As I continue reflecting on women’s rights, another sticky issue for gender equality is the attainment of women’s economic rights and how culture renders this goal for women very difficult.
The economic rights are in general a difficult subject. Many States do not have meaningful ways of protecting these rights for both men and women in the face of unemployment, illiteracy and poverty. Like everywhere else, women are more likely to be worse off than men.
Traditionally, women did not dream to accumulate property. My mother told me when she was transferred from Arua to work in the Local Government of Nebbi in the mid-1970s, there was a lot of land. Our family land was given to her free of charge by an elder. She was content. Land was selling for little value but she wondered what she would need a lot of land for as a woman. Of course men bought it.
We are the products of inherent lessons of gender that dictate our choices. Men grow up knowing that owning a lot of land or property is a given. They go for it and are praised. When women do, something is wrong with them - too ambitious, greedy, or they are plain mean. I know women who pretend to not like property because ‘their men’ will think less of them or they will not find husbands.
The consequence of this is that many women remain economically challenged and sit at the bottom of the economic and corporate ladder. I was not long ago horrified when I learnt that my friend could not share in the properties accumulated during their marriage because these were all in her husband’s name and she had been a housewife.
That meant she did not ‘contribute’ to the family’s economic development, besides raising the children. Every time I sat and listened to the lawyers make their case, I was tempted to lose my joy. Three divorcees I am close to taught me so much about women and economic rights. It surprised me that my educated friends had become defenceless.
This violation of women’s economic rights has to be meaningfully addressed if gender equality and women’s rights are to make sense. The question is, how do we break the barriers to financial inclusion of women and facilitate their economic empowerment?
Two people allowed me to see inside their institutions in ways that gave me hope that it can be done. In 2015, I interviewed Theopista Ntale Ssekito, then the country director of New Faces, New Voices.
A banker with many awards to her name, she told me about her work and how little money like $200 (about Shs750,000) often made a huge difference for girls in a vocational institution she was running, giving them a complete turnaround. She also told me about many different programmes financial institutions run to empower women. The problem is, without negotiating culture, no woman is immune to outright violations in different circumstances-loss of a spouse, failure to have children, divorce or separation.
Another story was very recently told to me by Paul Kalysubula, who works with the National Community for People Living with HIV/Aids. He told me about their engagement with various networks to empower women economically. Through microcredit lending schemes and other products of financial institutions specifically tailored for women, they are making a difference. Even there, culture will occasionally rare its head and become a real barrier for these women.
Many of the old approaches can be pursued more intensely. For instance, increasing women’s access to finance through saving and loan schemes is a good start.
However, women interest organisations and financial institutions should deepen financial literacy and awareness among women. I know this is happening, but more needs to be done. More importantly, families should raise their daughters to value hard work. I have not met many men who find the idea of a woman with strong work ethic not appealing. Often those are the nice men because they do everything to empower their daughters and support their partners. I know many men who are genuinely supportive of women’s careers.
Prioritising women’s economic rights is part of a great economic plan for any nation. Neglecting the women’s economy has consequences. Part of this redress is by negotiating with those who take away those rights, raising the argument when needed.
I can think of numerous benefits to this partnership in economic empowerment. In the absence of one spouse for whatever reason, the children can still have a secure future. In difficult times, a woman can financially support their partner to pursue their dreams. In good times, investing together builds trust.
Ntale advised me then that my success as a career woman would begin with the choice of my partner. After interviewing so many women, I know for sure, that there is no better advice for working women and really appreciate it. With the right partner, women can negotiate culture together and thrive. But our solutions must focus on different segments of women whose needs vary.
Ms Maractho is the head and senior lecturer, Department of Journalism and Media
studies at UCU. email@example.com