Women Deliver 2019 Global Conference
by Marion Van Driel
Anna (not her real name), a Ugandan wife and mother of four children, is grateful for positive change that has occurred in her home. There was a time, not so long ago, she was responsible for ensuring there was enough food on her family’s table. Her days were filled with carrying water from a local but distant water source, seeking and gathering fuel for cooking (trees have become scarce, having been mostly used up for smoking meat), making meals, caring for her children, growing the crop and selling a portion of it for cash. Her husband, however, would decide how much of the crop should be preserved as food for the family and how much should be sold for his own pocket money. His decisions left the family destitute for months at a time. He took his ‘share’ of the proceeds to use on alcohol. When he came home drunk, more often than not – to find no food on the table, he beat his wife for her failure to make it so. Many nights Anna took their children with her to sleep outdoors, away from the house until morning, to avoid abuse. Today her husband is a new man, thanks to the introduction of a food sustainability program that includes training in gender relationships.
Power to drive change
In early June, more than 7,000 people attended Women Deliver 2019 Global Conference in Vancouver. Held every three years, this event brings together both civil and political leaders, advocates, activists, influencers, young people, and journalists from over 150 countries.
The conference covered a variety of women’s issues worldwide, including reproductive health, education, human rights, gender equality, environment, economic and access to resources. This year’s conference focused on power and it’s ability to drive or hinder change and progress.
A presenter at the conference, Shepherd Telwia Tipo, knows all about the two sides of power. She also knows Anna. In her country, in the past, women have been oppressed by the power of tradition. Today, they are experiencing miraculous freedom and change. Shepherd believes this is due to the power of God at work.
An agent of change, Shepherd works within a food security program in the Nebbi District, not far from the northern end of the Nile River in Uganda. She is employed by two Christian agencies: World Renew and Canadian Food Grains Bank, sponsors of the project that focuses on the poorest families – those who are often without sufficient nutrition for up to six months of the year. “My mission,” says Shepherd, “is to address the injustices against women in gender relationships. This is done when the people are aware of the need for partnership rather than being competitors for space and resources.”
Moving towards equality
Uganda’s culture historically recognizes men as the head of the household while women do the lion’s share of the work. Typically, the main task of the men is to ‘open’ the land, making it ready for planting. Once that is done, the men spend their time as they like, while the women care for the children, carry water, gather firewood, prepare meals and farm, which includes all the planting, weeding and harvesting. Men, including Christian men, avoided helping with these tasks, for fear of becoming effeminate as a result.
The corresponding issue is also there for women who might engage in men’s work, like digging the soil or planting trees.
In this culture, a woman was expected to be silent; her voice suppressed both at home and certainly in public. She did not contribute to the decision-making process – never offered her ideas to her husband, let alone disagree. In some cases, as frustration mounted, she would simply pack her bags and leave without telling her husband why. Today, that is changing. Men and women are learning to make decisions and work together. Both are realizing that crop production can be doubled or tripled as they abandon long-held gender roles and learn better agricultural practices. New ways of relating to one another is resulting in food for the family and extra money to provide shelter and daily needs.
With a Bachelor’s Degree in Development Studies from Uganda Christian University, Shepherd stresses the importance of education in facilitating change. The current project, begun in 2012, initially had a three-year timeline, but has been extended and expanded twice. The goal of the project is improved household food security, with specific focus on:
• Enhancing knowledge and skills in sustainable agriculture through farmer field schools with a focus on soil fertility restoration and moisture conservation
• Savings and loans groups to strengthen household access to quality agricultural inputs (seeds, livestock, etc.)
• Addressing gender-based agricultural practices that limit productivity through the training of gender champions.
She says, “Amazing changes have taken place beyond my imagination during the time of implementation of this project as a development worker, enabling men and women to regain their hope, self-esteem and reinvigorating their focus to improve livelihoods through self-help initiatives. I have the passion for the work that brings testimony of God’s faithfulness, experienced at a household level. “