“We have cut through the barriers! We finally have more women in the Mukungule CRB,” was Nancy Mutemba’s reaction to the latest CRB election results. Nancy is the Community Liaison Assistant (CLA) and Gender Focal Person for Frankfurt Zoological Society and was among the seven CLAs who spent days prior to the election in the field speaking to traditional leaders, community members, and potential women candidates willing to risk everything to break through the cultural and gender norms that bar women from taking up leadership positions.
“The challenge is all about power and control, putting a woman in leadership means taking over control from a man. Tradition does not allow that; many men don’t want it, and women believe it shouldn’t happen,” Nancy explains.
USAID’s partners trained the CLAs to equip them with practical skills on how to facilitate conversations on gender norms and gender equality and convince communities to support aspiring women. Nancy, like other CLAs, was initially skeptical about the activities and what could be achieved.
“It seemed a difficult task to convince headpersons and women to do something that they did not believe in, and I was scared to preach to them something that seems to go against their culture. I worried about how they would receive the message and how it was going to impact our relationship going forward.”
The CLAs like Nancy work and live in the communities and are known and trusted members. Young women like Nancy are not only trusted but are seen as courageous and an inspiration to many other women.
“They see me going village to village on a motorbike and facilitating meetings, and they think I am extraordinary. I know women look up to me for knowledge and advice, and this gives me strength to do my best.”
This relationship is what makes the work of CLAs so critical. They are listened to and can influence change. Armed with information and tools, Nancy set out on a task to lobby traditional leaders in Mukungule Chiefdom to support women as leaders in the CRB while also convincing women in the community to step into leadership roles. As per tradition, the approach must first go through the Chief, and then the headpersons, who are mostly men. The support of traditional leaders encouraged CLAs like Nancy, and made it easier to deliver these messages to the community members.
“I was surprised that the traditional leaders were ready for this change. Sometimes it was the headmen who answered the difficult questions. I did not have to provide all the answers myself and in the end some women were convinced and came forward.”
The CLAs also prepared women to go through the election process, which required Nancy to inspire the women to see themselves as leaders, be confident, and develop self-esteem and resilience. For Nancy, seeing aspiring women candidates drop out of the electoral process was not an option. “I had to inspire positivity, get in their shoes, and rise up with them, and it worked, not a single woman dropped off,” she said happily.
Nancy’s hard work in the community paid off: in Mukungule CRB, women in leadership roles increased by 40%, and by overcoming cultural barriers, women are now being drafted into the committees that form customary leadership within the tribal governance structures.