This is my work now: I am an activist

Florence, 72, has worked passionately in social care for all of her life. Today, she is a project co-ordinator with Womankind partner National Association of Women’s Organisations in Uganda (NAWOU), managing volunteers combating domestic violence while providing direct support to women fleeing violence in her community.

Florence Omara, regional coordinator for NAWOU in Apac.

"Women in Uganda are really suffering because tradition doesn’t allow them to depend on themselves. Instead the community controls them: if the community says “no education for the woman,” then it’s a no. If they say “no political participation by a woman” then it’s a no. NAWOU is trying to sensitise our community to change attitudes towards women, to allow women to participate and offer them opportunities.

Here, women are poor. They should be exposed to how to get money. Women are not educated. They should be allowed to go to school. Women are not making decisions. Decision making should be allowed for women. There’s a lot of domestic violence in families. We have to reduce that. The time has passed for women to sit in the kitchen. They have to come out of the kitchen, out of their gardens, out of their houses, to be recognised and be exposed to the world. This is what we are doing.

Gender-based violence is rampant. Men’s drinking is excessive in Uganda, and when they come home they are very fierce, very angry with the women. They fight, even kill. A culture of polygamy, cheating, drinking, poverty, and illiteracy is promoting violence in our community.

NAWOU trained me in conflict management, in advocacy, in finance, and more. I know how to mobilise people and bring them together. I can co-ordinate NAWOU with other partners like the government, other women’s organisations, clan leaders and other institutions. NAWOU trained me to network. I can even advocate. This is my work now: I am an activist.

When I started mobilising women, people were so traditional. For example, if I said “Don’t have many children,” they would say “Go to UK if you want 2 children only.” Nobody would hear me talk like that. Sometimes men would talk about women’s rights, and say “No: our women should be our women. We married them, we paid for them. Why are you making our women big-headed?” I started with a big challenge, but now I am pleased. Women are being liberated. I think my work is now being accepted in my community, and it gives me way to push on. I have brought in many people to replace me when I’m not there, and I know that the foundation I’ve put here will continue to grow.

Now, we are bringing men on board. Of our 60 COMBATs, half are men. They are helping us to go back to their fellow men and tell them about what the community should do for women and girls, to change their attitudes and recognise them as human beings that can participate and contribute in the building of their families, the community and Uganda.

Where we are operating, there has been a reduction in domestic violence. Wherever we go, we have music, dance and drama. Afterwards, we find women, girls, and even men crying. Many families are affected. Then, a COMBAT will say, “We don’t want domestic violence in our homes. Government has come up with a law and if you don’t follow it you can be sued in court and sentenced.” People are now waking up now from their sleep.

For women experiencing violence, my home is a centre. When a woman comes crying, I make her not cry. I counsel: she tells me her problems and then I ask her what I can do. Eventually, I’ll do the follow up. So many times you’ll find me in town here going from home to home and people will see me and call me “counsellor, NAWOU.” I’m known as Florence, a counsellor.

I have seen many changes through my work. Women are urging their husbands to send girls to school, and they’re doing well. Women are in politics: you can see them in parliament, in the district council, in clan councils, and school committees. You’ll find women in the banks going in to get loans. They used to wait for money from their husbands, but now they’re getting their own money.

Womankind has given us the ability to reach our people at the grassroots level, but we are still hearing of violence from the areas we have not reached. Where we are now, violence is reducing and if we reach the other remaining areas we could see the same.

Women’s organisations like NAWOU are doing a lot: the advocacy is continuing and the struggle continues. As well, our government has given us an act against domestic violence, and has opened platforms for women to talk for themselves. I have a lot of hope for future generations of Ugandan women."