The Sky Is the Beginning

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The Women’s Economic Empowerment Conference was held at the Museum of Uganda, organized by UKaid and Challenges WorldWide. The conference room was filled with female entrepreneurs and directors of organizations dedicated to the growth and support of not only the economic, but the personal empowerment of women in Uganda—both individually and collectively. Those presenting were Hannah Owat (Former board member of Uganda Entrepreneurs Association Limited), Nellie Ssali (CEO of Makika Stylz), Patience Muramuzi (Director of the National Association of Women’s Action in Development), Mary (Director of Uganda Disabled Women’s Association), and Joy Mukisa (Executive Director of Centre for Women in Governance).
The discussion opened with Hannah Owat, former board member of Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Association Limited (UWEAL), who explored female entrepreneurship. Her discussion of entrepreneurship orbited around identifying the way we think, along with the way we approach and pinpoint the source of our inspiration, our ambition, as these are the primary tools of ownership over our success. Owat emphasized the power of knowing oneself, highlighting self-knowledge as what allows one to work to their largest capacity. She underlines the biggest source of capital we have: life. The limits we are subject to are the ways in which we choose to live. Our mentality effects the way we approach the relationship of money-management and our work ethic; if we do not save or invest money, however little it is, it is unlikely to generate opportunity for successful business endeavours.

Owat discussed honestly why entrepreneurship is a complicated subject for many women. Skills and dreams can be self fulfilling prophecies when a woman is born into expectations of performing for the benefit of her community, rather than for her self-interest. Unlike men, she underlines how women are often groomed to have dreams for others, while neglecting the possibility of dreaming for themselves. This mentality is what holds women back from exercising their capital of life in the direction of entrepreneurship.
“You can only empower if you are empowered. . . You cannot give what you have not yet eaten,” commented Owat as the discussion segued into collective empowerment—a subject introduced by the second speaker, Nellie Ssali CEO of Makika Stylz. Ssali brought to life the tangibility of directly empowering individuals and bringing the word “empowerment” out from its abstract meaning and into real life, through sharing her experience with Makika Stylz.
Makika Stylz is a boutique based in Kampala, comprised of young single mothers in seek of refuge who are taken in under the wing of Ssali herself. Referring to these women as her “daughters,” Ssali currently has nearly 30 women who she has equipped with skills such as beading, sewing and other craft techniques which earn them money through working with Ssali and her business. She shared stories of girls who came to her with nothing but a baby in their arms, girls who now own property and have their children in schools because of the skills, including money management and mothering support, that Ssali has nursed them with over years of building familial relationships.

Ssali exemplifies the meaning of working directly with individuals and empowering them through passing down her entrepreneurial craftsmanship and business experience, while their empowerment in return contributes to the growth of her boutique. Ssali expands her business as a commentary on the importance of empowered women reaching out to those who have not yet been empowered, or equipped with skills to independently function as business entrepreneurs.

Mary, the Director of Uganda Disabled Women’s Association, pointed out that there is a huge distance between educated women and non-educated women, she firmly asks the seated women in front of her, “Why don’t we all support each other?! You are the eyes and ears of those who have not been to school.”
As the conference comes to a close, I am engulfed with voices that fill the room with the Ugandan Women’s National Anthem. Words like “Fathers: listen to your daughters,” and “The sky is the beginning,” resonate in my ears while I join in with these intimidatingly powerful women and sing for the sake of our sisters, our mothers, our neighbours, and just as importantly, for our own dreams.

By Hannah Gerber,

Gender and ICT Policy Intern,

Student McGill University, Canada