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Katosi Women’s Development Trust in Uganda: When women take a hand in their own development

International Newsletter for Sustainable Local Development Newsletter #95

Alina Darmadi, Judith Hitchman, February 2013

Read the complete document on: developpementlocal.blogspot.com

Katosi Women’s Development Trust in Uganda: When women take a hand in their own development

By Judith Hitchman

Margaret Nakato from Uganda founded the Katosi Women’s Development Trust1 in 1996. Her objective, based on her own life experiences, was to empower other women so that they could take charge of their own lives. She had witnessed her father’s taking all the decisions on behalf of her mother, a midwife in Katosi, on Lake Victoria, and believed that if women were able to earn their own livelihoods, that they would be able to gain greater control and break with a situation whereby they were mere possessions, at a time when many fisher men had as many as 6 or 7 wives.

Traditionally, the women in Uganda on Lake Victoria had smoked and salted fish that they traded regionally and exported to the Congo, the Sudan and Rwanda. This activity helped these women and their friends to gain some measure of financial control over their lives. But with the demand for Nile perch that led to industrialisation of the fishing on Lake Victoria, the catch had in recent years become a major export industry for Nile perch, caught and sold directly to the processing plants, using boats with freezers and improved handling sites all of which are designed for export only.The small-scale fishers’ wives no longer had access to the fish for smoking, and had lost what little financial independence they had. In this society, widows, regardless of their order in a marriage (wife #1, 2 or 3, etc.) were not bestowed any privileges or financial assurance for their future, unless the husband had specifically given one an asset such as a house. This meant that single women and widows were all having to leave Katosi, and move to the islands on the lake or rural trading centres to gain access to the fish or to find alternative employment opportunities. The issue of HIV-AIDS is also very serious in the whole of the Lake Victoria region, and many men and women were losing their lives. If a fisher died, the wife lost control of her husband’s boat, making the situation even worse.

The first step of the project involved setting up a “tontine”, a typical African system of merry-go-round micro-credit, whereby each woman pays a small sum into a pool every week, and each woman takes it in turn to benefit from the total amount saved. She did so with six or seven Catholic women she knew well.

The first initiative of KWDT was to support the women to help them keep control of the boats. Fish catches were high, and the women were paid a good price for their fish.

By 1998, the Katosi Women’s Group owned two boats, and a year later, they began a micro-credit fund. Despite the boom, boats and fishing gear were very expensive and unaffordable for many. Some local fishermen and new fishers, interested in gaining from the boom and high prices for the fresh fish started using poison to catch fish, and this led to a ban on fish exports from the region for health and hygiene reasons. The migration of fisher communities from the north due to war also contributed to the introduction of bad fishing practice on Lake Victoria by immigrants.

The Katosi Women’s Community was paralysed and poor, as they were so specialised in fishing. Margaret decided that there was a need for multiple development and opted to diversify into farming. A single cow could produce milk to help feed several people - especially the children, and the manure could be used as fertiliser… and help the women to survive.

Margaret Nakoto speaking at the World Fisheries Day, Lake Victoria, Uganda, November 21, 2012

By 1998, the Katosi Women’s Group owned two boats, and a year later, they began a micro-credit fund. Despite the boom, boats and fishing gear were very expensive and unaffordable for many. Some local fishermen and new fishers, interested in gaining from the boom and high prices for the fresh fish started using poison to catch fish, and this led to a ban on fish exports from the region for health and hygiene reasons. The migration of fisher communities from the north due to war also contributed to the introduction of bad fishing practice on Lake Victoria by immigrants.

The Katosi Women’s Community was paralysed and poor, as they were so specialised in fishing. Margaret decided that there was a need for multiple development and opted to diversify into farming. A single cow could produce milk to help feed several people - especially the children, and the manure could be used as fertiliser… and help the women to survive.

By 2000, there were 48 women involved in the KWDT. The situation regarding the lack of access to clean water and sanitation had become critical in Katosi. Previously it had been possible to fetch clean drinking water from the lake. But now water hyacinth blocked the access, and muddied the water. Furthermore, the big population on the lakeside was creating pollution. There was little or no hygiene available to families; people were no longer able to wash in the lake, as they had done in the past. People used wetlands as lavatories, and any toilets that existed were in a bad state. Because of the high water table, it is very expensive to construct the conventional type of pit latrine in fisher communities, thus many families opt to use the bush. Coupled with the high movement within fisher communities following the fish, many households had temporary toilets.

A programme of water, hygiene and health began in 2003, to enable women to gain access to clean, safe water and adequate sanitation. By the end of the year, KWFDA was engaging successful in agriculture, fishing and micro-credit . The local women were increasingly proud of their achievements!

Another year down the road, word of what KWDT was doing had started to spread throughout the fisher communities. There were 4 applications by other groups to join. With over one hundred members, the crucial issue had become the capacity to manage a single large group! The solution was to form a network of women’s groups that started with 4 groups. The network is now made up of 16 different groups, and shared resources, skills and knowledge among 385 women! Training for group leaders became a priority, with Katosi Women’s Development Trust acting as an umbrella group. Activities also became extended to cover wider interests, especially fisheries training.

The local economic situation on the lakeside was still however very difficult. Many women were indebted, due to the high costs of nets and engines as well as repairs. Fish was increasingly being sold to middlemen with little or no benefit of added value to the communities. Margaret, ever resourceful in her ideas, encouraged the women to diversify into bee-keeping, mushroom farming and fish farming, as well as animal keeping (chickens and pigs); the trading from these activities enabled the women to access credit. It was all accompanied by training.

Benefits were immediately visible. Children were able to continue their schooling, women’s self-esteem improved. An illustration of this is how one house that had previously been referred to as “the widow’s house” was now called “the house of the woman who has two cows”! The women have also progressively taken on roles that were previously reserved for men, such as building water tanks… Women have progressively also became involved as decision-makers within their local communities, at Local Authority level, and helped build both transparency and management of resources within their communities. In a country previously reputed more for corruption than for sustainable local development, this is indeed an important achievement.

In 2012, during the World Water Forum held in Marseilles in France, Margaret Nakato received the award of the third Kyoto World Water Grand Prize on behalf of the KWDT. A fitting recompense for all the inspirational work that she and her exceptional team have done in recent years. She was also co-president of the World Fishing Forum, holding office until November 2012, when she passed on the responsibility. She remains the Secretary General of the WFF, an activity that fall under the umbrella of KWDT.

Sources :

Bulletin International de Développement Local Durable Bulletin d’information #95