When Katushabe Evelyn and 63 other women in Katongole II, Bufunda Division, Ibanda Municipality made a decision to form a group and promote women empowerment projects in their area three years ago, they never anticipated the impact their decision would have on their families and neighbors.
However, like any other group, they lost some of the members who could not commit, and to date, the group has 36 active members who are all focused on achieving a developmental goal.
Katushabe, the Katongole 2 women’s group chairperson says they were a bit skeptical when Justus Ahimbisibwe, the Director Marianne Foundation in Ibanda paid them a visit, preaching women empowerment and a goal of mindset change. He had been approached by their area councilor who requested that his foundation offers help to women in his area of representation.
“You see, we are all married women and all we knew then was farming and cooking for our husbands. Then we were called by our area Councilor, who said there was a gentleman that could help us achieve financial independence. We were scared this would bring us trouble at home. In fact, some of our friends dropped out before the third meeting due to impatience and fear” Katushabe says.
When Mr. Ahimbisibwe visited the women, he asked them to form a group of trusted friends so they could start saving. In the beginning, the team saved 500 Shillings per member, each week. They were not earning enough from Agriculture, besides, they couldn’t trust that their money would blow up into better opportunities in the future. Today, the women save 5,000 shillings per week for each member and an extra 2,000 development fees.
After they had formed the group and started saving, the Marianne Foundation Director brought a team of experts to train them in different skills. Some of them were trained to make long-lasting shopping baskets, others to make mats, millet serving baskets which are commonly known as Endiiro, and liquid soap, shoemaking, tailoring, salon, making reusable sanitary pads among other skills.
The best part is the women do not have to just market their products as individuals, for everything is done as a team. While each member has a right to sell their product without necessarily using group resources, their biggest sales are in bulk. A small shopping basket sells for Shs. 3,000, the medium is priced at 5,000, Large at 10,000, and extra-large is priced at 15,000.
“Sometimes we sell 40 baskets at once as a group. Some clients want products in bulk and it is hard for one person to make them alone. So, when such a bulk order comes through, we sit together and make the baskets. We partner with people who own big shops and give them a commission to sell some of our baskets, but also the market grows during harvesting season when everyone is looking for baskets to carry their produce. It takes 3-4 hours to complete one basket and we do most of this work later in the afternoon after coming back from our gardens” Katushabe says.
This, they believe is the perfect way to earn money for them. Katushabe and her colleagues wake up in the morning and go to their gardens, come back home and cook for their families and later get to work on their project in the afternoon.
Most of these women take care of families, they buy clothes, food and pay school fees while their husbands are out drinking.
“The reason we focus on empowering women is that they think more about their families more than men. When a woman gets UGX 5,000, her focus is on how to spend it on her family. She will go to the market and buy things that are lacking at home. But when my husband sells milk or Matooke and gets money, he goes to the bar and comes back home after three days without a Shilling. I believe that the future of children and homes is now in the hands of women/mothers. Things have shifted from what we always knew” Ahimbisibwe says.
While the women have now saved and made some money to afford them the materials for making products, Marianne Foundation donates materials to the group, once in a while. Also, this is one of the over 1,000 women groups in the Ibanda, Kitagwenda, and Kamwengye districts they are working with. During my visit, materials worth 280,000 for making baskets, had been donated by a well-wisher, through Marianne. The 4 rolls of materials were to help the team make 72 baskets. The women cut the rolls into equal parts and share them.
According to Ahimbisibwe, they have trained these women to change their mindset from “we are just poor housewives” to “we are financially able to take care of our families” thinking. “The women do not depend on donations unless they do come. But they have built their business as a group from their savings” He says.
He also explains that they knew from the beginning that training women to become financially independent would pause a challenge to their marriages and cause fights with their husbands. So, a team of leaders was called to teach women how to handle their husbands even if they had more money than them. This has helped the women develop their homes and indeed, keep happy marriages.
While those that already started projects are reaping big, it is challenging to convince other women to take the same road. I moved with the team to Kitagwenda district, where they had gone to help women start up the same groups. We visited three groups of women; Kyandema Tukwatanise group, Kyabatimbo Women’s Tweyambe group, plus one other, whose members were yet to agree on a name.
The groups had one thing in common, they expected to receive handouts on day one. I realized how difficult it is to preach mindset change. According to the women, they had been told by their leaders, that a team of experts was visiting to teach them skills to make soap, shoes, and many other products. Also, that their leaders would bring the market to buy their produce.
This is why government and Non-Governmental Organizations working with women need to pay more attention to mindset change, before pumping money into projects that do not live to pass the first birthday. The request by Patrick Turyamureeba the Mayor for Kitagwenda and one Councilor Twikirize Ruth was to have the women skilled in order to develop themselves.
Most of these women live hand to mouth, working in people’s plantations for a paltry 3,000 shillings a day. These women live in trading centers and pay rent, they also take care of the children as their men drink alcohol from morning to evening. Any organization that promises to help them is welcome, as long as that help comes in form of free money.
When Ahimbisibwe asked them to form groups, save some money, and then wait to be trained, most of them immediately lost interest in the project. To them, this was a long process they cannot seem to wait for. The government is talking about mindset but less is being done on the ground. The handouts these women confessed to receiving during elections from their MPs and other leaders have left them crippled that they believe everything should come for free.
For Ahimbisibwe, introducing different skilling projects and teaching these women about saving is one way of leading them to the independence preached by their leaders. At least, in every group of women we met, 15 or so were committed to joining. Despite their interest in different kinds of skills, a decision will be made by the trainers, taking into consideration the market in each particular area for each product and ability by the women to do this long term.
His love for women empowerment comes from his mother who raised 9 children single-handedly from a small business selling second-hand clothes (ebikadde). His mother later started to trade in the central market having bought there a stall at the time of construction. Justus was lucky to be the only child of his mother to have made it beyond S3, as she could not afford to pay school fees for the rest. This is after their father had failed to take care of the family and the mother was the full-time financial provider. The fact that she did not give up, inspired Justus to realize the sacrifices women are willing to make for their families especially those abandoned by men.
While in senior four, his mother aid off a school date that even he did not think she could afford. But, when he asked where she had got the money from, his mother said had got it from their women’s group. Since then, she kept on developing and by the time of her demise, she had bought a big chunk of land.
“Without quoting world bank report that showed that above 75% of expenditure for a woman goes direct to their families, I have evidence that women wish well their families and if given a small skill they need, they can develop their families, hence develop their communities” he added.
He has dedicated his life to ensuring that other women also form groups that will help them save and take care of their families. Some of the women have already started businesses like shops in Ibanda town, while others are in villages. The young ladies have received training in the saloon business, making reusable sanitary pads (most of these are given out for free to refugees) and sometimes sold on order, shoemaking, soap making, tailoring, making books among other skills. With the continued closure of schools, some of the parents have chosen to bring their girls over for some technical skilling. However, even the foundation gets overwhelmed with the numbers as the government does not allow large gatherings.
The government will need to partner with individuals like Justus Ahimbisibwe and Marianne Foundation in order to achieve the mindset change because this is still a challenge that will not go away in one meeting. With the government planning to introduce the Parish Model that will see money being distributed to groups, it is only fair that they work with such groups of women that are already established as they look to register more.
In the past, government money has been misused by fraudulent people who form groups just to receive the funds, use them for personal gains and even fail to give it back. So, engaging such groups of women who already have something to show for it would be a better option. Most of the groups formulated out of Marianne Foundation skilling projects are registered, while others are in the process of getting registered. They missed out on Emyooga funds and now their hope is in being considered for the Parish Model.