Hilda Tadria is making a difference in the lives of young girls in Uganda, but not everyone is too happy about. Tadria created the Mentoring and Empowerment Programme for Young Women (MEMPROW) and the program aims to empower young girls with various workshops. What have resulted in the workshops include a lot of young boys being upset that their girlfriends are now breaking up with them.
“For me, that blew my mind,” Tadria told ThinkProgress. “I had never heard of it — that in the school, these boys can assume that these girls are their wives, because of course they are doing everything for them. They wash their clothes, they give them sex whenever they need it…so when the girls started dropping the boys, the boys complained that MEMPRO is causing divorce in the school.”
Tadria says her purpose in starting the program was to give young girls self-esteem and to make them realize there’s more to life than becoming a ‘wife’.
Although the sense of ownership the boys felt surprised her, Tadria has become accustomed to girls’ lack of empowerment — and has noted how quickly they stand up for themselves after she informs them of their right to say no to sexual advances or unfair expectations because of their gender. She believes that grassroots level work like this is essential to ending gender-based violence, and traveled to Washington from Kampala to urge lawmakers to pass the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) which was re-introduced to Congress for the fifth time in March. If passed, IVAWA would ensure that gender equality and women’s empowerment are factored into U.S. aid delivery programs to both government and NGOs like MEMPROW.
Tadria sees passing the bill is an obligation for U.S. lawmakers.
“The United States packages itself as the leader [in promoting] democracy and rights,” she said. “Why would they then not be interested in being the lead on violence against women?”
As a longtime feminist and activist, however, Tadria attributes the delay to one thing: patriarchy.
“Women’s rights take very long everywhere. There is a common cause of why women and men are not equal, whether it’s in the United States, England, or Africa,” she said. “There is one underlying structural cause. That’s why a law on violence against women in the U.S. will take as long as a [similar] law in the Ugandan Parliament.”
Although Tadria is glad her program has been successful, she realizes that she still has a long road ahead of her, especially since the government is still coming out of its archaic way of thinking as well.