Mugerwa Laetitia is the executive director of Empowerment Initiative for Women and Youth, Uganda (EIWYU), a nonprofit working to empower, support, and connect women and youth with opportunities in rural parts of Uganda
How did the Empowerment Initiative for Women and Youth Uganda (EIWYU) come about, what inspired you to start the nonprofit?
I realized the need for social and economic empowerment amongst women and youth in my community and so I wanted to help bridge that gap; I was yearning for change in the life of women and youth, by making them self-reliant.
Although I didn’t have any material things to offer them I realized that the women, youth and I had something in common which we had gained in the course of our life and so we needed to come together and share ideas on how to make positive impact on our lives. I mean I realized that we had both formal and informal knowledge on how we could empower ourselves economically and socially and live a happy life.
I remember our first meetings, we would gather every Sunday at a selected home and just talk about anything and everything, and based on that we bonded; we became a family. We cared for one another and would always check out on those that could not attend such meetings. We would sing, talk about our personal accomplishments and challenges in the past week, talk about events, from weddings to burials, and village gossip. That was the kick off!
From there, I began to organize and coordinate social and economic empowerment trainings for us where we shared knowledge and ideas ranging from rural entrepreneurship to savings, and how to avoid being manipulated by the middlemen since a big percentage of us were farmers and traders. At the end of every training the women and youth would choose areas they needed more insights to be discussed the following week.
At first, I assumed that since we were of the same cultural background it was natural to get bonded as a team but then after the first meeting I realized bonding was easier to achieve through sharing stories and this ignited my passion for starting a non-profit hence the Employment Initiative for Women and Youth Uganda (IWYU) was born.
EIWYU was established with the vision to inspire and empower women and youth of Uganda. How has the journey been thus far?
Every journey has its ups and downs but the journey so far has been amazing. We began the journey by creating a bond with one another hence all of us became part of a loving team; I ensured that the women and youth were aware that I was not in any way different from them and hence I was on the journey of empowerment with them. As a family, we share our challenges together and overcome them together. It is about empowerment you know!
We had a clear view of our destination and I have thus far witnessed positive economic and social change in the lives of these women and youth and other than that, along the way, they also changed my life too. While starting the journey, the expectations were not high and there were challenges but they were expected; I was always looking for the best solutions as they come.
But so far so good, my goal was to improve the lives of these women and youth through social and economic empowerment and it has slowly unfolded along the way, I cannot complain.
You have produced a short film titled “Touched” to raise awareness about the neglect for teenage mothers. At what point did you realize the power of film as a tool for advocacy?
In 2012, I realized that far more than any sensitization and voicing mechanism, film had the power to capture public attention and mobilise action and changes in hearts and minds. That was when I chose to undertake training on script writing and film directing at Mariam Ndagire Film School and hence writing and directing ‘Touched’, a short story about a teenage mother working in the slums of Katwe in Kampala.
I will like to acknowledge Princess Mariam Ndagire who made a selfless decision to produce Touched, she invested time and resources to ensure the project was a success and not forgetting the time she invested in writing my script and directing the film altogether.
What can you say are the major challenges being faced by women and youth in Uganda, based on your experience working with them?
This is a broad question when it comes to Uganda, however based on my experience working with them, women and youth are facing a wide range of challenges but there is one major challenge that affects majority of them: the challenge of unemployment. Of course, most people will blame this challenge on the government but based on my own experience, there is no better reason for this, when it comes to women and girls, than mindset and gender equity issues.
Mindset is key though it is ignored, the negative attitude towards certain work that both women and youth experience could be attributed to culture and it doesn’t encourage self-empowerment, once someone understand the need to be self-reliant they begin to realize the possibility of achieving a lot, working on their own and using resources they already have full access to.
Women and girls are faced with gender issues based on the gender dichotomies that are sometimes to the extreme in our society which bring about little opportunity for voicing their opinions in homes and the society in general, and less chance in terms of access to education, finances as well as entrepreneurship opportunities.
However, I acknowledge the positive changes that are taking place in our societies in tackling this matter which have also provided ground for me to create an organization that will serve as a platform for women and girls to voice out their needs and become empowered.