Each week One Earth is proud to feature an environmental activist and hero from around the globe who is working to create a world where humanity and nature can coexist in harmony.
Margaret Nakato works to empower women workers, advocating for gender equality in small-scale fisheries around the large lakes across Uganda. The women she met at these fish landing sites were struggling with their work near the fisheries and were at the mercy of the male-dominated fishing industry.
Inland small-scale fisheries are a vital source of employment for local communities in Africa and despite the fishing itself being male-dominated, it’s estimated that 69 percent of the rinsing, cleaning, and preparation of the fish is done by women. The challenge the women have is that they have to negotiate with predominantly male fishers to get access to the fish. Additionally, they have to compete with wholesale buyers who have more buying power. This inequality is compounded since the women feel unsafe, facing threats and violence on a daily basis.
Nakato, who works as a coordinator at The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) funded Katosi Women Development Trust (KWDT) in Uganda, understands the value of having women as an integral part of the fishing industry and has made it her mission to help women recognize and take advantage of this fact. The main focus of KWDT is to empower women to engage in social-economic development processes designed to improve women’s lives. They currently assist 691 women from 29 women’s groups where many produce food in small-scale fisheries.
Margaret’s passion is palpable. She brings positivity to her work while conducting training sessions at the fish landing sites. The women learn everything from conflict management to human rights to new technical methods in order to add value to their products. After getting additional funding from the FAO, she was able to add training sessions on how to smoke fish safely by reducing harmful fumes and how to hygienically handle the fish.
In addition to training, the women now have access to microcredit so they can invest in new equipment which gets better prices for their fish and helps increase their incomes. The women’s groups have helped them achieve their goals of autonomy, empowerment, and independence.
Women who work independently face more harassment from men and enforcement officers, so KWDT advocates for women to form local groups as a way to bring power in numbers. In this way, the group helps women to be less vulnerable when perpetrators know that they are dealing with multiple people and not just an individual一especially when the organization has resources to help protect human rights.
When COVID-19 hit, Margaret made sure to raise awareness about all the risks and taught the local women’s groups how they could protect themselves and their businesses during the pandemic. When some women were forced to shut down and needed help, KWDT established a fund to support them to recover their businesses so they could keep their main source of income.
The FAO believes food heroes such as Nakato are vital for increasing women’s role in food production and gender equality, which expand food security, nutrition, and sustainability. As Margaret says,