Cultivating Empowerment: The First Lady of Uganda and Her Efforts to Advance Agricultural Programs for Women
The George W. Bush Institute’s First Ladies Initiative is a program that supports First Ladies from around the world, with an initial focus in Africa, to effectively use their platforms to promote issues and programs that improve the lives of women and children. Recent case studies by the Bush Institute look at how the First Ladies Initiative is having an impact, building capacity, and promoting effectiveness for First Ladies’ offices. This blog series spotlights each case study and helps tell the story of a First Lady’s platform and ongoing work.
Continued agricultural growth in Uganda has had a significant impact in helping the country to meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty and hunger by 2015. Vital to the farming sector’s success, estimates reveal that 72 percent of all Ugandan women and 90 percent of all rural Ugandan women participate in agricultural work. Yet, despite this tremendous contribution to the industry, Ugandan women are often at a disadvantage when it comes to profiting from their efforts.
In Uganda and many other developing countries, female farmers are often limited in their access to education and training, capital resources, and markets to sell their goods. It is even less common for women to own the land on which they work. These barriers to economic opportunity not only inhibit a woman’s success, but that of her family and her community.
Research shows that when women are able to earn an income, they reinvest 90 percent of their earnings in their families, compared to men who reinvest only 30-40 percent. As a result of this contribution, households are healthier, more educated, and generally more prosperous. When it comes to food security, an issue with global implications, if women around the world had the same access to farming resources as men, “the gains in agricultural production alone could lift 100–150 million people out of hunger,” according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
In an effort to address these challenges, Her Excellency Mrs. Janet Museveni, First Lady of the Republic of Uganda, has leveraged agriculture as a key feature in her platform initiatives to empower women and children in her country.
Coming from a family of pastoralists, Mrs. Museveni has a deep-rooted appreciation for farming communities. As a child, the First Lady assisted her family in raising cattle and processing milk, noting in her autobiography, My Life’s Journey, that through this experience she found herself “very connected to nature.” These early agriculture memories have also provided her with a great deal of inspiration in her adult life which she has leveraged both in her role as First Lady and as an elected Member of Parliament for Ruhaama County and as Cabinet Minister for the Karamoja region.
In seeking to employ agricultural initiatives to advance the status of rural women specifically, in 1994 Mrs. Museveni founded the National Strategy for the Advancement of Rural Women in Uganda (NSARWU). NSARWU works to promote new skills, the implementation of technology, and building resources such as high yielding seeds and organic fertilizers to increase production. The organization also educates women on topics such as gender balance, family health, HIV/AIDS, and nutrition. In addition to skills and education, NSARWU provides microfinance and other resources to support non-agriculture enterprise to empower rural women. In just over two decades, NSARWU has implemented local projects in nearly two dozen rural districts in Uganda.
While Mrs. Museveni’s work with NSARWU has had influence in improving lives in select regions, the First Lady is keen to amplify her efforts. In an interview with Bush Institute team members at the 2013 African First Ladies Summit, Investing in Women: Strengthening Africa, Mrs. Museveni expressed an interest in pursuing a national, holistic agriculture program.
Looking beyond crop yields, the First Lady envisions a program that will help address key socio-economic issues including youth unemployment, access to markets, and the status of women farmers in Uganda.
To aid this goal, the Bush Institute’s First Ladies Initiative coordinated and organized a meeting with the First Lady, her staff, and key agriculture partners in June 2014 that could assist in implementing an effective national program. Emphasizing the value of a continuum of service approach, the Institute has also provided expertise and support to the First Lady’s Office as they seek to establish and execute a comprehensive program road map.
Mrs. Museveni’s dedication to improving the lives of women is apparent in the numerous endeavors she has undertaken throughout her 28 years as First Lady of Uganda. The reach of her rural agriculture work with NSARWU highlights the unique authority of a First Lady in promoting important issues for citizens. Her eagerness to build on these platform efforts through collaborative support underlines the critical need for capacity-building and sustainable partnerships to both implement and scale successful interventions for women and girls across Africa.
For further information on Mrs. Museveni’s work to empower women in Uganda and to learn more about the work of the Bush Institute’s First Ladies Initiative, download the Initiative case study, Her Excellency Mrs. Janet Museveni and Building an Agriculture Program.
Natalie Gonnella-Platts is the Program Coordinator for the First Ladies Initiative.