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IST International Women’s Day Celebrations

International Women’s Day is a worldwide event that celebrates women’s achievements – from the political to the social – while calling for gender equality. It has been observed since the early 1900s and is now recognised each year on 8 March. The day is not affiliated with any one group, but brings together governments, women’s organisations, corporations and charities. The day is marked around the world with arts performances, talks, rallies, networking events, conferences and marches.

IST, represented by the Executive Director, Ms Rita Atukwasa, officiated at the two major events: (i) to honour Dr Marta Vicente-Crespo, Dean of the School of Medicine, at St. Augustine International University, who on 8 March 2017 in London was awarded the Suffrage Science award in recognition of pioneering the use of fruit flies to conduct laboratory research; and (ii) the launch of the Women Empowerment Association at the university.

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L-R: Academic Registrar, C/P University Council, Prof. V. Baryamureeba, IST Executive Director Ms Rita Atukwasa- Chief Guest , Prof. Gabriel Nzarubara – University Chancellor, Dr Marta Crespo Awardee, and Lucy Dan Teuling

Various activities were organised at St. Augustine International University to commemorate Women’s Day. The activities which took place included, among others, a quiz for medical students on the identification of gender equality at the university, indoor games, joint competitions and speeches, which were followed by the launch of the SAIU Women Empowerment Association (SWEA).

Dr Charity Basaza Mulenga, a member of the University Council, affirmed that the university encouraged girls to pursue science courses such as medicine, surgery and law. Since many women had enrolled, it demonstrated that women, like their male counterparts, had the capability to succeed in this area. Examples of successful women, such as the Rt. Hon. Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga, the Speaker of Parliament in the Republic of Uganda, Jennifer Musisi, the Executive Director of KCCA, and many others, were given.

The award winner, Dr Marta Vicente-Crespo appreciated the surprise gesture to honour her. She affirmed that it was indeed a great honour to receive the Suffrage Science award that recognises women in the engineering and physical sciences that relate to medicine. Also, it celebrates women’s achievement in the sciences and their ability to inspire and encourage other women to pursue courses and professions in the sciences. This public engagement scheme was initiated in 2011, by the UK’s Medical Research Council (MRC Clinical Sciences Centre), a biomedical research institute. She went ahead and encouraged peers, friends and colleagues to take bold action to help drive gender parity, that is to say mentoring young females to take up science subjects and courses.

To crown the event was a speech by the Executive Director IST, Ms Rita Atukwasa, who represented H.E. Dr Thelma Awori, Consular Liberian Embassy and Board member at IST. Ms Atukwasa addressed the issue of stereotyping women and girls as not being able to do sciences. She emphasised the need to understand the different kinds of support women and men, girls and boys require to be able to excel in school, and especially in the sciences. The ‘I fear’ factor was equally emphasised as a hindrance to women’s empowerment. She asserted that most women have kept their dreams in check owing to the ‘I fear’ factor and the limiting environment in which they grew up in where they are told to ‘go slow’. In her experience of working with women and girls, the common response to why they don’t challenge themselves is usually the fear that engulfs them, which is imparted from childhood. Therefore, deliberate mentorship for girls is necessary if their numbers are to tremendously increase in the science field.

She pledged that IST is ready to collaborate with the university to advance gender mainstreaming that will enhance relevant actions to make it the most gender-responsive learning institution in the countryThe challenge was whether the university utilises the opportunity. She thus called on the chair of the University Council, Prof. V. Baryamureeba, and the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Gabriel Nzarubara, to think about of the benefits a gender responsive learning environment will bring.

The colourful celebrations ended with the launch of the SAIU Women Empowerment Association (SWEA) to create an opportunity for competent and confident women to lead in innovative socio-economic transformation. SWEA was launched with the purpose of establishing a platform where women and girls can unleash their full potential. The major focus of SWEA is empowering women socially, politically and economically, mentoring women in leadership through leadership training and workshops, boosting women’s interest in the sciences right from primary level, building women’s life skills and promoting women’s health.

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The IST Executive Director, Ms. Rita Atukwasa addressing participants at the University

Other networking events that IST participated in during the commemoration of Women’s Day included:

Interaction with Kyengera Rotary Club

The Executive Director, Ms Rita Atukwasa, was invited by the Kyengera Rotary Club to deliver an interactive talk on domestic violence. Held on the 3 March at Rose Gardens Kyengera, the talk was in commemoration of the International Women’s Day and focused on ‘Alternative Ways of Promoting Peaceful and Healthy Relationships and Homes’.

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The IST Executive Director, Ms Rita Atukwasa, receiving a certificate of recognition after her presentation on domestic violence to members of the Kyengera Rotary Club

The Power and Control Wheel, frequently used by those who work with victims of domestic violence to demonstrate how power and control issues are at the core of abusive behaviours, was used to illustrate and describe the different dimensions of abuse and violence during the talk. Not only did the talk create an empowered class of citizens in support of safe, stable and nurturing relationships and homes, but it also increased their knowledge of domestic violence and its effects on individuals, homes and communities as a whole. Consequently, they made commitments in terms of action points to address domestic violence in their local communities.

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Public Dialogue on Media Coverage of Women in the Ever-Changing World of Work

Organised by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in partnership with Mon Pi Mon and SheMattersUganda, the dialogue focused on ‘why media matters in advancing gender equality’. The participants discussed the importance of having objective and balanced media coverage of both men and women in the 21st century. The discussion brought out critical issues regarding perceptions about and the treatment of women at various places of work such as the media, in households, in markets, and on the higher rungs of authority. Whereas women leaders are more result-oriented, more transparent and less corrupt, they are consistently paid less compared to men and negatively perceived, and questions are always asked about women in higher positions: How did she get there? Who helped her? What did she use?

Great concern was expressed about the treatment of domestic workers. The general view was that domestic workers were not treated with dignity and were disrespected despite the great value of their work. It was agreed that the effort to support advocacy for the legal framework that regulates the working conditions of domestic workers needed to be stepped up. It was clear that there were many unanswered questions regarding the media fraternity. There was still little space and an unfavourable environment for women in the media to explore their skills and potential. Female journalists revealed that writing ‘hard news’ was a male preserve. Sexual exploitation, long hours of work without flexibility, socio-cultural norms that frame perceptions about women were some of the barriers at workplaces that were identified during the dialogue.

It was emphasised that this calls for female-male partnership to ensure a favourable environment at workplaces and to stop the objectification of women.

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Ms Rita Atukwasa, Executive Director IST, contributing to the discussions at the dialogue.

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