Closing the employment gap for women in Uganda

Catherine Alejo

For the last three years, we’ve been working with 250 women with disabilities in Northern Uganda. Catherine Alejo, Programme Manager in Uganda and Tanzania, explains how the project has supported these women in developing their skillsets and starting new businesses.

Evaline sitting in her shop surrounded by clothes she's made

The project, funded by the Foundation for a Just Society (FJS), was carried out in the Adjumani District of Northern Uganda. In this area, around 16% of the population has a disability. Many were left disabled from war-related injuries due to 20 years of unrest. The was also meant there are high levels of poverty. With disabled people even more marginalised when it comes to accessing services like education, health and employment.

 So, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure disabled people are included. And there is a clear disability employment gap. Many disabled people are unable to find jobs despite having qualifications. So together with Cheshire Services Uganda, we’ve been working to bridge these gaps. And help break down stigmas around disability. They were supporting disabled women in particular in establishing steady livelihoods to support themselves and their families.

How our project supported disabled women

The project team worked closely with women with a range of disabilities. The purpose was to help increase their household income. This started with career guidance so they could select a vocation best matched to their interests or skills. Followed by vocational or artisan training and business skills development training.

And we also provided them with start-up kits. The kits contained essential materials to help kickstart their businesses. The training available was varied. And women developed skills in an array of vocations. This included the agricultural industry, tailoring, hairdressing, weaving and mechanical engineering.

 As well as building up individual skillsets, the project also wanted to help improve the confidence and self-esteem of the women we worked with. And demonstrate to the community the valuable contributions disabled people make to society when they are included. In Uganda, generally, women with disabilities have been left out of employment. And excluded more than their male counterparts. Some are even denied access to essential services like banking or the opportunity to buy land. Gender biases also mean disabled women are not as encouraged to develop independent roles outside of the home.

But with the vocational training and start-up kits, many of the women were able to pursue their own businesses. And gain financial independence. Their businesses – like hairdressing or weaving – also meant they were interacting more with their local community. And demonstrating that disability is not a barrier when it comes to owning a successful business.

Working with the community

As well as skills development, project staff also offered health assessments to the women. They also provided any necessary assistive devices if they needed them. And the team worked closely with the community to challenge some of the stigmas about disability. Awareness events were a great catalyst for that. They engaged community members and policymakers in essential discussions.

Martin Opi, Chairperson of the District Disability Council in Adjumani, reflected on the fact that Ugandan culture has failed to accommodate disability, often due to archaic perceptions that disability is a curse. This shows why this project was so needed.

“When a project like Leonard Cheshire’s livelihoods project for young women with disabilities comes, it is really an eye opener,” he said. “Many people get surprised with the transformation that someone who was despised by the community shows after they are given the skills to be self-reliant. And that is why we as the district are very grateful for this project and what it has done for persons with disabilities. But above all, the idea it represents amongst our people. Our fathers were wrong to judge the person with the disability. Disability was never the issue.”

The impact of our project

Since the project, many women we worked with felt more loved and respected by their communities. 66% of the women also felt more confident to take part in social events. And 79% of women also said they were consulted more when important decisions were being made. Encouragingly, since the project, 71% of the women we worked with now own assets like land and animals. This has helped improve livelihoods alongside the new businesses they have started.

Many of the women now offer essential services to their communities. And have clear goals and visions for their future too. The project has demonstrated the importance of including disabled people. It has highlighted the impact of sustainable development projects that have disabled people at the heart. And if we want to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, projects like this are an absolute necessity.