Today I went out into the deep village in Kumi District with my friend Amy. One of her teacher's wanted her to go to his home village and check in on a woman's group who is involved in a Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA). VSLA's are a micro-finance group at the very root of grassroots. In this case, it is a group of women in a village who save money together and take loans from the money they save together. They gain interest and are able to make a profit after 9 - 12 months. Throughout the time together, they are also able to pick projects they want to use the money for. These women take turns every 2 weeks using the project money fund to buy dishes for their houses. They want to have enough dishes so that they do not need to eat in shifts with their families or when they have visitors. I think VSLA's are the best savings and loans option in the world!
While meeting with these women, and really for some time now, I've been contemplating the role of empowered women, specifically those in Uganda. When reading the newspaper or watching the evening news, there is always mention of some woman who is being honored for her entrepreneurship skills, her courageous fight to end stigmas against those with HIV/AIDS or her role in community development through local government. Uganda talks a lot about empowering their women and sings their praises in the media. Yet, with all the empowered women I know and hear about what are they really capable of doing in a male dominated country? The most empowered woman cannot really succeed when everything is controlled by men. The men control not only politically but also, most importantly, socially/culturally. How do you transcend that?
This post may seem strange after having just participated in a Girl's Empowerment weekend. I do believe in Girl's Empowerment and think it is very important to continue working on empowering the girls and women of Uganda and the World. However, I also think more emphasis needs to be placed on teaching and empowering men to be men. It is hard to know what the balance is of using culture to shape people in a positive direction and telling them their culture is damaging their country and needs to be changed. Where is the balance?