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As part of International Women’s Day Brenda Akullo shares her story of becoming a successful businesswoman in Uganda.

Economic exclusion of girls and young women is a practical reality in my community and in Uganda as a whole. Girls continue to be looked at as potential brides who cannot contend for any leadership positions, let alone engage in business. Growing up in a highly patriarchal society disadvantages girls and young women even more.

Thanks to the work of civil society organizations, the situation is progressively shifting, with empowerment programs focusing on the standards of girls and young women, and breaking the socio-cultural stereotypes.

My name is Brenda Akullo, and I am from Northern Uganda, which has suffered from many insurgencies over the last 25 years. I was raised by a single mother which was difficult in a society with limited job opportunities for girls and young women.

I was motivated to join the Girls Advocacy Alliance (GAA) because of personal life experience. As a child of a single mother, I was marginalised in many circles.

I wanted to be part of a team that focuses on issues affecting girls and young women, and brings them to the attention of duty bearers right from the lower local level to national, thereby informing gender responsive programs and policies.

Aware of the limited job opportunities for young people in Uganda, I was passionate about business and my involvement in research on the Economic situation of girls and young women strengthened my career path.

Through my one-year engagement as a gender advocacy team member, I was part of the team that participated in the youth-led research on access to economic opportunities for girls and young women in Lira District. The findings from this research were consolidated with findings of studies from other areas where the GAA project was being implemented. These findings informed a status brief that was presented at a high-level national stakeholders meeting attended by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MoGLSD), Ministry of Public Service (MoPS), Members of Parliament, District leaders, Private Sector actors, girls and young women themselves.

These findings informed local and national level engagements where commitments were made from key government ministries. One such commitment was made by MoGLSD to direct MoPS to stop the trading of Labour Officers and also draw a scheme of service for Labour Officers so that they effectively conduct labour inspections in places where girls and young women are employed.

It is from such engagements that I realized the power of girls to alter the status quo, only if they are empowered and given the right information on how to engage.

The experience that I got from the research and capacity building workshops that I underwent with the GAA project, along with the little monthly stipend that I received in my one-year engagement, inspired me to start my own business selling second hand clothes. First, I was assured of the market since I had interacted with many girls during research, therefore informing my clientele.

Secondly, I wanted to be my own boss, having realized the hustles and mistreatment that many girls and young women went through at the work place. I did not want to be like them, but instead play a part in advocating for favourable working conditions for girls and young women. Thirdly and most importantly,

I wanted to prove that ‘Girls Can!’

I challenge every young woman out there to stay focused and keep their dream alive, for not all is lost. Do something for yourself, however small; you never know when the blessing comes.

I currently employ one young woman but I know It’s going to expand and I will be able to employ more girls and young women while not only preaching about decent work conditions for girls and young women but walking the talk myself.

My favourite slogan is ‘I Know Who I Am.’ Despite being put down for having been raised by a single mother, I managed to thrive, and some of those people who put me down are now my customers.

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