Leveraging Women’s Potential in Uganda


The most recent instalment of Women’s day was awash with headlines of remarkable women at the forefront in their respective fields. For instance; Ms. Anne Juuko was appointed as the Chief Executive Officer of Stanbic Bank Uganda Limited, the largest commercial bank in Uganda – by revenue and assets.  A call of optimism and encouragement that the girl child can take territory and tread as one who belongs. Commendable applause is due to organisations that have championed women empowerment.  They have supported, made resources available to women and given them a platform. This has ushered in a new era of fearless entrepreneurial women ready to lead Uganda to new frontiers. In this article I will, first, highlight the contribution of women to Uganda’s eco system while addressing the unique opportunities in Uganda.  Second, I will discuss some of the challenges affecting the productivity of women and the girl child in Uganda. Lastly, the article shall propose solutions to these challenges.

Ms. Anne Juuko, the new CEO of Stanbic Bank Uganda Limited. Photo Courtesy: Stanbic Bank Uganda Limited.

According to the third edition of the MasterCard Index 2019, a profile for the progress & achievement of women entrepreneurs across the globe. Uganda was among the top 3 African countries with the highest percentages of women-owned businesses. This information was consolidated from different organisations including the International Labour Organisation, UNESCO & the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor that revolved around 3 major areas. These were women’s advancement outcomes, knowledge assets & financial access and finally, supporting entrepreneurial factors. An assessment of the key drivers highlights the opportunity in the market.

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Uganda has a fast-growing population, a comparative advantage in agriculture and beaming oil reserves that promise to boost the economy. Uganda offers an attractive package to foreign investors as well as local entrepreneurs. The IMF predicted a 6.3% growth for the 2018-2019 FY with the majority of growth having been registered in the service sector (Export.gov). Support with regards to the growing contingent of women-owned businesses has to do with the increase in SME’s and access to capital and financial services in the country as well as academic programmes like the Master Card Centre for Inclusive growth that offer financial literacy training to women.

The index highlighted that women despite the lack of financial capital still strived. Banks have taken centre stage in providing financial inclusion. Ms. Beatrice Lugalambi from Centenary Bank remarked that the bank is fully committed to providing financial literacy, funding corporate social initiatives for the goal of improving the livelihood of women. This was at an event earmarked to reward Cente Supawoman groups in a move that has seen the bank provide credit services to over 5000 women. Finance Trust bank also set up  loans for Women in Business and Agriculture.

Additionally, the support ecosystem around SME’s has been key in boosting the economy and women-owned businesses. These growing business can help create around 80% of regions employment and are contributing up to 33% of the national income in emerging economies (Uganda Investment Authority). Realising this growth involves overcoming constraints by providing knowledge about opportunities in foreign markets, increasing information flow which has been something overturned with Women in Business programmers. Scaling SME’s to the global market will be the torch that thrives Uganda.

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Ms. Beatrice Cornacchia, Mastercard’s Head of Marketing and Communications for the Middle East and Africa, commented: “Women entrepreneurs continue to have a direct impact on economic growth and the wellbeing of society.” In sub-Saharan Africa in particular, women continue to demonstrate an unwavering commitment to supporting their communities through entrepreneurship. But to unlock the full potential of the African continent, we must continue to foster an entrepreneurship ecosystem for women that helps them to overcome barriers – whether cultural, legal, social or traditional.”

Sadly, despite this progress. There are still visible social & traditional barriers to contend with. Early marriages continue to plague the country, especially for the girl child. Horace Mann has argued that education is the great equaliser of the conditions of (wo)men, the balance wheel social machinery. It is hard to see how, children especially the girl child, who continues to be victim to child marriages is able to advance themselves without a decent education.

Uganda boasts of the youngest populations in the world. For this economy to benefit from this population, Ugandans must become productive. Productivity is crucial for the economic set up of any country. Childhood marriages affect the productivity of the population as they often limit women to domestic roles. What could be done to curb this?

Strong law reforms are needed to curb this vice. Barbaric customary beliefs and religious practices that encourage child marriages should be quashed by strong law amendments in Uganda. The government should provide regular training to community leaders, police and prosecutors on their legal responsibilities to investigate and prosecute violence against women, including child marriages. Women emancipation programs need to be adopted to uplift the status of women in society and reduce the gender inequality gap. Such programs will add value to women and empower them to make something more out of themselves. It will help change societies perception of women.

Poverty alleviation programs need to be enhanced. While the Ugandan government has adopted such programs for instance, Operation Wealth Creation, there needs to be more focus on increasing the income of women. Most families look at childhood marriages especially of the girl child, as an economic benefit because of the dowry that is paid to the girl’s family. Government has to improve on the quality of education programs in the country and make it accessible especially in the areas of the country where child marriages are more pronounced. Education helps change the mind-set of the people in society thus eventually curbing this harmful vice.  Solving this vice, will give the girl child an opportunity to change her own destiny and access education, which in turn increases productivity and has a positive effect on the economy.

Richard Kiracho