In Summary

Dr Rugunda announced that Shs53bn was to be made available effective this financial year to support women through provision of interest-free credit and technical advice on, among other things, value addition, technical advice, for purposes of making women major actors in the micro, small and medium scale enterprises subsector

The promise:
In his budget speech on June 8, 2016, Finance Minister Matia Kasaija announced that a provision of Shs43b had been made to cater for several activities aimed at fighting poverty among women in Uganda.

The money, under a programme dubbed the Uganda Women’s Entrepreneurship Programme (UWEP), was to be channelled through the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development.
Mr Kasaija’s announcement was a follow-up to a promise that President Museveni made during the 2015 Women’s Day celebrations in Kabale, that his government would support the economic emancipation of women by setting up a special fund to cater for women-led business projects.

In the first week of February 2016, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda launched the UWEP programme at the Media Center in Kampala.
Dr Rugunda announced that Shs53bn was to be made available effective this financial year to support women through provision of interest-free credit and technical advice on, among other things, value addition, technical advice, for purposes of making women major actors in the micro, small and medium scale enterprises subsector.

“Although women comprise 53 per cent of Uganda’s labour force, 42 per cent are taken on as unpaid family workers. In addition, the male to female wage gap stands at about 39 per cent. This gap in productivity is of meaningful concern both to GDP growth and to the distribution of income between men and women,” Dr Rugunda pointed out.

The government’s decision to create the fund seems to have been informed by events elsewhere. The African Development Bank (AfDB) had, as part of its annual meeting in June 2003 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, organised a special forum on the theme of African Women in Business.

The forum attracted representatives from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and other partners share the vision of women entrepreneurs contributing to employment creation, poverty reduction and sustainable development.

The Bank previewed a new film on African Women Entrepreneurs and shared preliminary findings on its research on African Women in Business. The documentary and the report of that research were formally launched in 2004 during the Bank’s annual meeting, which was held in Kampala.

Busy. March 8 is the Internnational Women’s Day but many women are busy in the markets working to make ends meet on such a day. Photo by Oliveir Mukaya.

The forum committed itself to identifying “the most appropriate means of contributing to an enabling environment for women to start and grow their own enterprises”. It also arrived at recommendations which were contained in a tweaked up version of “the integrated framework for Growth-Oriented Women Entrepreneurs (GOWE)”, which was put to use during the period between November and December 2004.

The report further says: Women own about 40 per cent of the private enterprises in Uganda, mostly at the micro enterprise, informal level; very few women-owned firms grow beyond 5-10 employees. At the micro enterprise level, they provide about 48 per cent of the employment, but this share decreases for firms with over five employees,” the tweaked GOWE report reads in parts.

Among the many recommendations was that the country should make funding available to Women entrepreneurs.
“Develop an MFI loan guarantee scheme for women clients who need larger loan amounts and still do not fit into the range for commercial bank borrowing (e.g. Shs 5 million to Shs 15 million), and who have demonstrated the ability to grow their enterprise, but still lack sufficient collateral to meet the requirements needed to take them to the pre-commercial bank level,” one of the recommendations on fine reads.

In providing for this revolving fund, the Uganda government seemed to have partially been reading from that script.

According to information on the website of the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, the programme was designed along the same model as that of the Youth Livelihood Development Programme and implementation will follow the same procedures and modalities.
Funding under the scheme is only available to women groups comprised of members within the age brackets of 18-65 years.

Nineteen Districts, including Bundibugyo, Kalangala, Kamuli, Kaliro, Katakwi, Kayunga, Kibale, Kiruhura, Kisoro and Kitgum would benefit first. Others are Koboko, Kole, Mayuge, Moroto, Nakasongola, Nebbi, Ntungamo, Otuke and Wakiso.

Distribution of funds is meant to be based on population of women, poverty levels and land area.

There are two levels of funding, Shs12million and Shs25million. The highest amount that authorities at district level can endorse for allocation to a particular group is Shs12million, but projects requiring up to Shs25million can still receive funding with the approval of officials from the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development.

Status
According to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Mr Pius Bigirimana, the project, which is running under the tagline “Unlocking the business potential of the Ugandan woman”, has taken off as scheduled, but funding levels still remain low.

“What was in the budget was Shs43billion but we have so far received only Shs 3 billion. It is a concern for everybody, but you know what has been happening. There is a (financial) squeeze, which is being experienced by everybody, but we hope things will get better so that we continue fighting this poverty” he said.

It is, however, important to note that what was made available in the budget is Shs10billion short of the Shs53billion that was promised when Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda launched the project in February last year.

Impact
As a result of the massive reduction in what had been expected to go towards UWEP, it is a very small percentage of the women’s population in the planned pilot area that have so far accessed funding.

Figures availed by Mr Bigirimana indicate that only 349 women groups have so far received funding.

Given that a Women’s group cannot exceed more than 50 people, the maximum number of women who have so far benefitted from the programme cannot exceed beneficiaries cannot be more 17,450 people, which is a very tiny percentage of the number of women in Uganda.
According to the results from the 2014 National Population and Housing Census, Uganda has 17,921,357 women, which represents 51 percent of Uganda’s population of 34.9million people.

At the same time figures from the Ministry of Gender indicates that 53 percent of Uganda’s population of 11.5 economically active people are women.

There are worries that what will have been disbursed by the end of the financial year will not amount to much. The fears are understandable given that only Shs 3 billion out of the promised Shs 43 billion has been availed with less than two quarters of the financial year to go.

Low funding levels also indicates that the enterprise education and training component, which had been expected to give both the beneficiaries and potential beneficiaries of the fund basics in subjects like time management, book-keeping, entrepreneurship, marketing and business management skills cannot take place. Beneficiaries are operating without basic skilling, which portends danger for their enterprises.

Under the circumstances, it would not be farfetched for one to say that the principle objective of the programme, - “to accelerate the entrepreneurial acumen of Ugandan women while empowering them for economic development,”- has therefore not been achieved, at least for now.

Voices

I have a very positive feeling about this project because very many potentially good entrepreneurs have failed to come up in the past because of failure to access start up credit. Others fail to access business loans because of what the commercial banks requires of them. We now wait to see the impact that it will have
Ms Everlyn Chemutai, Member of Parliament, Bukwo DistriCT

The idea looks great, but I think that the sums of money being talked about are too small to have a serious impact on some of the women involved in business. I agree that money is given to people in groups, but if you were to divide Shs12million among 20 women each would be getting about Shs600,000 which is very little money for a woman operating in some of these towns where the operational expenses are too high.
Ms Edith Tukahirwa, Business Woman and Property Developer

It is not every day that someone comes up to lend you money and say go and use it for one year without you paying any interest. That is why I welcome this programme. I think it will benefit our women in the rural areas, but we have to guard against abuse lest the project fails to have an impact on our people. All political leaders now need to come out and take the lead in sensitizing the women to use the funds appropriately
Ms Christine Achen Ayo, Member of Parliament, Alebtong District

Daily Monitor position

That UWEP is a great idea that can help hone women’s entrepreneurship skills and address unemployment and poverty among the women folk cannot be over emphasized. It is, however, necessary that efforts are made to avoid the bottlenecks that have plagued programmes of a similar nature, like the Youth Livelihood Programme (YLDP).

The YLDP has been hit by fraud as seen in the formation in allocation of grants to either non-youth or nonexistent youth groups. In other cases it has been perceived as a handshake from the ruling NRM to thank the populace for voting wisely. This has affected recovery of the funds.

The repayment terms and durations too have been a matter to contend with. YLDP slapped a 5 percent service fee on project grants whose gestation period goes beyond one year, a policy which seems to ignore the fact that the duration within which benefits could be realized vary from project to project.

For example, while a person who undertakes poultry farming may realise benefits within six to eight weeks, a person who goes into piggery would need at least 12 months before realising any benefits.
The Ministry of Labour Gender and Social Development must address such concerns if UWEP is to work. The Ministry must deal with UWEP as a work in progress – something that has to be reviewed and improved on an annual basis if it is to realise the objectives it was set to achieve.

imufumba@ug.nationmedia.com