The country of Uganda has an unparalleled influence on Voice because of its influence on the five women who are the organisation’s beating heart. Whether they were born here and have lived here all their lives, or just for a part of it, Uganda has had a profound impact on each of the women we’ve spoken to for this series.
In the third Uganda in Five Women post we speak to Fede Namuleme, a mother of two boys and a skilled artisan. Fede is also Voice’s Office & HR Manager.
When she first wrote down her dreams in the Voice Dream Box, Fede Nameuleme’s dream was to afford for her sons to go to a good school. Nearly two years on and her eldest boy Ferris is in school, and her youngest Felton will start next year. “Since working for Voice my life has changed,” she says. “I am able to pay my bills without worry and start saving towards school fees for my boys.”
Fede now dreams of one day running her own salad-making business alongside working for Voice and, similarly to Regina, she also dreams for land to build a house to continue to raise her family. She says that “when you have a forever home nobody can come to take it from you,” and that is a type of security yearned for by many in Uganda. Fede was born in Uganda and has lived in the country all of her life, but before Voice she never had an employment contract that lasted for more than one year.
Fede grew up in a family who wanted her to reach her potential, and her father in particular was strict academically. He wanted her to be a lawyer, a career path Fede also wanted to pursue, but at the end of her A Levels she was two points short of being able to study law at university and so had to choose a new career path.
Instead, Fede studied Industrial Psychology at Makerere University, which fellow artisan Cathy describes as “the best University in East Africa”. She found the process of getting into university barrier-free, but when her father sadly passed away during her first semester, paying fees became much harder. Unlike in the UK and Europe, in Uganda there is no government student loan system to help with a child’s education if they lose their parents, and fees must be paid for a student to be able to take exams. Fede was fortunate that she had family — an elder sister and an uncle — who were able to fund her degree. Had Fede not had these family members in her life, she would have had to drop out of university.
After graduating Fede worked in a statistics department in Entebbe, inputting data from tourist health forms. This was a good job, however all of the contracts were only ever fixed term, and whether you stayed was down to performance. Fede made sure her contract was always renewed by working hard and being the first to arrive everyday, but the temporary contract meant that when Fede became pregnant with her first child, she was still classified as a contract worker, giving her reduced maternity rights.
How to raise a family and sustain a career is a common dilemma faced by women across the world, and it is no different in Uganda. In Uganda, the standard maternity allowance is three months paid leave; the Employment Act of 2006 states that “A female employee shall, as a consequence of pregnancy, have the right to a period of sixty working days leave from work on full wages.” That’s just eight and a half weeks of paid maternity leave.
While this is standard, Fede’s unstable work situation meant that she was not entitled to the statutory allowance, and in fact was called back to work just six weeks after Ferris’s birth. When she asked for two more weeks, her employer said no and threatened to end her contract. She was eventually granted an additional four weeks leave when she became unwell at work, a concession inline with the Employment Act which states that “In the event of sickness arising out of pregnancy or confinement, affecting either the mother or the baby, and making the mother’s return to work inadvisable,” a mother would be entitled to a total of eight weeks of leave after childbirth. Fede describes herself as lucky, but the time she had away from work during her first pregnancy still only equated to the time she should have had according to the law.
She was not so lucky with her second pregnancy. Fede was called back to work immediately after Felton was born, having been refused any leave at all, and so she was forced to quit her job to care for her newborn baby son.
In contrast, being a part of Voice enables Fede to continue to work and earn a living while caring for her family, an opportunity not many Ugandan women have. Of course there is opportunity for employment in Uganda beyond Fede’s example, but the main employment for women in villages is running shop stalls outside of their homes. This kind of work is highly competitive as people’s buying choices are built on community and relationships, which makes guaranteeing a regular income almost impossible. The income is also comparatively low compared to work in the cities, and compared to what Voice offers.
For Fede and the other artisans, the fact that Voice offers well-paid work in their village is a big part of what makes it so special. Fede, Regina and Cathy can all walk from the office from their homes, and for Scovia it is a short mutatu ride away.
Moreover, Voice has enabled Fede to develop her existing skills as well as developing totally new ones. She has learned to hand make jewellery from silver, brass, rattan and sisal — including her favourite brass-hammered Radiance drops — but she has also taken on the role of Office & HR Manager at the Voice headquarters in Bweyogerere. She wants to develop her role with Voice even further, and dreams of empowering the many disadvantaged people in Uganda, including widows and orphans: “My dream is to continually learn & develop within my creativity with Voice. I want to empower others by teaching them the skills I have learnt, so they too can live sustainably,” she says.