This year, we are thrilled to have been piloting a 3-way partnership with the International Tree Foundation and Alpha Women Empowerment Initiative (Alpha Women), a local women-led organisation in Kasese, Uganda. This is not only new in terms of collaborating directly with the local partner organisation but also because this project directly focuses on the intersection between landscape restoration and women’s empowerment.
Members of Alpha Women have explained how landscape degradation and climatic imbalance go hand in hand, increasing risks and difficulties for women. They have shared stories of how soil erosion reduces soil fertility, which lowers harvests, resulting in hunger and increasing domestic violence. And when the harvest does come, men do not share the income equally with women even when both work hard to grow crops of vanilla and coffee in harsh environmental conditions where landslides pose a threat.
This innovative and inspirational project seeks to address these issues in a truly multi-faceted approach. Firstly, through supporting predominantly women farmers to plant agroforestry trees to support their livelihoods and improve soil, along with grasses to stabilise soil and bamboo to strengthen riverbanks. Secondly, through providing training on agroforestry and agronomic practices, providing materials such as manure, seeds and tools, and supporting women to create kitchen gardens.
But this project doesn’t just take action on environmental goals to support women’s lives. It also addresses the underlying issues by providing leadership training for vulnerable women, including single mothers and widows, and training gender champions to promote gender equity in their communities. So far, the project has trained 100 vulnerable women in leadership and 50 gender champions. The project has also provided reusable sanitary pads and menstrual hygiene training for school-age girls, which they are already reporting is resulting in less absenteeism from schools.
One of the vital components of this project is that it provides training for couples on joint planning, budgeting, and equal benefits sharing from their crops. This training has so far reached 103 couples, and Masika Margret, Alpha Women chairperson, shared that they have already been seeing the results in terms of couples planning and budgeting together to achieve stability in their families.
“We have seen that now men and women are planning and budgeting together. They are managing to get the school fees for their children; they have some money for the future. Some couples came to our office and gave a testimony, and they said thank you, you have done a wonderful thing to our families. Because now their families are stable, and they are no longer fighting”.
We are in awe of the powerful combination of initiatives that Alpha Women has conceived to support both the women and the landscapes of their region. We are amazed by what they are already achieving, the depth of their dedication and commitment, and how they work to support women and landscapes to thrive. They have also integrated the learnings from the Radical Listening training that TreeSisters organised with our partner organisation, Health in Harmony, earlier this year. Their approach now, in the words of Kamalha Annet - Extension Officer Alpha Women, is:
“We listen from the women, and then we act.”
Fundamentally, what we are witnessing is a genuine shift in the power dynamics among women and men in the region. Samuel Muhindo, ITF’s Programme Officer in Western Uganda, said of the initiative:
“We see community members together with leaders commenting about the nurseries that the women are actually implementing. You know, here in Uganda, it has always been a culture that women cannot lead an organisation or… that women cannot plant trees. But the reverse has been true whereby we have seen the impact that has been done by Alpha [Women Empowerment Initiative].”
Hear directly from the project.
Masika Elda, a volunteer at Alpha Women's Empowerment Initiative (AWEI), sheds light on the issues of wealth inequality, land distribution, and the prevalence of domestic violence in the area.