Katosi Women Development Trust (KWDT) is a registered Ugandan non-governmental organization that is driven by its mission to enable women and girls in rural fishing communities to effectively engage in socioeconomic and political development for sustainable livelihoods. KWDT Coordinator Margaret Nakato shares how the implementation of a fishing project under the organization’s economic empowerment thematic area is promoting gender equality and women’s meaningful participation in socioeconomic activities, especially in Uganda’s fishing space.
Gender equality is a critical foundation for sustainable development, with cross-cutting impacts on socioeconomic growth, population health (including reproductive health), the environment, and development. Regrettably, women and girls in Africa continue to suffer the negative effects of gender inequality. Margaret admits, “While there has been increased attention on measures to address issues of gender inequality in Uganda, women continue to be marginalized due to sociocultural norms and gaps in socioeconomic status.” She adds, “Gender inequality is intensified among women in fishing communities due to poverty, illiteracy, restrictive gender roles, and limited access to basic social services and capital to engage in business.” KWDT’s fishing group project (funded by GIZ Responsible Fisheries Business Chains Project), directed at empowering women to thrive socially and economically in fishing—a labor-intensive and male-dominated area—could offer important insights that could act as a model for empowering women in other environments.
KWDT’s fishing group project adopts a comprehensive development strategy. A unique project approach is the shift from focusing on individuals to cultivating a group of women who work together. As Margaret explains, “We bring them to work in groups, so when they work in groups, she’s no more an individual who is fishing, but in a group of women who are fishing, and the community are more receptive of them as a group. She also feels more protected against violence or harassment and empowered because she’s not standing alone, as she knows she has other people who are covering her back.” Additionally, KWDT leverages a bottom-up approach in engaging and sustaining participants for the fishing project. For instance, decisions on the selection of beneficiaries and resource distribution are all made by the women as a group. To achieve its comprehensive development mandate, KWDT implements a range of activities, including training on business development services, mentorship support, and creating microcredit linkages for trained women. In planning these activities, the women are involved across the project cycle: identifying and mapping beneficiaries, selecting suitable dates and venues, and monitoring and evaluating their efforts. The construction of their fishing boats offers a good example of how the women are all equally involved. Margaret reports, “We have to engage them from the moment of identifying who is going to construct the boats. They have to monitor the construction of the boats and they have to make sure that the woods that are being used are of valuable material.”
KWDT collaborates with partners who complement the project, especially in fishing communities where there are water and sanitation challenges. Margaret acknowledges, “[The] fishing process cannot go on in communities where there is no water and sanitation…you can have a community of 800 people where there are no communal latrines and open defecation is rampant.” arche noVa is a key KWDT partner supporting engagement in legal fishing practices and efforts to ensure access to water, sanitation, and hygiene in fishing communities. Similarly, KWDT works with Swisshand to address poor access to microcredit for women who have gained fishing business knowledge and skills. “Swisshand comes in to provide financing for the majority of unbanked women to enable them to run a business,” says Margaret. KWDT also collaborates with Focus Women to strengthen participants’ understanding that gender-based violence (GBV) is a violation of human rights that threatens their engagement in socioeconomic activities. Such education enables women to identify human rights violations and collaborate to prevent GBV.
KWDT has drawn praise for its unique strategy. The project spans 15 fishing settlements in Uganda’s Buikwe, Wakiso, Kalangala, Buvuma, and Mukono districts. Since the inception of the project, the team has conducted more than 280 trainings on business development skills, teamwork, conflict resolution, emerging fishing and processing technologies, sustainable/legal fishing, environmental conservation practices, and GBV. Over 6,700 women and girls have been reached and additional mentorship support provided for a significant proportion of those who have started businesses within the fishing value chain. Margaret shares how these trainings empower women to engage in fishing, recalling that after a particular training on sustainable small-scale fisheries (SSF) guidelines, one woman said, “I have learnt that SSF guidelines facilitates my engagement in fishing, and I now can’t see anybody stopping me to go on a fishing boat.” While the project targets women groups, about 6,000 men and boys have also benefited by participating in some of the organization’s activities. Project impact assessment demonstrates improvements in the socioeconomic status and quality of life of beneficiaries, especially women as most reported better access to quality health and social services including schools for their children.
Beyond these indicators, Margaret reports that success stories have come in different formats. For instance, she notes that many women say to her, “Before I joined the group, I could not speak in public, but now I speak in public and in the community.” Similarly, another participant reported using her business management skills to address disagreements with her husband. She says, “I now keep records of how much we earned, how much we pay our workers, so there is no need for him to be suspicious of me taking money out of the business, and then the conflicts have stopped.” In the area of sustainable fishing and conservation of resources, the project’s promotion of and support for legal fishing in areas where illegal fishing is prevalent is yielding results. Women have shared their stories of moving from having their fish and equipment confiscated, paying bribes, and losing money when they engage in illegal fishing to experiencing returns from legal fishing practices.
While the project has been largely hailed as successful, Margaret cautions that it has not been without difficulties. Limited access to basic social services, lack of roads in communities, restrictive sociocultural norms impeding women’s participation, and high levels of illiteracy among women all pose challenges. Also, women are sometimes pulled out of training due to household chores; husbands may take money from their wives’ fishing businesses or express discomfort with their wives participating in trainings where other men are present. The KWDT team employs diverse approaches, including making trainings more participatory and functional due to differing literacy levels, involving men in some activities, and sustaining community engagement towards ending negative sociocultural norms. A significant lesson from the project is the mindset shift in the acceptance of women engaging in business and how the group strategy benefits women even in communities where negative sociocultural norms are high. Margaret notes, “Communities are now more open to women taking up leadership roles, being bosses, and being the breadwinner in their household.” Going forward, KWDT is working on sustaining the project, expanding coverage beyond current areas, helping more communities engage in legal fishing practices towards ensuring sustainable fishing, and widening partnerships.