Friday March 7 2014

Let us promote tree planting to push forward the women’s agenda

By Pascal Odoch

Globally, there is wide variation between the level of recognition of and actual application and enjoyment of the rights of children and women. These variations are among many factors influenced by levels of socio-economic development and economic affluence, demographic characteristics, localised family/cultural norms, value systems and practices as well as religion. In Africa, however, women and children constitute more than three quarters of the continent’s population but continue to be the most vulnerable to abuse, mistreatment, exploitation and exclusion from decision-making processes even at household level (Unicef, 2013).

At international level, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), points to fundamental rights of all human beings. According to article 2(1) of the UDHR (adopted on December 10, 1948), every person is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in the declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, etc.

During the 8th Parliament, I had a one-on-one with the then Minister of State for Environment, Ms Jessica Eriyo. We discussed the possibility of government - through her docket - procuring and distributing free fast-maturing tree species guided by the dictates of Uganda’s ecological zones. She, however, told me outright that it was not the Government of Uganda’s intention to dish out tree seedlings under such an arrangement.

I inquired if she could spearhead contact with the environmentalist Wangari Maathai, the founder of the Green Belt Movement and the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. My argument was that this lady had, in 1976 while serving in the National Council of Women, introduced the idea of community-based tree planting. She continued to develop this idea into a broad-based grassroots organisation, the Green Belt Movement, whose main focus is poverty reduction and environmental conservation through tree-planting.

Prof Maathai was internationally recognised for her struggle for democracy, human rights, and environmental conservation, and served on the board of many organisations. She addressed the UN on a number of occasions and spoke on behalf of women at special sessions of the General Assembly during the five-year review of the Earth Summit. She served on the Commission for Global Governance and the Commission on the Future.

While this initiative was good, we did not meet Maathai who passed on in 2011. I therefore, appeal to President Museveni to promote the idea of tree-planting as he heads to Kumi District to celebrate the International Women’s Day tomorrow. May he think about and announce a donation of Shs40 million (in tandem with the fact that there are about 40 million people in Uganda today) for fast-maturing tree seedling species for onward distribution and planting by the Ugandan women who continue to bear the brunt of collecting wood fuel.
This, to me, would be a positive step in fighting the poverty afflicting millions of households around the country, and most of all keep Prof Maathai’s fire burning in East Africa.

Dr Odoch is a development consultant.