SEATTLE, Washington — From 1986 to 2006, a violent conflict raged between the government of Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). During this period, many women and girls experienced forced labor, sexual violence and a lack of health resources. Gulu Women’s Economic Development and Globalization (GWED-G), a human rights organization based in Gulu, Uganda, was created to support women, girls and communities. Today, GWED-G promotes gender equality and provides health services, economic empowerment, psychosocial support and human rights advocacy for the communities in and around Gulu.
Meet the Founder: Pamela Angwech
“The conflict in northern Uganda has had diverse effects on women, resulting from mass displacement and the destruction of families, livelihoods, infrastructure and the environment,” said Pamela Angwech, founder and executive director of GWED-G. “I decided to fight for women and demanded the protection and respect of women’s integrity and rights.”
Angwech had been working with the World Food Programme when war broke out in Acholi land and she saw firsthand the suffering of women in the community. She began meeting with women for counseling under a mango tree near her home. GWED-G has since grown into an organization that serves more than 150,000 individuals in a wide range of programs.
Promoting Girl-Child Education
GWED-G works to make education more accessible for girls using a variety of methods. First, the organization facilitates tertiary education and skills training for disadvantaged youth. Second, GWED-G helps families generate income and informs parents about the benefits of allowing their daughters to attend school. Third, GWED-G supports the development of educational infrastructure in the region and builds youth- and family-friendly spaces that help keep girls in school. One of the reasons why GWED-G promotes gender equality is because educated girls earn higher incomes and are more likely to avoid child marriage and be decision-makers in their communities, according to UNICEF. Also, societies with more girls in school experience more economic growth and have lower rates of child marriage, child mortality and maternal mortality.
Gender Equality and Women’s Rights Program
This program by GWED-G promotes gender equality and addresses sexual and gender-based violence throughout Northern Uganda. By creating and strengthening women’s groups and networks, GWED-G has created “safe spaces” for women to support one another and share ideas on domestic issues and human rights. The program has empowered women to advocate for improved health services in their communities and assume more local leadership positions, transforming them into effective and influential conflict mediators and change-makers.
Economic Empowerment Program
Women are also economically empowered through GWED-G’s “innovative and gender-responsive” agricultural initiatives. Program beneficiaries develop farming skills and learn how to increase productivity and generate income. GWED-G promotes Village Savings and Loans Associations networking, which connects farmers and allows those who are unable to utilize formal banking to access savings accounts. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the additional income that women earn from farming allows them to invest more in their children’s health and education, which will benefit their communities in the future.
“The women who have been empowered have taken up leadership positions, gained economic resources through access to land and properties, made informed choices concerning their reproductive health rights and represented their own communities,” Angwech said. “They have gained self-esteem and aspirations, changed laws and policies, reduced levels of poverty and increased their household incomes.”
Promoting Reproductive Health and Preventing HIV/AIDS
GWED-G supports women’s reproductive health rights, maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, as well as “increased access to affordable, high-quality health services, especially for women and girls.” Uganda has struggled with high rates of HIV since the LRA conflict and HIV-positive people are often isolated from their communities. GWED-G educates people to prevent and destigmatize HIV/AIDS.
One of GWED-G’s current projects aims to improve the overall health of northern Uganda’s population. GWED-G has partnered with USAID to increase the usage of government health facilities in the region for tuberculosis and HIV testing and treatment, family planning and other services that can enhance health outcomes. Since January 2018, 11,000 pregnant women were tested for HIV and 1,360 HIV-positive women were enrolled in a program for treatment and prevention of mother-to-child transmission.
Another ongoing project, in partnership with GlobeMed, focuses on the economic empowerment of HIV-positive mothers and HIV prevention. Since April 2008, GWED-G has granted livelihood support to HIV-positive mothers, raised awareness of sexual and gender-based violence and supplied safe-birthing kits (“mama kits”) to pregnant women with limited access to healthcare facilities.
COVID-19 Relief Efforts
GWED-G is currently working to address the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown. GWED-G has worked with the COVID-19 Task Force to respond to gender-based violence, collaborated to provide food relief to more than 1,500 residents and constructed 40 handwashing facilities. The organization has also distributed hand sanitizer and menstrual hygiene items to menstruating females.
“For our people living with HIV/AIDS, they were disconnected from access to antiretroviral drugs and facilities,” Angwech said. Pregnant women also had limited access to health facilities and resources. Therefore, GWED-G’s Village Health Teams (VHTs) travel door-to-door to provide safe home visits for patients. The VHTs are distributing mama kits and HIV/AIDS treatments. GWED-G has distributed 125 mama kits during the pandemic.
GWED-G has continued to empower women, improve health and uplift communities during the pandemic and it is tirelessly pursuing its goal of a “Gender Just Society.”
– Rachel Powell