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18 November 2016

Evaluation Northern Uganda: to strengthened women`s rights in future

In 2007, medica mondiale started supporting the Ugandan organisation Foundation for Women Affected by Conflict (FOWAC). The organisation works with former child soldiers, young mothers, widows and other survivors, who are all affected by violence and still suffering from the years of civil war. In 2014 a comprehensive project started with the aim of strengthening these women and girls. FOWAC aims to help them to help themselves, for example by means of credit groups and girls’ clubs. Other assistance offered by the organisation includes psychosocial, legal and medical counselling. Lately an evaluation of the project took place:

Micro-credits and group cohesion enhance women’s strength in Uganda

According to FOWAC, since the project began in 2014, some 400 women and girls in northern Uganda have attended the savings and credit groups. During weekly meetings, the women pay any money they are able to save into a common kitty. Each of these groups is led by three volunteer counsellors from the village community. Most participants indicated they had managed to start paying school fees for their children by becoming a member in these groups. Only one percent of them indicated continued feelings of being excluded from their village community. Even if the sums which some women could save were very low, the cohesion and community provided in the group helped them to improve their emotions and better cope with earning their living. If a member of the savings group needs a credit, they can borrow money from the common kitty and pay it back with a fair rate of interest.

More self-determination and fewer patriarchal structures

A micro-credit by itself is not enough to bring independence to women in Uganda. Their self-determination is severely restricted by the prevailing male dominance. In patriarchal societal structures, men are considered as the traditional decision-maker. In this social construct the husband is solely responsible for the financial security of the family. Though many of them lost their property during the civil war. Men feel disparaged and frustrated and those feelings lead to violence against women.

The traditional role division forces women into social dependence. A woman can only manage to secure long-term empowerment if her society’s values and ways of behaving also change. In order to achieve this, FOWAC will develop strategies on how to deal with the patriarchal structures without giving up on the progress for women which has already been achieved. The traditional role division also forces them into social dependence. A woman can only manage to secure long-term empowerment if her society’s values and ways of behaving also change. In order to achieve this, FOWAC will develop strategies on how to deal with the patriarchal structures without giving up on the progress for women which has already been achieved.

Promoting social change, empowering women, supporting agri-cultural coops

The women in the FOWAC savings groups also received training in entrepreneurial skills. They could then take out small loans to start a business venture. In northern Uganda agriculture is still the main source of income. Unfortunately, this sometimes led to women competing with each other to sell similar produce at market and looking after their children was more difficult when at market than when they were tending the fields. Where there was a high level of cohesion in the savings and credit groups, women began to join forces and set up small agricultural cooperatives to increase their productivity. This was also a solution to the issue of competition at market and bundling resources helped to take steps to improve their agricultural practices. Furthermore, better results could also be achieved with better organisation of childcare.

Training in how to deal with traumatised women

Although the staff at FOWAC are working under difficult conditions in a post-war society, the quality of their counselling has clearly improved since 2014. Staff members and other local counsellors were trained by medica mondiale in psychosocial counselling, stress management and conflict work. The new skills in a trauma-sensitive approach to dealing with people affected by violence have made it easier for many women to take advantage of the services. In this way, the project had already reached one of its goals by the end of 2015: enabling access to trauma-sensitive counselling, medical care and legal advice for 700 women.

More attention for women’s rights in Uganda

Another building block of the project was public relations work in Uganda. This led to FOWAC organising regular discussions with politicians and local authorities on the causes and consequences of violence. The group also uses radio and TV to inform the public. Traditional values and standards were shattered by the war and alcoholism has become a serious problem. Many women and girls are suffering from their country’s collective traumatisation; the most obvious signs are being baited and stigmatised. As yet there are no effective measures being put into place to curb this violence. However, the community-based work by FOWAC and its public awareness work via TV and radio have contributed to an increase in attention for women’s rights. There is also now a more widespread acknowledgement of breaches of human rights.

Promoting organisational development

This evaluation based its conclusions primarily on statements from interviews with those affected by violence, village and community elders, FOWAC employees and other stakeholders. It was difficult or even impossible to gain other reliable data to evaluate. Nonetheless, it is still clear that FOWAC has achieved a lot. Its staff have built up a large network of cooperation and their educational work is reaching many stakeholders. In the communities, more cases of sexualised violence are being reported to the police. Former child soldiers and single mothers are experiencing less stigmatisation. In order to ensure they can keep carrying out this work in the long term, FOWAC needsa coherent strategic planning for the future. Further it requires more staff, a reliable documentation and monitoring system to aid future evaluations, and a stable funding situation.

Evaluation report "Empowering female survivors of sexualized and gender-based violence in Northern Uganda" (PDF)