“[we must] endlessly make noise against all of the oppressive power structures women are faced with. We need to strongly call out the government and dismantle patriarchal systems for limiting women and with equivalent energy support women in agriculture and food production.” - Aromorach Fancy Sheila
Globally—but particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa—women play a massive role in food production and the agricultural labor force as a whole. But women are often overlooked as key actors in food security and production, mostly due to the gendered barriers they face in owning land, pursuing educational opportunities, and access to market and financial resources. This, paired with high levels of unpaid agricultural and caregiving work, invisibilizes them and their critical role in creating and sustaining healthy, thriving communities and combating food insecurity and environmental degradation.
Advocate, passionate feminist, and long-time Girl Up Initiative Uganda mentee, Aromorach Fancy Sheila, was invited to represent Terre des Hommes Netherlands under the She Leads Project, at the 38th annual Gender is My Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) Pre-Summit Meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia the first week of February. This meeting was facilitated by the African Union to discuss gender mainstreaming in the agriculture sector and maternal and neonatal mortality reduction through nutrition under the overarching theme: Advancing Women's Access to Economic Resources to Build our Continent’s Resilience in Nutrition. This unique opportunity brought together African Union member states to share country perspectives surrounding issues robbing girls and young women of full enjoyment of their rights and freedoms, as well as reflections from young women advocates across the continent.
Since early 2021, Girl Up Initiative Uganda has worked with Terre des Hommes Netherlands as one of the lead implementing partners for the She Leads Project in Uganda. This five-year, youth-driven project is creating space for girls and young women (GYW) to meaningfully participate in local, district, and national decision-making processes. Too often, girls are left out of the conversation due to ingrained age-based and gender-based discrimination—this leads to policies and laws that band-aid systemic challenges and barriers GYW face, sometimes even exacerbating them. Without a seat at the table, girls’ voices—in all of their diversity—are not heard. Thanks to She Leads Uganda, GYW are being given a platform to speak up for what they need to thrive and contribute to positive, gender-sensitive change.
“Citizens should own the law—not the state only.”
During this week-long event, Fancy attended the GIMAC Training of Young Women and Girls, a capacity-strengthening session aimed at growing the advocacy and lobbying potential of young, African leaders. As a recent law school graduate, she was interested in learning about the laws in place under the Maputo Protocol, which states that access to nutritious food is a protected human right (Article 15; Right to Food Security). She and her colleagues discussed the gaps in the implementation of existing laws and noted that theory does not protect against food insecurity, especially for vulnerable women and girls living in resource-scarce communities. Collectively, they recognized and agreed that most people do not have a basic understanding of laws and policies, and therefore cannot use them to their benefit. Fancy shared, “Citizens should own the law—not the state only. This is best practiced by continuously sensitizing people about human rights and the laws that are there to protect them.” A key suggestion was to use cross-cutting data and research to improve institutional memory, as data is used to influence policies and best practices.
The official pre-summit events covered a variety of topics, ranging from the impacts of unpaid care and domestic work, to gender transformative climate actions, to sexual and reproductive health and its relationship with nutrition outcomes. Conversations focused on building a resilient Africa through gender inclusion, and how this would directly benefit education, nutrition, food security, and health initiatives as a whole. Fancy shed light on how lack of bodily autonomy and nutrition are in close relationship to one another;
“ If women still don’t have power over their bodies and reproductive rights, then hurdles to nutrition for them is higher to jump over and they will continue to give birth to a large family and fail in feeding them. Also, since their husbands [male partners] still assume power over their bodies, he will dictate how she feeds and nourishes herself, which is limiting to her holistic well-being.”
One of the most transformative moments for Fancy was during a youth-only session called Nanga. The format of the session was informal and light, creating space for open dialoguing between the young women, all of who come from diverse backgrounds and experiences throughout the continent. She noted that, in Uganda, the ‘right’ to food is unjust and unfair — how where you live, cultural background, family unit structure, mental health, income level, and even educational status play a huge role in nutrition outcomes.
Fancy stresses that, as advocates of gender justice, we need to “endlessly make noise against all of the oppressive power structures women are faced with. We need to strongly call out the government and dismantle patriarchal systems for limiting women and with equivalent energy support women in agriculture and food production.” After this week of knowledge-sharing and inspiration, Fancy has come to appreciate the concept of nutrition as justice, and as food systems—and those working within these systems—as vital and interconnected to everything we do.
Acknowledgments from Fancy
I extend my gratitude to the She Leads Consortium in Uganda for challenging me once more to represent my fellow young women and girls in such a meeting. Many thanks to Girl Up Initiative Uganda, my home of mentorship, for continuously keeping me in the system of advocacy and awareness creation, as well as youth leadership. To Terre des Hommes, the Netherlands for fully funding my trip to Ethiopia, plus the provision of a wonderful chaperon— one who always gave me a seat at every table—thank you, Sophie Nabukenya.