International Women’s Day 2022: Women of Aidlink Series

Agnes Mirembe (Executive Director of ARUWE, Aidlink Partner)

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Agnes Mirembe and I grew up in central Uganda. I grew up in a gender biased society, in an extended family of over 9 children, girls being the majority. We depended on subsistence agriculture for our survival: the girls worked with my mum in the fields, fetching water, taking care of the young ones and preparing meals. In our household, our roles as girls were clearly defined to domestic chores while my brothers were allowed outside the home, for example to the market to get groceries.

My parents worked hard to educate us. I am so lucky to have attained a degree. I attended public schools and acquired my first bachelor’s degree in Adult and Community Education from Makerere University, Kampala.

I currently live in Wakiso district. I am the team leader of Action for Rural Women’s Empowerment, an NGO which is gender focused. We implement development programmes aimed at strengthening women’s leadership so that collectively women can break the chains of poverty, patriarchy, class and sexual repression and other biases deterring them from thriving. In my free time, I like to practice some agriculture.

Can you tell us about someone who inspired/inspired you?
Growing up, I was heavily inspired by my mother. She challenged the status quo and amidst our difficult economic status, she supported our father and strived hard to ensure that her children, including the girls, attained a decent education. She dedicated her life to us and prioritised our well-being above anything else. At a tender age, she created opportunities for me and my siblings to appreciate the value of education in life. She advocated for gender equality in our home giving us (boys and girls) fair opportunities to participate in any activity. She mentored me in understanding and appreciating that girls and women can do anything that boys and men do in our society if you stay committed and maintain a positive attitude.

I am also inspired by Ms. Malala Yousafzai who is an activist for female education. I strongly believe that educating girls and women is a powerful tool to breaking biases, reducing gender gaps and consequently promoting gender equality. Education not only strengthens girls and women’s confidence and self-esteem, but also builds our capacity to effectively participate in the economic, political and social development processes at different levels.

Where did you draw your professional inspiration from?
My mother was my role model growing up. Because we grew up in an extended family with so many children to look after, she supported our father in upholding the family. At some point, my mother mobilised a group of women in our village and sensitised them about the importance of educating girls. She guided and encouraged them to start a savings group to save for their children’s school fees, better health systems and encouraged them to participate in individual and group economic empowerment activities i.e. poultry and modern farming to raise food and incomes to sustain their families.

How did you begin your career in human rights and development?
I decided very early in life that I would work and support vulnerable women to make a difference in their lives. The village women’s group met regularly in my home and from them I learnt that women can transform their families and community if they acquire appropriate the information, knowledge and skills. These women showed me that women have the potential to challenge the status quo and change their society positively if given the opportunity.

I enrolled at University to study a course in Adult and Community Education that would strengthen my skills in supporting and working with communities to transform for the better.

I embarked on a journey to advocate for women’s rights including rights to education, access to improved health services and information, economic empowerment and elimination of violence against women and girls. I never shied away from speaking about women’s rights and abilities in school and different community fora. I then had the opportunity to do an internship with an NGO that worked to improve the living conditions of rural communities. It was there I deepened my understanding of the challenges rural communities were experiencing and I worked with them through implementing programs that improved their conditions.

What was one of the most pivotal moments in your career?
Seeing the impact safe water facilities had on women and children in communities was such a fundamental moment in my career. Before we received support from partners to construct safe water sources for marginalised communities, accessing safe water in rural communities was so difficult. Women moved more than 3km in search for safe water to feed their families besides doing other household chores. Water is so essential in our life and without it life is very hard. Women used water from ponds which was not safe, increasing health and other risks to their lives and the lives of their children.

Easy accessibility to safe water changed the lives of women, reducing the burden to walk long distances, reducing water related diseases that affected their children and boosting their time for economic activities. Lack of safe water also affected children’s performance at school because they wasted time travelling long distances to collect water. As a result, I learnt that I could work with likeminded people to improve services in communities the improve the livelihoods marginalised people.

What is your favourite part of your job? What is the most challenging part?
My favourite thing about my job is that I am living my dream: every day, I set my daily agenda to work to create a world where women and girls can realise their full potential in life.

The most challenging part are the gender insensitive polices, negative attitude and cultural norms in our society which marginalise women and girls. As John Maxwell says “Everything rises and falls on leadership”. I am challenged every day as ARUWE’s team leader to eliminate marginalisation of women and girls.

Do you feel the opportunities for women and girls are growing? What changes need to occur to ensure gender equality becomes a reality for women and girls in the global south?
We have to break the bias! There is still a big gender gap between men and women, boys and girls. Men and boys still have more opportunities than women and girls, mostly enshrined in socio-cultural stereotypes. There is a lot that is still required to build community awareness on gender equality, as well as building the capacity of women and girls to tackle new challenges coming with gender equality. There is a lot that is still required to influence social opinions and cultural norms if the gender gap is to be narrowed.

Policies should be gender sensitive and a lot of advocacy is still needed.

What would you like to tell young women who are starting to work? What would you like them to know?
Have a positive attitude, focus and commitment. I believe young women can be in top most leadership positions if they strive to be, hence their determination is a key to realising their visions.

How did you come to be involved with Aidlink? What makes Aidlink special to you?
Aidlink enables vulnerable communities in Uganda to realise their human rights and ARUWE shares this vision. Aidlink is committed to reducing gender gaps, for example, in the education sector where they promote the right to access safe water and sanitation facilities in vulnerable communities and schools. ARUWE shares Aidlink’s vision and we advocate for rural women’s economic justice, sexual and reproductive health and rights, promoting education and lifelong learning, enabling communities to adapt to climate change and challenging the negative impact of rigid and oppressive gender stereotypes.

ARUWE is partnering with Aidlink in supporting our health programs, on creating a friendly environment where children, especially girls, can realise their right to education. Aidlink is supporting ARUWE to implement WASH programs in schools to enable children to stay in school and to increase the accessibility to safe water and sanitation facilities in schools and communities.

Can you share a quote that motivates you or holds special significance to you?
“Girls are capable of doing everything men are capable of doing. Sometimes they have more imagination than men.” – Katherine Johnson, mathematician and one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist.