#StickYourNeckOut

Harriet Kamashanyu – Uganda

Wife, Mother, Sister, Daughter and Social Entreprenuer.

In February of last year 2020, the Tourism Minister Godfrey Kiwanda unveiled the “Miss Curvy Uganda” contest, stating that Uganda had “naturally endowed” women who should be used as “a strategy” to boost tourism. Ugandan women were listed as a tourist attraction.

Uganda is a diverse and beautiful country I am proud to call home but it is riddled with human trafficking and sex tourism.

I grew up in the biggest red-light district in Uganda called “Kabalagala.” I witnessed the illegal prostitution industry and its devastating effects first hand. When I was sixteen – my best friend Resty dropped out of school and was forced into prostitution to make ends meet for her family. It was painful knowing that the women and girls around me had to sell their bodies due to their economic circumstances. 

I strongly believe in leading and creating a just world for everyone and coming up with answers to many of the unanswered questions that society poses. This is the major reason why as a young lady, grown up in Kabalagala, at age 23, I decided to step up and found Rhythm of Life. If we want to alleviate poverty, we have to address the exploitation of women. We have to give them an alternative way to live. Rhythm of Life tackles this issue. We provide economic opportunities to women in the red-light districts to break the vicious cycle of mother-to-daughter prostitution in Uganda.  

This group was born from my personal experience. From witnessing several girls of my age drop out of school to join prostitution. We at Rhythm of Life worked and still work hard to break the vicious cycle of mother-to-daughter prostitution and provide health care accessibility to marginalised, commercial sex workers. 

I believe in voicing out, amplifying my voice and motivating others to join hands and voices against any form of injustice or activity that affects us negatively. It is always until someone steps out, until someone opens their mouth, until someone decides that enough is enough. This is when change begins. For me it was enough and I stepped out.

So often, we young people have been despised, denied platforms and opportunities all in the name of nothing much is expected of us. This is what I have witnessed growing up especially as a girl and young woman and I want to end this! As I continue to run advocacy campaigns for daughters of commercial sex workers, I aim at boosting their self-confidence because I am sure this is the way to go, this means they will be able to go extra miles in enjoying privileges and opportunities that have been set aside for their counterparts. I want them to look straight into peoples’ eyes and tell them that…. Yes, I come from a red-light district, so what? This is the true empowered and resilient voice of young people that I often want to hear whose backgrounds, situations etc. are no longer a limitation.  

Uganda’s rate of mother-to-daughter prostitution is alarming at almost 70%. Whilst many women may hope to lift their families out of poverty through sex work this is unfortunately often not the case. 40% of sex workers in some communities are infected with HIV and a lack of bargaining power often leads them to accept dangerous work without contraception. 85% of all women and girls who enter into prostitution still do so out of financial desperation. Women in Kabalagala will often have intercourse with a client for less than 5.-Euro. 

Rhythm of Life provides economic opportunities through hands-on training in hair dressing and cosmetology, bakery and confectionery to enable women to be employable in the immediate future. We also help them start up small scale businesses to sustain themselves and their respective families for more long-term development.  We have so far been able to impact on over 1350 beneficiaries and this change is not stopping any time soon.

When I got an opportunity to participate in youth4policy a joint initiative of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and the Centre for Development Alternatives aimed at empowering the next generation of Ugandan policy experts to meaningfully contribute to policy analysis and public debates – policy brief focused on the financial inclusion of marginalised girls and women in Uganda and thankfully it was published. We are all optimistic that it will contribute towards shaping the economic policies of Uganda towards an inclusive one that accommodates vulnerable girls and women where the female sex workers fall too.

Rhythm of Life also runs the “Her Tomorrow” program that helps daughters of commercial sex workers choose another path in life. The girls attain formal education and skilling initiatives that enable them to have the privileged of opportunity and choice. This enables them to pursue a different career to that of their mothers. We run programmes like “Girls Behind the Camera” (GBC) which trains girls in videography and photography. We help them have a head start in what is an otherwise male dominated industry.

My journey into social entrepreneurship has been courtesy of so many people and organisations whose role in shaping me and Rhythm of Life can’t be denied. kanthari founded by Giraffe Heroes Sabriye Tenberken and Paul Kronenberg was the first one that kept my positive energy towards this cause, until now they have never stopped supporting this initiative in all ways possible. The Impact Hub in Stockholm Sweden where I was for 4 months challenged me to think about the economic aspect regarding the beneficiaries we serve. The Y-HER program in South Africa appreciated the bravery as an African woman I had to start up this organisation, the One Young World Community also keeps us inspired as young people all over the world to continue doing good. I have recently been selected for the Afrika Kommt Fellowship and will be in Germany for a year to tap into international leadership and management styles that I will bring back home to create more impact!

Like Kofi Anan said, there is no tool for development and economic equality more effective than the empowerment of women. Women’s empowerment isn’t just a catchy slogan, it’s a key factor in the social and economic success of nations. When women succeed, everyone benefits. At Rythm of Life, we strongly believe that women are a full circle. Tha women have the power to create, nurture and transform. Economic freedom is very important for women empowerment.