UGANDA: Working Towards a Better Humanity

She has a hefty task of monitoring countries on the implementation of the Beijing Platform of Action. Ms Marren Akatsa-Bukachi, the executive director of The Eastern African Sub-Regional Support Initiative for the Adjustment of Women (Eassi), also burns the midnight oil wondering how countries in the region can overcome their numerous problems, writes Jane Godia

When she is not worrying about peace and conflict in East Africa and the Horn of Africa, she is wondering about food security in these countries or the number of girls undergoing Female Genital Mutilation.

If not that, it is about women widowed by HIV/Aids, who have been denied access to their matrimonial property.

-Ms Marren Akatsa-Bukachi

She is worried about the low number of women in decision-making positions and retrogressive cultures that demean them.

She also worries about how she can help work towards a better humanity where all are equal.

That constitutes the life of Ms Marren Akatsa-Bukachi, who operates from her office in Kampala, Uganda.

Bukachi is the executive director of The Eastern African sub-Regional Support Initiative for the Adjustment of Women (Eassi), a regional non-governmental body involved in research and monitoring.

Tasked with researching and monitoring several countries

At Eassi, Bukachi is tasked with the heavy responsibility of researching and monitoring several countries, to find out whether their governments are implementing the Beijing Platform for Action, of which they are signatory to.

The countries are Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia.

“Eassi was founded out of the Beijing Conference after participants felt there was need to monitor governments to ensure they implemented the promises made at the meeting,” she says.

“As we do this, we also look at other international instruments such as the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the African Protocol for Human Rights.”

The organisation is also involved in peace advocacy, and seeks the experiences of countries like Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Rwanda and Burundi. These countries are either in conflict or have just emerged from the same.

Bukachi says Eassi has also joined the anti-Female Genital Mutilation campaign. FGM is rampant in the region, save for Rwanda and Burundi.

“In Eritrea over 80 per cent of the communities practise FGM, and the number is higher in Somalia,” she says.

Organisation monitors government planning

Akatsa-Bukachi with her family

Eassi works with partners and grassroots organisations to sensitise the communities on the harmful effects of the cultural practice.

Food insecurity, which has ravaged the continent, is another of Eassi’s concerns.

“We have been conducting research on Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers and Millennium Development Goals, which hold the key to eliminating food insecurity in the region,” says Bukachi.

The organisation monitors government planning on the ground, which informs the preparation of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers.

“When we look at peace and conflict — for example, women and peace in northern Uganda — we disseminate the information we have picked in our research to governments, civil societies and all stakeholders,” says Bukachi.

But this job has not been easy.

The biggest challenge is that some issues Bukachi and her team try to address are directly linked to the people’s culture, which is difficult to change. An example is FGM.

Need for capacity building on government policies

Eassi also faces the problem of being a regional organisation working in a national context.

“This makes fundraising difficult because most donors want to fund national bodies, yet Eassi is a regional organisation,” says the executive director.

Akatsa-Bukachi with a colleague.

Donors prefer to give budgets to governments, hence there is reduced funding to non-governmental organisations and women’s organisations.

“Countries’ disparities in development is yet another challenge. Tailor-made approaches must be in sync with women’s advancement levels in the developed countries.”

Information is an important component of Bukachi’s work but there are also gaps in this area.

“We need to interact with governments to get information, which is never readily available. We resort to the civil society and national libraries for inadequate information,” she says.

She reiterates that there is need for intervention in terms of capacity building on government policies. This would enable government officials to have information at their fingertips, whenever it is sought.

Working at helm of Commonwealth Women’s Network

Other than being in charge of the regional body, Bukachi has another responsibility. In the next three years, she will be at the helm of the Commonwealth Women’s Network, as its chairperson.

Eassi will also host the Commonwealth Women’s Network during this time. The Commonwealth has 52 member countries.

Despite her busy schedule, Bukachi takes her responsibilities in her stride.

As chair of the Commonwealth Women’s Network, Bukachi acts as the link between the civil society and the Commonwealth Women’s Affairs ministers.

During the just concluded Eighth Triennial Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting (8WAMM) in Kampala, Uganda, she guided women from civil society around issues people wanted to discuss.

“I was in Nairobi during the World Social Forum in a preparatory meeting for partners, which discussed issues we wanted articulated at the 8WAMM,” she says.

Her duties included articulating civil society issues

As the Commonwealth women’s voice at 8WAMM, her duties included articulating civil society issues.

“I was one of the speakers during talks between the civil society and ministers. I had to bring out the issues of civil society and its expectations,” explains Bukachi.

Bukachi terms her greatest challenge as ironic, which she experienced at 21.

“I had a university degree but had a hard time finding employment since most organisations considered me too young,” she recalls with amusement.

After completing her primary education at Westlands Primary School, Bukachi was admitted to Limuru Girls’ School for her O-levels.

“I went to university immediately after O- levels, and it was not easy getting a job upon completion because of my age.”

And it has been a long walk for Bukachi who graduated from the New Delhi University, India, in 1979 with a degree in Sociology.

Upon returning to the country, she later was employed by the Ministry of Social Services as a social development officer.

Resigned from civil service after 10 years

She rose to a Provincial Social Officer in Nyeri and Social Rehabilitation Officer.

After 10 years in the Civil Service, Bukachi resigned and joined the Young Women Christian Association in 1990, as a national programme officer.

“My duties involved raising funds and capacity building training with a special focus on young women,” she says.

Bukachi immensely enjoyed her work at the YWCA because of the organisation’s culture of sisterhood.

“At YWCA, we were one big global family. You could not run the organisation like a one-woman show, since every member had a say,” she says.

After five years at the YWCA, Bukachi, moved to the Institute of Education in Democracy (IED) as a programme officer in charge of civic education.

She was involved in civic education, observing elections, capacity building in terms of good governance and organising teams of observers.

She found the task of training people on their responsibilities and rights enjoyable, but she nevertheless felt a sense of job insecurity because funding for the organisation was not assured.

“If an organisation takes on political issues, funding might not come easily because some donor organisations do not believe in ploughing their money into such ventures,” says Bukachi.

Influenced donor policies on funding

But she was happy that she had made a difference in people’s lives through civic education.

After working for IED for five years, Bukachi, joined the Royal Netherlands Embassy as a democracy, governance and human rights officer, a position she held for four years.

“I assessed programmes for grant making on issues of democracy, governance and human rights,” says Bukachi.

“I also monitored organisations being funded in terms of output,” says the petite single mother of four girls, who looks unbelievably young.

Her experience at the Royal Dutch Embassy enabled her to learn more about the operations of donor organisations and gain knowledge on fundraising.

“I also made recommendations for organisations involved in crucial work to get funding. I identified important projects for the same,” says Bukachi.

She influenced donor policies on funding.

It was after four years that Eassi finally beckoned, and Bukachi could not resist, given the ideals the organisation stood for.

Dismayed by patriarchal societies prevalent globally

She now feels she is serving the society in a crucial way, given that Eassi looks at human rights and how they affect women.

Bukachi is dismayed by the patriarchal societies prevalent globally, which, she says, have shaped women’s oppressed status and reinforced men’s dominance.

“Much as I appreciate culture, I do not understand why some communities make a woman move on her knees on her wedding day, to show loyalty and submissiveness to her husband,” she says.

She adds: “The world view has changed. I would like to see the good aspects of culture retained and the bad ones eradicated.”

Citing the issue of land, Bukachi says it is unfair to deny a woman her birthright to own land, simply because she is married.

“In many cultures, only sons can inherit their ancestral land, which has perpetuated poverty among women after divorce or widowhood,” she says.

Bukachi reiterates: “I would like to see a situation where women have full rights in their homes. They should be able to make important decisions concerning their families.”

Passion for human rights issues

The Eassi boss has a passion for human rights issues.

“I try to communicate the issues everyday, especially when I see people’s rights abused. When I see something wrong in society, I speak against it, whether people want to hear it or not.

“It would be a disservice to the community for a person in my position to perpetrate a culture of silence,” she says.

Bukachi developed an interest in human rights when she was working at the IED.

“Since part of the job touched on human rights, I started seeing things from a different perspective.”

Bukachi, who is separated, was married at the time and was going through marital problems.

“I realised that every individual has his or her own rights. I realised that my destiny was in my hands and I could either stay in an unhappy marriage or leave for my own well-being. I opted for the latter, which has turned out to be a brilliant decision,” she says.

Bukachi feels for women who have sacrificed their self-esteem and happiness to endure battery and other forms of abuse in marriage.

Grew up in a family of politicians

But the woman, whose children are all grown up, says she has remained good friends with her in-laws.

Originally from Mfangano Island, on Lake Victoria, Bukachi’s family moved to Awendo, near Sony Sugar Company in 1968.

She grew up in a family of politicians, and her father, Shellemiah Mbeo Onyango, who died last April, was a former MP for Mbita and a prominent farmer.

“My father’s motto was ‘you can do whatever you aspire, but do it well’,” says Bukachi, who says she is a politician at heart.

Her mother, Loise Auma Mbeo, who was the Maendeleo ya Wanawake chairperson in Nyanza, was also a great source of inspiration.

“It was impressive to listen to her address gatherings. She was so eloquent in Kiswahili, that I aspired to become a charismatic leader like her,” she says.

Bukachi wants to see African women at the top

Ambition was her mother’s second name, and she went on to become the Homa Bay County Council chairman.

Unfortunately, a tragic accident claimed her life and those of several councillors, who were on their way to meet former President Moi at State House in November 1990.”

But Bukachi has strived to overcome her family tragedies to carry the values and traits she inherited from her late parents.

“I want to see African women at the top and not as deputies. Let them move to important positions and Government ministries where they can make decisions touching on crucial matters such as poverty and other policies, to elevate their communities,” she asserts.

“I want to see the ‘Zebra design’, where for every one man, there is a woman. In this way, women will get more representation which will uplift their wellbeing, and by extension, that of their families and society as a whole,” she concludes.

SOURCE: The Standard

AUTHOR: Jane Godia

URL: Click here

DATE: 29/07/2007

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