In order to understand the major impact that Women’s Democracy Network member Kansiime is having with girls in Uganda, we must first realize what young girls have to overcome in that country.
To put it in simple terms, in Uganda men expect women to be docile and subservient. Young girls are asked to sit on the floor instead of the family dinner table while eating dinner. From nearly birth, they are told they are not good enough and that men make the rules and they are there to just live by them.
We tend to see Ugandan girls not breaking the chain of submissive behavior– girls know no other way of life, this what their mothers teach them. Children learn from watching women in their life be completely subservient to the men, soon girls feel as if they have no worth.
Kansiime knew this had to change, she wanted young girls in Uganda to see the world differently, she wanted them to know that they were born to be more than just a commodity. Kansiime Honest Fortunate is the founder of Girls to Lead Africa, a project that nurtures, grooms, and develops young girls in schools in the Kanungu District of Uganda.
Kansiime’s program empowers young women by challenging them to think differently about their gender, their identity, and their roles in their communities. Kansiime starts every training with girls answering one question. “What makes you special?” A simple question, with a huge impact. Ugandan girls have never thought they were special; they have never thought through the process of how they can be different.
The idea that these girls are special helps deconstruct negative images of women in society. And once they figure out that they are more than “just a girl” they start to learn how to help other girls around them. Perhaps the most important thing Girls to Lead Africa teaches young women is lobbying skills that they can use to improve the lives of other female students in schools throughout Uganda.
I was lucky enough to get to sit down and Skype with Kansiime this past weekend. When she answered the call she was beaming, she possessed a light that could be seen though the computer screen. Once all the chit-chat was done I sat asked Kansiime about her program. Never once, talking about herself, she reverted every question into a success story. Stories of girls leading; young girls becoming the head of the student council, girls lobbying for new rules at their school and girls standing up and sitting at the dinner table with their brothers.
Each girl who is in the Girls to Lead program has to come up with an idea on how to make a small change in their community. When I spoke to Kansiime she proudly spoke about one of her girls who came up with the idea that her school needed a student disciplinary committee. Many times in the Kanungu school district of Uganda, girls will get in trouble at school and have to appear in front of a male teacher. Due to Ugandan culture, the male teacher will be unnecessary harsh on young women since they are seen as inferior. In order to stop this from happening the student disciplinary committee, that is comprised of both girls and boys, goes and lobbies for the female student in front of the male teacher. This takes the power away from the male teacher and makes it an equal playing field for both parties.
A small idea making a massive impact.
I spoke with Kansiime for an hour, listening about how her girls are helping adjust an entire culture in Kanugu. Young girls who have taken it upon themselves to see the world differently.
I expressed to Kansiime that is was remarkable that she was teaching these young girls to change the world. She quickly interrupted me and said “No, they have already changed the world.”