. This saved visits to the markets during the lockdown and also saved me from spending money," she said while demonstrating to women how they grow vegetables in sacks.

"Kitchen gardening has potential to help women earn a sustainable living, giving them social and economic empowerment. Despite the mobility restrictions, there was no need for me to go to the markets because everything was in my compound and backyard. And the nutrition of my family was not affected by low incomes during the lockdown," she added.

Such crops as cabbages, spinach, pumpkin, coriander, green pepper, carrots, different food spices, onions and garlic among others help fight malnutrition alongside generating daily income to the family during and without lockdown.

Jesca Buteraba, an experienced beekeeper of 15 years from Butimba village in Kizirafumbi sub county says beekeeping is a promising alternative livelihood that enhances household food security and women's income. She said it is a good venture for women since it does not take a lot of time, is environmentally friendly and can, therefore, be taken up as an alternative livelihood.

"The lockdown began during harvesting season when I was extracting my honey. I kept selling as usual because my honey is always on order. It is on high demand, people within my community buy it off before I look for outside market. Therefore, my income was not anywhere connected, said Buteraba as she toured women through her apiary which is about 100 metres from her home.

Bee keeping is a good venture for women since it does not take a lot of time and is environmentally friendly with an interdependent factor of crop farming due to its affordability and generates sustainable income.

As Uganda's economy emerges out of the lockdown, it is critical for the State and non-state actors to become proponents for inclusive livelihood alternatives through efforts that boost businesses and employment practices where grassroot women's voices are amplified in economic decision making and participation with self-esteem.

Especially to women in areas with extractives that are vulnerable to displacements coming in different forms including land grabs and tactical buy- off by speculators, there is urgent need to invest in strengthening their individual and collective capacities in trade and business.

It also involves empowering them so that their narratives can change through policy and advocacy engagements. We should work towards changing the national narrative from one of extractives to one of sustainable, democratic development alternatives led by women.

At the grass root level, the State Should invest in alternative micro economic development models, responsive to development priorities, needs and live experiences of women and their communities. We also need specific dimensions of an alternative development paradigm that builds on localized women alternatives.

Different stakeholders and partners should avail resources to train women to become actively engaged in all hope-giving sources of livelihood, steady to defend their rights all the time.

The writer is the Project Lead Officer at NAPE at the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE)

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