Last month, the Vital Voices Africa Team returned to Uganda for the annual Supporting Public Advocacy for Regional Competitiveness (SPARC) Regional Meeting with women from Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda. We have been working with our partners for the past three years to identify issues crucial to the empowerment of businesswomen in their countries and to build strong campaigns advocating for positive solutions taken by government and the private sector.
These women are true partners to us. We care about the issues they care about – more women on corporate boards, equitable allocation of government resources to women farmers, women’s empowerment in the workplace, and favorable government procurement laws for women-owned businesses. We also care about them as individuals, and have designed our programs to provide them with the resources, training, and experience they need to grow as confident advocates and leaders in their own right.
Monica Malega, UWEAL’s Advocacy Officer, began the SPARC Program as an export promotion specialist and program manager, but had little advocacy experience. After three years, she has developed into a strong policy and advocacy resource within her organization and a leader on the UWEAL campaign. In her own words:
“I remember those first days – it was my first time hearing about advocacy campaigns. I didn’t know what I was getting into and at first I thought ‘Oh, advocacy is about making noise!’
Then we went to Johannesburg for our first SPARC Regional Meeting training, and this was a turning point for me. I learned the basic concepts. What is advocacy? How do you carry out an advocacy campaign? I learned that a campaign is not just about making noise. There must be something you make noise for. I’ve learned that an advocacy campaign is a journey. You must take that first step, and every step you take leads to the next one, but every step must have results, and every result must contribute to impact.
Our advocacy campaign is not only a learning experience but also a motivator. In order to better advance the interests of the women we represent, I went back to school and earned an MA in International Trade Policy and Law. Our country is good at designing policies but implementation is still a challenge, so there is a gap between the public and private sector when it comes to economic empowerment and policy implementation. The women I work with are struggling to grow their businesses – I want to see how the government can help them create a favorable ground to do business.
It has been a long journey, but I do not regret anything. Every day I see progress and I am grateful for it.”