Learning about Economic Empowerment and Women’s Rights in the Field

We started our day early today. At 7:30 we woke up to take our showers and have breakfast in order to be by the GWED-G office by 8:30 for their weekly staff meeting. We met a few of the staff members and listened as they discussed their plans for the upcoming week. Afterward, the five of us loaded into the truck that would take us to Awac sub-county for the day’s field work.

GROW team in the GWED-G office.

GROW team in the GWED-G office.

Our first stop was Paibona parish, where we met with another HOPE support group. This group called themselves “Opok-ryeko”, which means “Let’s spread knowledge”. When we arrived at the village, we were greeted by the women of the group. They sang and danced, warmly greeting us and the GWED-G staff. We all sat down under the shade of a big mango tree, and the consultant started asking the group members some questions to assess the impact of the HOPE program on the community.

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Women of the HOPE group greeting us through song and dance.

Women of the HOPE group greeting us through song and dance.

The group existed before GWED-G’s presence because the members had an interest in developing a savings culture. When GWED-G first encountered the group, the staff acknowledged that the community would benefit from peace-building programs, as there were many LRA returnees, orphans, and widows among them. Activities including tree planting and provision of vegetable seeds gave the community livelihood. One group member remarked that learning savings and business skills brought unity to his marriage and family.

Though many positive effects have come out of the HOPE project, there are still injuries among some community members due to the war. One man in the group still has a bullet lodged in his skull, and asked for GWED-G to make a referral for him.

Group member with a bullet lodged in his skull from the war.

Group member with a bullet lodged in his skull from the war.

At the end of the HOPE visit we were able to interview one of the male members of the group, who expressed concern for the fact that the program is coming to a close. He stated that the program has done some important things for the community, teaching them group dynamics, savings, and small business skills. However, he told us that he is unsure of who the community should turn to once GWED-G is gone.

In the afternoon, we drove to another parish in Awac to visit a women’s rights group organized by GWED-G and funded by the Independent Development Fund (IDF). This was an exciting visit for us because it was the first session for which we as GROW interns got to ask our own questions. Wilfred and Tycoon, two GWED-G staff members, translated for us. It was really interesting to hear the community’s perspectives on human rights. When we asked them why they thought women’s rights were important, one man remarked that the acknowledgement of women’s rights in the community has allowed them to live a more free and non-violent lifestyle. In the past, women were not able to participate in community discussions, study, or own land. They could not even go to the market safely. Nick, one of the male members, expressed his happiness now that women can go to the market for 3-4 hours without getting into trouble.

Wilfred, a GWED-G staff member, translating for us at the IDF women's rights group visit.

Wilfred, a GWED-G staff member, translating for us at the IDF women’s rights group visit.

We also asked them what they thought were the greatest challenges of women’s rights advocacy. One of the men admitted that at the beginning people undermined him and other men, saying that they are letting the women get ahead of them. It was also difficult to spread the message to other women, because many of them have husbands who are closed to the idea of women’s rights. It was also difficult to get community members to become involved in support group meetings because there was no immediate incentive, such as soda or food. Ultimately, though, the community members who participated and put the principles they’ve learned into practice, were able to show others the benefits of the program through example.

We returned home from our day out in the field exhausted and hungry, but filled with a wealth of new knowledge about the communities affected by GWED-G’s projects. Tomorrow we are headed to visit one of the youth groups under NUWELI (Northern Uganda War-affected-youth Leadership Initiative), another branch of GWED-G’s programs. More on that to come in a later post!

GROW team out.

– Diane Wang

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One response to “Learning about Economic Empowerment and Women’s Rights in the Field

  1. Your meeting under the mango tree is so reminiscent of the ones that Pamela hosted when she first established GWED-G! I especially liked reading about the “greatest challenges of women’s rights advocacy” because our project with Salud sin Limites in Nicaragua is focusing on the closely related issue of gender-based violence. I could imagine many of the obstacles that you mentioned such as little incentive or conflict of interests to hinder progress for our community’s cause too. Thanks for sharing and I can’t wait to read more of your blog. — Emily, internal co-pres at Duke

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