Rehmah Kasule is a 2009 Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership Mentee, a 2013 Vital Voices VVLead Fellow and the President and Founder of Century Entrepreneurship Development Agency (CEDA) International, a leadership development organization in Uganda focusing on improving access to quality education, entrepreneurship development and combating violent extremism. This year she organized a Global Mentoring Walk in Kampala, Uganda, one of 86 walks around the world held in celebration of International Women’s Day.
In Uganda, the patriarchal society with strong norms still limits young women from reaching their full potential. The formal education system doesn’t empower young women to become competitive and relevant in the job market, as 66% of youth in the work force bracket are unemployed. 75% of the population is under 30, yet young women lack support networks and positive role models to mentor them. Young women do not adequately participate in electoral and democratic processes and have been excluded from meaningful conversations for the last 20 years.
On March 5th, The Vital Voices Global Mentoring Walk in Kampala gave young women the platform to make their voices heard. Over 1,500 women and girls were in attendance, coming together to share, learn, network and explore potential collaborations. Each attendee signed a commitment to #PledgeforParity, the social media campaign of International Women’s Day, as a personal first step in promoting sustainable development. We were also excited to welcome Deborah Malac, the first female United States Ambassador to Uganda, as our Guest of Honor.
After the walk, participants engaged in a dialogue about the role of women in sustainable development. Supported by the United Nations Democracy Fund, the discussions focused on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that promote education and gender equality. Mentors and mentees shared the views, strategies and ideas that shape their choices and influence their communities. In these discussions, there was an understanding that each woman had a part to play in the development of her country.
“We are young leaders. Our words are powerful. What we say can make or break our community and our nation. Nothing will happen until we decide to take action. Speak and make your voice be heard. Speak to make that next connection, to make a difference, to bring a new light, to strengthen your identity, to build community and to heal the country. We believe in our dreams and will take charge of our lives and destinies,” said mentees Hawa Kimbugwe, Christine Nawatene, Zura Nakiwoga Mukasa and Lillian Aber.
They spoke representing CEDA International’s Strengthening Young Women’s Civic Participation and Leadership program, my organization’s initiative to develop women’s leadership skills through networking and mentorship, which has impacted over 1,500 young university women.
“It’s our role as women to fix the problems in the society and move forward when all seems to fail. Gender equality will be achieved when we focus on the quality of education that girls receive; just by finishing primary level, a girl earns more and takes charge of her life and health,” said Ambassador Malac.
When I first took on the role of Flag Bearer, I was motivated by the girls in my community-they need the positive influence of a role model, but they are so difficult to reach and engage. I wanted to help give these girls access to mentors that would make them feel heard. After seeing the progress made after just one day of mentoring, I have great hope that the mentors will continue to pay it forward, the mentees will receive the necessary support to rise as Uganda’s leaders and the bonds that have been fostered between them will elevate the voices of Ugandan women and girls.