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Breaking down taboos: Young, female and heading a sanitation masonry business in Uganda

  • Breaking down taboos: Young, female and heading sanitation masonry business in Uganda
    Tweheyo Naume constructing a toilet under the FINISH Mondial programme in Bunyangabu district, Rwenzori, Uganda

This morning the construction site is animated with female voices. Tweheyo Naume is here with Acirro Moreen, another woman from her community who aspires to become a mason like her. They stand in the middle of a semi-constructed round wall, and Naume explains how to mix the cement and align the bricks for an ecosan toilet. Naume is only 23, but she has already constructed more than 80 safe sanitation systems and toilets and trained more than 40 other women in her community in the Rwenzori region, western Uganda.

Naume’s vocation started at an early age, helping her uncle, who is also a mason. “I would do jobs for him like fetching water and mixing the sand, and at the end of the day he would pay me. This kept motivating me as time went by. Then the FINISH Mondial programme came in. They first trained my uncle, and I later joined as well,” explains Naume.

The FINISH Mondial (Financial Inclusion Improves Sanitation and Health) programme under which Naume and her uncle trained, is implemented in Uganda by the NGOs Caritas Fort Portal-HEWASA and Amref Health Africa and funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The programme works towards the Sustainable Development Goal 6 target of safe sanitation for all by 2030. Among other things, FINISH Mondial trains masons in setting up their own small sanitation construction business, enabling them to create a livelihood for themselves, while at the same time developing much needed sanitation services.

Tweheyo Naume mixing sand and cement for plastering an ecosan toilet in Kasunganyaja, Bunyangabu district, Rwenzori, Uganda

In Rwenzori, 60 percent of latrines in rural areas do not meet basic sanitation standards. Some population groups have no access to any toilet, which leads to propagation of diseases and environmental problems related to poorly managed sanitation.

In Rwenzori, 60 percent of latrines in rural areas do not meet basic sanitation standards

Pamela Kabasinguzi heads the programme in Uganda and is proud of its achievements so far: “We have constructed close to 50,000 safely managed sanitation facilities across the four districts using climate-friendly technologies. And we have improved agricultural productivity by making nitrogen-rich compost from faecal sludge and trained some 737 youth sanitation entrepreneurs.”

Of these 737 masons, 45 percent are female. In the Ugandan rural context, becoming a mason is an unlikely career choice for a woman, and certainly not the easiest. But it has boosted the economic strength of the women involved.

“The young women we train are able to sustain their families economically even where there is no male breadwinner,” says Kabasinguzi.

Tweheyo Naume (right) training Acirro Moreen on how to construct an ecosan toilet in Rwimi town, Bunyangabu district, Rwenzori, Uganda

For Naume, setting up her own business is a dream come true: “I have always loved my independence and earning my own money without having to beg. The fact that I can stand on my own feet at my age gives me a lot of courage and motivates me to continue working hard.”

With economic independence also comes the satisfaction of working to improve lives and livelihoods in the community, something of which Naume is particularly proud: “People in our communities have been suffering from several diseases, like cholera and typhoid. But because of the improved sanitation situation, people no longer suffer, and their earnings have even increased because they enjoy better health.”

Naume’s uncle, Sunday Adolf, is happy to admit that the women masons of Rwenzori are all in high demand because of their high quality of work.

“These days, people prefer women masons to be the ones to construct their sanitation facilities because they produce good work and on time,” he explains. “I am very happy that females have joined the masonry work of constructing sanitation facilities. All along, only men have been considered to do the construction work, but nowadays I see women doing it better than us men.”

Naume now dreams of getting known in the region and starting a bigger construction company, owned and operated by women only.

“I want to challenge the taboo in our traditional culture that only men can carry out such projects,” she says. “I wish to empower my fellow women, so they know that this is possible, that we can have our own projects, too. I believe when I am done registering my company and it is functioning well, I will be a role model for many other women.”

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