International Women's Day

Choose to Challenge

How do you choose to challenge? Are you standing up for the rights of women? The rights of other marginalized people? Are you standing up for yourself?

I am reminded of my work in Uganda and would like to share a story.

Several years ago, a colleague of mine and I met with several young female students on the campus of the Bethlehem Parents School and Orphanage we use as our base of operations when there. We agreed not to share names but wanted to hear their stories and wanted to know what worries them.

As you can imagine, many issues were discussed that day. Early marriage, early pregnancy, pregnancy when not ready, lack of feminine hygiene products, cultural norms like men taking multiple wives - particularly young wives, HIV-AIDS and other ailments, domestic violence, sexual violence, poverty.

The girls were getting an education which is akin to striking it rich - finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

One girl was excited because she had already gone on an interview for a job that was perfect for her.

"I would have gotten the job," she said. "but the owner wanted me to sleep with him first."

I, begrudgingly asked her what she did. She said, "I told him 'NO'."

I was relieved and wanted to give her a hug. Truth was, she reminded me of me. She had a certain sass and verve. Put her in the United States or a number of other countries and the story would likely be different. Likely.

I then realized that she could say 'no' right now because she had a safety net and other opportunities. But this problem is widespread in many parts of the world, not just Uganda. Would she be expected to sleep with the next male hiring manager/boss she interviewed with? Perhaps she could say 'no' again. And the time after that...and....

But at some point she will need to pay rent, buy food, survive. At some point saying 'no' might not be an option.

I would like to say she should choose to challenge but where does that leave her? Alone. Unemployed. Homeless. Hungry.

Sadly, I've lost touch with this young woman. I don't know what became of her. But I do know that I chose to challenge - if too late for her right now. I work with a wonderful women's group in southern Uganda. They are widows having lost their husbands to HIV-AIDS. They want a chance to challenge the obstacles thrust in their paths because of the AIDS epidemic. They want economic and social opportunity and I want to help them achieve that.

Through Embrace It Africa and the Mikwano Savings and Credit Cooperative, the women are able to get microfinance loans to help start or enhance businesses. And they are truly cooperative. They share their prosperity among their group so that the rising tide will lift all boats.

They choose to challenge and I choose to join them.

I also sponsor a young woman. I send her tuition so that she may attend a University. She wants to be a journalist so that she may tell the stories of her people. She is pictured with me in the photo in this post. Covid set her back a little but she's back in school now. She chose to challenge her upbringing and background. She isn't expected to excel...and she is succeeding.

If you would like to make a donation to Embrace It Africa, please visit the site at the link above. Your may direct your funds to Mikwano or other projects as you like.