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RITA ACIRO: Passion for empowering women

Rita Aciro Lakor is ranked among the top players of women’s rights activism in Uganda.

Kampala, Uganda | AGNES E NANTABA | She has been involved at different levels and stations for the last 18 years and today she is the executive director of Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET), one of the biggest NGOs working on gender transformation and empowerment of women.

While it serves as a job that puts food on the table, Aciro says she does it as more out of passion. She refers to her childhood whenever she tries to explain where it all started.

She says, even as a child, she had the innate talent of being a good speaker and an ability to influence others. She recalls that on many occasions at Mary Reparatrix Boarding School – Bugonga in Entebbe and at Kololo Secondary School, Aciro’s teacher told her that she would turn out to be a person of influence. The words came to pass, she says.

Also, as in most African societies, Aciro observed several injustices against women and girls in families and society. She says that while she was never a victim of what she fights for, she is pushed to fight for other women to ensure that they too enjoy equal rights especially in an era where the fight has been underrated.

“When you look at the domestic sphere, nobody wants to talk about it and yet there is so much injustice and discrimination at the family and community level that penetrating such an area will take us many more years,” says Aciro.

“Issues on violence in homes, incest, marital rape, widow inheritance, disinheriting widows and orphans in communities are some of the issues that nobody wants to talk about,” she says.

And as society tolerates such injustices as it is socialised to believe that it is the norm, women are most affected.

Her entry into the women’s NGO world started in 1997, when enrolled as an intern at UWONET. Soon she was standing out among her colleagues as not only doing the job well but also working with passion. Even when she did not keep in there for so long, she still worked within the same areas and indeed after 10 years, she was sought for to take up leadership at the NGO.

“I was taken up by what I love to do best but the testimony of the ability, commitment and passion for leadership was proven,” she says.

Aciro says that women’s advocacy is not just about talking but also addressing issues from a factual point of view. This requires a lot of research. She says, in contrast to popular view, NGO work is hard work that involves selling resourceful issues that affect society to stakeholders.

Aciro says her work today is in line with her desire to prove that a woman can do whatever a man can do and even better. It started at an early age and associating mainly with boys.

“I am very competitive and I found this character in boys because I always wanted to prove that I can do whatever they did or even better,” she says.

Aciro is married and her husband of 18 years has been supportive of the causes she pursues. She says she aspires to remain independent both mentally and financially even at home and is not the kind of wife who believes that its men who are supposed to provide for the home.

Regarding her work and passion, Aciro says many challenges affecting the women’s movement remain.

“We need to connect dots on how policy and governance agenda has an implication on the things that happen to women at a personal level; for instance issues of forceful land acquisition and the impact on food security.”

Ritah Aciro’s Liteside

Any three things we don’t know about you?

I am a very determined and positive person. At times people look at me as a hard person but I have a very soft heart and I am a very forgiving person; where I sense trouble, I withdraw. I am also a struggler and there’s nothing negative that comes my way to pull me down.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Having consent to make certain decisions in life.

What is your greatest fear?

I fear for what may happen to my two sons when I am gone so I always pray for life to see my sons through adulthood.

Which living person do you most admire?

I admire Miria Matembe for her fight for rights beyond hers.

What is the greatest thing you have ever done?

I have been able to turn around the organisation that I work for and that to me, it is the greatest I have done. I can underestimate the fact that I have taken the organisation to the women at the grassroots level and made them feel as part of it unlike what it was before.

What is your current state of mind?

At peace.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

The superiority of men; the thinking that men are better than women in all social, economic and political aspects and yet we have not given them equal opportunities and platform is just not fair. Right from after birth, the treatment, the language used to both and what starts at home has a reflection in the public sphere.

What does being powerful mean to you?

As a student of leadership and governance, I understand power as the ability to influence positively.

On what occasion do you lie?

We all tell lies either indirectly to protect somebody or for anything.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?

There is nothing more that I can ask God for.

Which living person do you most despise?

Those who oppress and violate rights of humanity.

What is the quality you most like in a man?

Being respectful and confident are very crucial.

What is the quality you most like in a woman?

Confidence and doing what she believes is right.

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