By Frank Mugabi, Majorine Kiita and Aloyo Melissa Rhona
It has been well documented how improving women’s direct access to and control over resources leads to higher investments in human capital and has a stronger impact on children’s health, nutrition and education with important long-term implications for families and societies.
In 2015, the Government of Uganda took a historical decision when Cabinet Okayed the introduction of the Uganda Women Entrepreneurship Programme (UWEP) to specifically extend interest-free credit to women while equipping them with skills for enterprise growth, value addition and marketing of their products and services.
The Programme’s goal is to empower Ugandan women to improve their income levels and their contribution to economic development.
Over the four years, the Programme has registered significant achievements. By end of January 2020, the Programme was operational in all Local Governments, that includes the 178 Districts, Municipalities and Kampala Capital City Authority, and had financed a remarkable 10,922 projects with 135,873 direct beneficiaries.
For starters, the available figures translate into over 130,000 women who have been facilitated to access affordable credit. With majority of beneficiaries being rural-based, this is no mean feat. Its significant if you think of a woman somewhere in the village who has struggled for long to raise just Shs50,000 to start a roadside mandazi selling business. This category of women won’t go to commercial banks for loans. They are totally out of options because the conventional banking systems consider them uncreditworthy for lack of collateral.
With this level of vulnerability, the obligation falls back to the Government of the day to devise financial Programmes that can assist such citizens out of despair. Programmes that are not profit-making in nature but emphasize social change.
And that’s is the huge contribution that Programmes like UWEP make. With no collateral needed to access funds, no formal registration required, repayment period spreading up to three years and zero interest charged on repayments, UWEP has lived to the bill of being a social Programme.
Also important to note is that women are specifically cited as key actors in the Small and Medium Enterprises subsector in Uganda. They own and operate a significant percentage of the SMEs, albeit, mostly at the informal level. The women–owned enterprises have been observed to impact positively on both employment and wealth creation. If they are not supported there may be a down fall in the wealth creation and also high unemployment rates. UWEP has not only created direct jobs but also an estimated 587,755 persons have variously benefited from the Programme either through being dependents to beneficiaries or taken up job opportunities created by the funded groups. According to the UWEP baseline information, two thirds of the women beneficiaries have more than 5 dependent members in each household.
So the benefits are traversing just households and extending to the community level.
UWEP in partnership with Local Governments and Development partners like UN Women is also facilitating skills transfer with the beneficiaries receiving basic entrepreneurship training in areas such as financial management, community procurement, record keeping, group dynamics and marketing. This enhanced knowledge and skills is strategic in achieving mindset change, which is a key determinant of attaining development goals. The group approach also provides women an opportunity to improve knowledge and skill through mentoring each other.
The groups receive their money through accounts opened at a local commercial bank branch and this is purposefully contributing to building financial inclusion.
Women are getting more familiar with banking processes and soon or later they will be empowered with information to help them make better financial decisions. This is significant because majority of the beneficiaries 94.9% at point of applying for the credit did not have bank accounts. Only 3% had bank accounts.
Furthermore, UWEP beneficiaries have also been able to acquire assets. Several beneficiaries have been documented to have acquired assets such as domestic animals; 59.7%, mattresses; 54.5%, phones; 51.9%, beds; 28.3%. In addition, the Programme has enabled women to acquire assets such as land; 1.1% and houses; 0.8%.
That’s not all. They are also making a contribution to the improvement of their household livelihoods. The increased incomes have helped the beneficiaries contribute to the school fees, nutritional, healthcare and other domestic needs. This has a ripple effect of fighting Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and violence against women and girls. At least 16 percent of the beneficiaries are GBV survivors.
One of the UWEP implementation guidelines makes an explicit callout to ensure that Women with Special Needs are among the Programme beneficiaries. By 30th January 2020, seven percent of the women beneficiaries are Persons with Disabilities. This is promoting inclusiveness and contributing to the attainment of better development indictors.
The Programme is also aiding women to take the bull by the horns and breaking barriers to venture into sectors that previously were a preserve for men. A typical example is Epikosi Ikliok Women Group in Katakwi which ventured into metal fabrication and welding.
Similarly, about 11% of the beneficiaries self-reported to be living with HIV/AIDs. The Programme is ensuring that they have an income to take care of their medical and nutritional needs. Karusandara Women Crafts Making and Selling Group in Kasese District, who are currently exporting their products to the UK.
At a macro-level, the Programme is making a contribution towards enhancing import substitution and export promotion through financing of projects in grain milling, fruit drying and processing, shear butter processing, wine making, liquid soap making, agricultural feed production, metal fabrication, food processing, tie and dye, manufacturing of leather products such as shoes, and bags among others.
With the results registered over the last five years of Programme implementation, UWEP is on course to achieve its goal of empowering Ugandan women to improve their income levels and consequently enable them make a contribution to the country’s economic development.