Cissy is from Uganda and is currently working as Women’s Rights Advocacy Adviser with NAGAAD (a women’s umbrella organisation representing Somaliland women) in Hargeisa, Somaliland.
What is your work background?
I was working promoting women’s rights and building capacities in my home country, Uganda. I first worked with the Ministry of Internal Affairs. As the State minister was a woman, a minister and Member of Parliament for one of the districts of Uganda, she was entitled to a Political Assistant to help her on constituency issues – empowering women to meaningfully participate and benefit from the government development programmes through the district in line with decentralisation requirements – and I worked for her. We formed an association of district women leaders as a forum to equip them with leadership, communication and advocacy skills and especially to empower them on their roles as women leaders at local levels. At first women were being elected into positions because of the affirmative action – which was a good provision passed within the local government act by parliament - but majority of them did not know exactly what to do when they reached the councils. So we supported them, building their capacities especially through the association. Then I joined the National Union of Women with Disabilities of Uganda – as an Information and Advocacy officer. I was promoted to Gender officer, and then Programme Coordinator by the time I left. My roles here revolved around advocating for the rights of women with disabilities in Uganda – for inclusiveness in programmes, structures and budgets, building the capacities of women to demand and exercise their rights, linking and networking them with relevant partners as the organisation alone could not fulfil all their needs. All the interventions were to ensure that women with disabilities improve their livelihoods. Before I left I was coordinating a reproductive health programme. HIV and AIDS was an issue for women with disabilities because most men still thought that they were ‘clean’ - free of AIDS and hence used them. This increased the HIV and AIDS incidences amongst women with disabilities and they ended up double stigmatised as women with disabilities and living with HIV and AIDS.
What inspired you to become a Development Worker with Progressio?
The experience I had acquired, lessons learned, I realised that I could use this and share this with others. Of course when you are sharing, you also learn other things. I had been involved a lot in women’s issues in my own country and I wanted to learn at the international level.
Is living in your country of placement as you expected it to be? If not, how is it different?
I think my first impression was quite different. I applied initially for Timor Leste, then I was given the opportunity to work in Somaliland. In Uganda, we never heard of Somaliland, but just Mogadishu (in Somalia). I debated in my heart and my colleagues advised me not to take up the opportunity because they thought that there were some misunderstandings between Somalis and Ugandan stemming from the Ugandan military presence in Mogadishu. But I decided to, first of all as an African the first thing one looks into in such a scenario is what will happen to my children if anything bad happens - but the good thing was that I did not have children. Having been around Muslim women, I knew a bit of what to expect of the Muslim culture but I did not want to take anything for granted so I inquired about the dressing code especially. I was told how it was a must to cover up so I bought myself long dresses, skirts and long sleeved blouses. But when I reached here, people were lovely - really friendly. The picture you get in Uganda is very different. As long as you don’t go against Somaliland’s traditional rules, things are fine. We discussed religion openly and when you analyse issues I don’t know what is bringing out conflicts between Christians and Muslims, - they are in so many respects the same – small differences only. It is misinterpretation of religion that leads to conflict. It is not so different what we believe in. To me, religion helps us find the path to God and it doesn’t matter which path one takes.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
I enjoy most building the capacity of women here – especially in Nagaad. The interactions I have with them and their open attitude of explaining to you that may be what worked in Uganda cannot work here because Muslims do things a bit differently. We share and see how strategies can be adapted to work here from other places.
What has been the most exciting moment so far?
We realised that Nagaad had put so much effort into getting a government that would recognise women’s rights. So we requested an appointment with the President and he did meet Nagaad and agreed to work on women issues. The government is positive and we can now start from there to further lobby for women’s rights. Nagaad has participated so much in trainings for election observers. I was an International Election Observer – and you could see women were very actively involved in the election not only as voters but also as polling station officials. There were more women polling officials than men. Women were enthusiastic to vote. In Uganda when there’s an election you don’t find women queuing up in the same way as they now take democracy for granted.
And the biggest lesson?
Integrating into an organisation you have to get to understand the people and culture of the organisation. People are very friendly - both men and women. The biggest lesson is to be humble and not to criticise anyone for anything. No one knows everything anyway. Just explain in a way that shows respect to the other person.
If you could change one thing, what would that be?
If I’d have known what it was like, I would have joined this type of work earlier than I did and would have taken interest in women’s rights in relation to Muslim societies earlier too. We have Muslim women in Uganda. When we were talking about the domestic relations bill – the majority Christians were pushing for one man, one woman, whereas Muslim women still defended polygamy and at the end of the day the bill failed. If I had the knowledge about Islam that I have now, then may be I would have helped to solve the differences that Christian and Muslim women had then. As a women’s movement we need to be open and concentrate on women’s’ issues in common, not always on our small divisions – agree on a consensus always for our benefit – but in this case both Christian and Muslim women in Uganda lost out because that was just one provision in the bill and they were other provisions that were agreeable and beneficial to both.
What strikes you most about Progressio’s Development Worker model?
The issue of skill- share not transfer. It is definitely SHARE. Because you also learn. Then another thing is the monitoring part. Our RICA (RICA is Progressio’s Monitoring and Evaluation Framework) tools – they are really good. If we use them effectively we will have good documentation and share our lessons more widely.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of becoming a development worker?
My advice would be to go with the mentality that you do not know everything, and there is always a new thing to learn. Try to work with everybody and integrate into the society you are going to. Learn the culture of the organisation and the country at large. There are some things you cannot change and you need to accept that some things that worked back home will not work where you are now. Be open to learning and sharing.
Where do you see yourself once your placement has ended? And in what ways is this placement with Progressio assisting you to get there?
When it’s ended of course I hope to take on more international jobs. But maybe with the knowledge acquired, I can now form a consultancy firm in Uganda to bridge development-related gaps between Muslims and Christians globally.