Women get things done, simple as that, and Michael Ahabwe Mugerwa knows how important it is to facilitate this ability in order to remedy social ills and allow women to continue uplifting one another. That’s why he’s working on the Kampala, Uganda-based ICOD Action Network’s new campaign, called #WomenClinics. The organization is fundraising on Indiegogo, and this week we chatted with Michael about what exactly #WomenClinics are and why they’re poised to change the social landscape for women in the region.
Introduce yourself! Tell us who you are and what you do.
My name is Michael. I am the Founder and Executive Director of East African based nonprofit called ICOD Action Network. I have worked in the nonprofit sector for 15 years and I have also worked as a consultant for International and local organizations across Africa.
I was introduced to activism and, specifically, women rights back in 2008. I had just founded ICOD Action Network and we organized the first health outreach where were provided health support to over 2000 patients. The health outreach gave me first hand information on women health issues like Fistula. Since 2008, I have dedicated a lot of time and energy to eradicate fistula.
Despite being a man, it was impossible not to become emotionally charged when I got exposed to Female Genital Mutilation. It was life changing experience that shaped my life, activism and strengthened my conviction to work to eradicate Female Genital Mutilation and also initiate projects at ICOD Action Network to help them to emerge from uncertainty.
I am also the author of Tears of Resilience, a book about Female Genital Mutilation. The hard cover version will be released on November 25, 2017.
How do you define feminism and how does that play a part in what you do?
I would define feminism as a sustainable approach to undo inequalities along gender and sex. Feminism isn’t about only women; it’s an approach that both men and women can use to advance women’s issues. As we struggle to ensure that women should be allowed the same rights and opportunities as men, I think feminism can help reshape social and cultural injustices based on gender. We need to inspire more men and we do for women, make everyone part of the movement to undo these injustices.
At ICOD Action Network, feminism means taking action to advance equal rights and opportunities. We use a Rights Based Approach to Development in our programming so feminism fits perfectly well in our work that seeks to promote women to be drivers of change. We work with over 400 women-led vibrant grassroots organizations. Women from these organizations directly participate in program implementation, monitoring, evaluation and advocacy to drive systemic changes that will alter the root causes of gender inequality. I believe we are laying firm ground for future feminists and change agents if we continue to mentor them and improve their access to resources.
What is the #WomenClinics campaign about? Why is it important?
#WomenClinics are centers of innovation to women’s most pressing problems. Women from the five WomenClinics donate 10 hours a week each, to help other women thrive through community #WomenClinics. Through projects like making handmade sanitary towels for school girls, growing organic coffee, basket-making, promoting maternal health, these women are changing their communities.
#WomenClinics aren’t the ordinary clinics we all know. Just like how we got to a clinic to get solutions to our health issues, women go to #WomenClinics to seek solutions to their most pressing challenges. We call them #WomenClinics because they address specific problems affecting women. Every #WomenClinic works with 100 women to address a specific problem affecting women.
WomenClinic #1 is helping girls stay in school. It’s a common thing in Africa for a girl to drop out or miss school during days they are menstruating. Through their small tailoring businesses, Clinic #1 work to give sanitary towels to school girls so that they can stay in school.
WomenClinic #2 brings together a group of 100 women with passion for women’s health. They are working to eradicate Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in 23 villages while WomenClinic #3 is innovating Alternative Livelihood Sources for women. Its leading women to innovate small start ups like crafts and basket making business to improve women livelihoods so that they can be able to support their families and children.
WomenClinic #4 is training women a sustainable agriculture system called Permaculture. Permaculture combines development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient. WomenClinic #4 is leading training of women farmers to grow food in an ecologically sound manner and use the newly acquired skill to advocate for women’s issues when men come to their farms for training. Men want the food grown by women, and they want the skills so they can be able to grow their own food. Women of clinic #4 discuss women rights with men whenever they come to be trained by women.
WomenClinic #5 is implementing Alternative Rites of Passage. Female Genital Mutilation has for long been seen as a rite of passage. Promoters of the practice argue that when a girl undergoes Genital Mutilation, she is ready for marriage because she is a woman, even when she is as young as 10. #WomenClinic #5 is helping end this rite of passage tradition. They are leading communities to brainstorm and develop alternative rite of passage. A full day of traditional music, dance, drama and celebration is slowly being appreciated as an alternative rite of passage. Why cut girls and women when just full day of drama is enough to show they are grown up? Women of Clinic #5 ask communities to describe what it means to grow. Through these discussions, the women are helping communities understand how horrific Female Genital Mutilation is and are working to end child marriages.
The #WomenClinics are important because they are empowering women to take charge of their lives and bring to their communities the change they need. We are seeing women directly taking part in shaping their lives instead of being passive recipients.
What has been the most challenging part of this work? The most rewarding?
The most challenging part of this work has been trying to strike a balance between cultures that are valued so dearly by communities and our work that is sometimes seen as trying to reshape cultures. Some communities that we work are hostile to change that might alter men’s positions in society. For example, men are hostile to projects that seek to advance women’s access to land, education, maternal health and are the leading promoters of Female genital Mutilation
However, despite the challenges, we are working to strengthen women’s involvement in shaping their destiny. For example, through our Barefoot Grannies model, we have been able to inspire, mentor and train women to be drivers of the change they need. In some communities, women we work with have inspired fellow women and men as well.
How can we follow and support your work?
Women of the five #WomenClinics want to see small-ideas take off. They need everyone to support their work and campaign. Please Back #WomenClinics 30 days Indiegogo campaign through this link https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/women-clinics-health/x/639146#/
We also want the voices of our women to be heard by the most influential women of our time, and with your help we hope they will be. So tell the world about the #WomenClinics – share, tweet, blog, basically spread the word about their story in any way you can.