In many regions of Uganda, rural women live below the poverty line, and food scarcity means these women must work on farms simply to keep enough food on the table to feed their families. Action for Rural Women’s Empowerment (ARUWE) began in 2000 in Kampala, Uganda, to address the needs of rural women and support them in achieving economic empowerment. The organization offered courses to rural women about food security, income generation, health, literacy, and more—critical issues for women in the region, who had few resources available to them.
“The rural women had issues that were inhibiting them from actively participating in their social development,” says Agnes Mirembe, Action for Rural Women’s Empowerment’s current Programs Manager. But when the organization began, it had little funding and no international support. In fact, for several years the staff consisted mostly of volunteers.
In 2004, the organization received its first grant from Global Fund for Women for $8,000—one of the first from international funders. A few years later, Global Fund for Women awarded the group a second grant for $13,000—the largest grant they had ever received. Besides providing critical financial support, this grant from Global Fund for Women was pivotal in helping the organization win additional support from other funders.
“We are proud to say Global Fund for Women was our biggest donor at the time, and so, other partners came on board, trusting us because Global Fund for Women was recommending us and telling them about our good work,” says Agnes.
In addition to helping ARUWE forge relationships with other funders, Global Fund for Women introduced them to women’s groups in the region by organizing large meetings. “At convenings, we share ideas in terms of best practices, in terms of approaches. We get to learn from what other people are doing,” says Agnes. “Sometimes when you work in isolation you may miss out on a few things. You do not know if you are doing each thing right. But Global Fund for Women has raised creative space for us to share with each other and learn, and that has made us improve our approaches. We have gotten solutions to some of the problems we have been experiencing.”
In addition to offering trainings on organic sustainability farming and business management, ARUWE teaches the rural women it works with about their rights. The organization teaches women about their health, land, and economic rights and focuses on women and children’s socio-economic empowerment.
They also run election exercises and leadership trainings so the women know how to vote in elections and can participate in local councils. Whereas before, many of the women were living below the poverty line, now they have sustainable year-round income. They use their earnings to send all of their children to school and provide for their families.
When the group first began, they worked only in one small rural area in Uganda. Now, ARUWE helps many communities within the central and north-eastern regions of Uganda with the goal to serve women in the east African region as a whole.
Agnes says this growth is thanks in part to the support, capacity-building training, and partnership with Global Fund for Women. “We now believe in growing bigger to become a national organization,” she says.
Q&A: Agnes Mirembe
How did Global Fund for Women’s support help ARUWE grow?
When we first started we had a few very small grants, but we did not have the capacity to do what we really wanted, because our funding could only reach just a few women at a time. We had plans, we had a simple strategy that we wanted to implement, but we weren’t in a position to. So when Global Fund for Women came in, we realized that it was the time to propel our work forward—$8,000 at that time was so much money because we were very small.
Global Fund for Women also provided training for the staff. They helped us understand exactly how a project is supposed to be designed. Global Fund for Women taught us so much about the process. We learned and shared back and forth, because our partnership with Global Fund for Women is based on understanding, dialogues, and discussions.
What is different about the way Global Fund for Women works?
Global Fund for Women consults us to understand what’s on the ground. I think that’s something we think is very good and very engaging. And for us, Global Fund for Women has given us amazing opportunities in terms of capacity-building, in terms of training, which is very key. They have taught us about, for example, research and surveys and evaluation to show the impact of our work.
What has been the impact of working with Global Fund for Women?
We believe this partnership between Global Fund for Women and ARUWE has really, really, really improved the livelihoods of the rural women, in terms of having sustainable food, having income for their families, knowing their rights. We hear all this in our beneficiary reports. That is at the community level. Now at the organizational level, this partnership is helping create leaders and build skills. I can give myself as a testimony.
At the beginning I found it very hard to speak with confidence. After going to convenings and learning from our partners, we have been empowered with skills to communicate and articulate the outcomes and impact of our work. Before, the staff at ARUWE was very intimidated, myself included. But now our confidence has been boosted, and that has been really key.
In what ways did Global Fund for Women help ARUWE’s involvement in the women’s movement?
This partnership has built very good leadership, not only at the institutional level, but even in the communities. Some of the women we are working with have just finished voting election exercises, and we have two that are working on local level councils. There they can represent and talk about the issues that the women are really struggling with. It’s a beautiful thing to have leaders come out of the people that we are working with. We are so proud.
[Photos credit: Terry Lorant for Global Fund for Women.]