Gulu. In a bid to cope with life after the loss of their husbands, grassroots women in Gulu District under their umbrella Lubangatwero Widows’ Group, three years ago weighed in on the various enterprises to undertake for self-empowerment and improving their livelihoods.
Responding to the growing demand for a bakery and confectionery products, the women then sought to benefit from the government Uganda Women Entrepreneurship Programme (UWEP) that empowers women groups.
The government programme aimed at fighting poverty among women supports those venturing into small and medium scale enterprises.
The Shs53 billion programme was launched in February 2016, by the Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda to support women through provision of interest-free credit and technical advice as a follow up of the President’s commitment in 2015 during the Women Day celebrations in Kabale where he promised to support the economic empowerment of women by setting up a special fund to cater for their business projects.
Lubangatwero literally means ‘God can’ and just like their slogan; ‘Together we can’, the widows and single mothers with whose offices are located at Custom Corner, Layibi Division in Gulu Municipality, were determined to transform their lives even when they lacked the resources.
In 2017, the Lubangatwero Widows Group received Shs7 million of the Shs8.2 million they had applied for under the programme and this was their turning point.
The group whose membership constitutes widows, single mothers and child mothers can now ably afford basic needs for their respective families.
According to the group chairperson, Ms Evelyn Adong, members opted for UWEP funds because they wanted to diversify and engage in more income generating ventures.
She adds that with the women being the only breadwinners in the homes, there was need to have other sources of livelihood.
Why bakery project
According to Ms Adong, the group members bake wedding cakes, birthday cakes, cookies and bread that is consumed locally.
“Cakes are made on order and the prices range from Shs30,000 and above, depending on one’s need,” she says.
With capital of Shs40,000, the group is able to bake four cakes, costing Shs35,000 each, Ms Adong says.
The cake business has expanded and women have created job opportunities for group members and youth who help in marketing the products.
Women too have assumed leadership and managerial roles, bettering their livelihoods.
“We cannot supply supermarkets and big hotels since our products are not fully labelled,” she adds.
Ms Fila Arwot, a group member, lauded the government for supporting women empowerment.
“We hope that the programme reaches the grassroot women who are also finding difficulties in making ends meet,” she says
Ms Arwot appealed to the government to invest more resources into their group so that poverty at household level is eliminated.
The group has already paid money they receaived in October last year.
“As much as we were given a timeframe of three years to repay the loan, we have opted to pay it within a year to help grow our businesses without having to worry about loans. We want to remain self-reliant,” she adds.
While the group has been able to raise from scratch, they are also faced with some challenges such as lack of mechanization which makes their products non-uniform.
Ms Adong says there is need for a mixture to ensure the uniformity of what is being produced.
“We face competition from the already established bakeries in the area,” she says.
She adds that at the moment they are not certified by the Uganda National Bureau of Standards, something that is also limiting the marketing of their products.
Mr Geoffrey Lakwonyero, the Gulu Municipality community development officer, applauded the women for the initiative household income.
“Women have been able to benefit from one another something that has cemented their unity and they have learnt other skills through their interactions,” he said.
He added: “We always refer other groups to them for learning purposes.”
In Gulu Municipality alone, a total of 25 groups have benefitted from UWEP. “There are 85 groups seeking support but only 25 have been able to succeed but we hope other groups will also benefit,” Mr Lakwonyero said
The Census of Business Establishments (COBE) 2010/11 revealed that the proportion of women owning businesses increased from 37 per cent in 2001/2 to 44 per cent in 2011/12, justifying that once given the opportunity, women will initiate and grow their enterprises.
According to Ministry of Gender, increased access to affordable credit through UWEP is aimed at stimulating growth of high quality and competitive women enterprises since majority businesswomen still sell their products in the local markets since their products do not meet the quality to access competitive regional and international markets.
To date, Shs7.94 billion has been disbursed to 1,395 projects with a total 85,000 members, countrywide.
Although Shs2b was expected to be recovered by end of November 2018, only Shs1.08b was realised, implying that 62.2per cent of total amount is due for payment.
Mr Frank Mugabi, the UWEP communication officer said the women in Lubangatwero “have demonstrated their skills and effective usage of funds extended to them.’’
“The group has however requested for additional funding and since they have worked well they will be considered,” he said.