The WEWASH PLATFORM: Building a support eco-system for Women in WASH entrepreneurship to promote gender equality
As women and other marginalized groups build businesses in Uganda, there are a number of gender and inclusion challenges faced while building and sustaining micro-businesses specifically in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) Sector.
By Nobert Oola, John Mutebe & Emmanuel Abibi
Women led businesses are significantly more vulnerable than their male counterparts and are more likely to close their businesses because they face unique challenges as women.
We caught up with Jane in Oliga Quarters, Patongo TC, for her to share her experiences on dealing with some of the hard-hitting challenges facing women entrepreneurs in Agago District.
Jane Apoto is a women entrepreneur in Patongo Town Council, trained and is being supported in capacity building by WASEU, HEWASA and Simavi within the WASH SDG Programme, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in Agago District. She has built her business revenue streams portfolio through the production of liquid soap and reusable sanitary pads. She has been resilient in ensuring that she grows her liquid soap sales alongside improving her teaching career. Jane is also an influential female leader who is currently leading a WASH Village Savings and Loan Association group called “Omedkeru”, with a keen interest to start investing in liquid soap and reusable sanitary pads.
Challenges for female entrepreneurs
WASH female entrepreneurs face the weight of caring for their families, experience poorer health outcomes, are at risk of gender based violence, and are more socially isolated and less likely to make the transition to have sustainable income-generating businesses. Responsive to this critical information forms a backdrop for the WEWASH platform and forum for women. The overall focus for implementing activities under the platform is to increase the availability of inclusive and sustainable businesses by women at the bottom of the economic pyramid in Uganda.
Diversity and inclusion of women in the planning, management and leadership often increases the quality of decision-making at all levels, as it can strengthen the community as a whole.. The leadership of the WASH sector is still male dominated with just a few exceptions. For women to work well and excel in the WASH sector, they need to be empowered and equipped with the necessary skills to favorably participate alongside their male counterparts.
WEWASH Forum provides needed support
The WEWASH Forum consists of two components; first, a group mobilizing and facilitating a discussion of 15 to 20 participants to identify the challenges women entrepreneurs face in their business, any gender related issues and finding solutions and strategies to those bottlenecks.
The second part is free sharing from the participants on topics they desire to be discussed and the support they require in the next forums. The gender focal person and a regional or national leader are invited to facilitate this session. Additional prepositions include organizing workshops for selected mentors to possess excellent communication skills, listening skills, the ability to give feedback and sufficient knowledge of the gender mainstream issues.
Fighting to make decisions
Over the years in business, Jane notes that the greatest challenge for women, especially when responding to business opportunities, has been restrictions in making independent decisions; since the decision has to be finally made and approved by her husband who would always delay responding hence making her miss some opportunities.
“As women, we never can decide on many things, sometimes I find myself in a difficult place because I cannot make progress, because I have to wait for the views of my husband before I can act. This is something that puts me down sometimes’’, noted Jane.
On concerns of Household responsibilities like chores, and childcare, Jane says that most of such responsibilities rest on the woman. She notes that this usually affects her preparation and time for active participation in business since she balances altogether with leadership and teaching.
Gaining the courage to face challenges
When we asked her about the impact that the WEWASH Forum has had on the improvement of her quality of life as a woman, this is what she had to say; “The forum offered me an opportunity to hear other women’s stories which are similar to mine and how they succeeded through it. Giving me the courage of moving on and from their story, finding adaptive solutions to my major challenges.’’ Narrated Jane.
Like many women in the district, Jane had previously found herself in situations where she had to be silent on pressing issues with no support system around her to talk and brainstorm on possible solutions. The WEWASH platform is fast becoming a safe space for women to discuss women’s issues and break narratives that prevent women from succeeding.