Colleagues and family describe the deceased former Commissioner for Gender and Women Affairs, Elizabeth Kyasiimire, as distinguished, wise and blessed with a smile that could light up any room. Kyasiimire passed away on August 16, aged 63 at Nsambya Hospital and was laid to rest at her home in Ibanda District. The women empowerment icon retired in 2016 after having diligently served government in various capacities for more than 36 years.
In her illustrious career, she is profoundly remembered for having been among the top officials that saw the Ministry of Women in Development transition from being a department in the President’s Office in 1988 to what it is today as a Ministry for Gender, Labour and Social Development.
“She had joined the ministry from Agriculture as head of planning, and by virtue of her position, it meant that she was in charge of the complex integration process as the department morphed into a fully-fledged ministry,” Stephen Kasaija, head of social protection, recalls.
She ensured that the plans and budgets matched the new role the department was taking on as a ministry.
An economist by training, Kyasiimire quickly cut her niche in women equality and empowerment programming because she had a clear understanding of how the challenges women face could be solved through her profession.
It was not surprising that she went on to spearhead the development of the National Gender Policies of 1997 and 2007 as well as the gender responsive policies that left her footprints in the Education, Agriculture, Trade and Industry and Environment sectors.
One of her most celebrated progenies at the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development is the Uganda Women Entrepreneurship Programme (UWEP). When the former permanent secretary, Pius Bigirimana, assigned her responsibility to ensure that a programme is developed as per thepledge made by President Museveni during the International Women’s Day celebrations in Kabale in 2015, Kyasiimire hastily constituted a team with whom she worked to affix the pledge into context of national development as it stands today.
Her vision and wisdom is evident in the goal they gave the programme, which is; “to empower Ugandan women to improve their income levels and their contribution to economic development.”
And to achieve this, she envisioned that women needed interest free credit devoid of collateral requirements, training in entrepreneurship and market linkages for their products and services.
To-date, these are the tenets that have driven UWEP, reaching 9,660 women groups and more than 120,000 direct beneficiaries across the country.
In 2017, a year after retiring, she was recalled to receive a Golden Jubilee medal in recognition of her contributions. She picked the medal during the International Women’s Day celebrations in Dokolo Town.
The assistant commissioner for Gender and Women Affairs, Maggie Kyomukama, who worked with Kyasiimire for more than 27 years, speaks of her as an administrator who cared about what was happening to her staff members including family wellbeing.
“Her dedication to work was unquestionable but satisfyingly she mentored and counselled her teams on family life when she realised something was wrong. I found it fulfilling and indeed her counsel always brought positive changes to the entire department in terms of performance,” Kyomukama noted.
It would be an incomplete tribute to speak about Kyasiimire without mentioning how soft-spoken, forthright and down-to-earth she was. This nurtured her into a person everyone got along with easily.
Rock of equality
The Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Janat Mukwaya, described Kyasiimire’s passing as a big loss while the former permanent secretary in the Gender Ministry Pius Bigirimana, noted that Kyasiimire had succeeded in adding a brick to the attainment of women equality and empowerment in Uganda through her dedication to the ministry’s goal.
Bigirimana noted: “It is sad to lose such a well -nurtured person who had the interest of women at heart.”
She was born in Kibengo, Isingiro District in a family of seven. She attended Mary Hill High School and Mt St Mary’s Namagunga after which she joined Makerere University and later studied a master’s in Agricultural Economics at Wye College, University of London.
“Our mother enjoyed learning and she did many professional/technical courses from different colleges worldwide. To many, she was a brave and iron-willed woman who was considered a mother to many. She treated everyone as her child and this was even extended to our friends that she welcomed as her own and provided counsel and encouragement when needed. I have not met anyone with a bigger heart than her,” Gloria Kyomuhendo, a daughter, says.
“She was a pillar of the family that we all relied on. We remember her as a loving and prayerful mother that would go out of her way to see that we lived well. She was our biggest cheerleader and we all would not be where we are today without her. She was a guardian angel and every time we felt homesick, remembrance of her singing and praying without ceasing calmed our souls,” Maxime Arinaitwe and Patricia Nyangoma, her daughters reveal.
Composed and a mentor
She is remembered for her composure even in times of crisis.
“She was always compassionate to everyone and always ready to offer help both financially and materially. Her biggest asset was her smile, which would brighten any room and wipe away your worries when you met her. She corrected us and advised us whenever we strayed from our ways or was uncertain of something,” Pauline Nyakato, one of the duaghters explains.
Kyasiimire lived a life of excellence, and compassionate service. She taught the people she mentored to become resilient and strong people. “She has nurtured us into the people we are today and we will always be grateful for the investment she made in our lives. we hope to live up to her legacy of loving and caring for others without segregation like she did. We will miss her dearly,” Gloria Kyomuhendo, a daughter says.
She is survived by Patrick W Mwesigye Salongo (Husband), children: Gloria Kyomuhendo, Maxime Arinaitwe, Patricia Nyangoma, Pauline Nyakato and granddaughter Leire Arinaitwe Artola.
The Mwesigye family is grateful to all for the support during that trying period.
Special thanks to Dr Basaade Maheboob of Jaslok and Saifee Hospitals Mumbai, India; Dr SilverBahendeka; Dr Raymond Mwebaze; Dr Okuku; Elizabeth Namukose and Sister Resty of Nsambya Hosp; Mr. Kifokoro and family of Isingiro; Mr Jon Artola and Family; Peace Mutuzo and all Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development staff; Pius Bigirimana, among others.