I spent ten years in Geneva setting up UNAIDS and working to build that organization. This was a satisfying and productive endeavor. But ultimately, I found that being in Geneva made me lose touch with the realities on the ground in Africa and it is for this reason that I have returned to Uganda.
My purpose was to research and identify and build upon the issues that are of the highest priority here. Of the many insights I have been gaining here, this is one that is most pressing:
Women are the most vulnerable members of the community.
Education for women is confined mostly to home life. In fact, this is part of the non-formal education in many rural communities. From kindergarten on, there is the formal education of learning to read and write and count; and then there is the non-formal education:
How to raise chickens, how to grow and raise vegetables – and most of all, how to raise children – either your own children, or your parents’ children. And then, when you grow up, the cycle repeats and your own children are raising your own children.
How to accomplish a breakthrough?
Education for women is the answer.
In my case, I was fortunate to work hard at school and receive a scholarship to one of the best secondary schools in Uganda. And from there, I was able to further my education and use the skills I learned to make a practical impact on local community development, such as the Mpoma Community here in Uganda.
We cannot reject that non-formal education in these communities and replace it with formal education. But what we can do is integrate, to build a hybrid, between the two forms of education, so that, for example, learning non-formally about planting food in the communities, can overlap into formal training in schools about agricultural sciences and management.
The saying here goes, that when you educate a woman, you educate a family, and when you educate a family, you educate a nation. And educating nations makes our whole global community much stronger. So, educating a woman is a good goal for all of us to begin with.
The United Nations Millennium Development Goals list Goal 3 as follows:
- Ratios of girls and boys in primary, secondary and tertiary education
- Share of women in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector
- Proportion of seats held by women in national parliament
I assess progress on Goal 3 as “miserably wanting”.
As part of a global community, we all need to do better, work harder and invest more in Goal 3. It is not about giving hand-outs. It is about stimulating development so that development can take off on its own strength and find its own wings.
In Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide the authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, put it like this:
“There are many metaphors for the role of foreign assistance. For our part, we like to think of aid as a kind of lubricant, a few drops of oil in the crankcase of the developing world, so that gears move freely again on their own.”
Noerine was among the small group of people to join Dr. Peter Piot in setting up UNAIDS, and became a UNAIDS staff member in January 1996, based in Geneva. After serving 10 years as partnership and community mobilisation adviser for the program she retired from UNAIDS at the beginning of 2006. She then worked for a collaborative of four UK-based foundations:
The Diana Fund, Comic relief, The Elton John AIDS Foundation and the Children Investments Fund Foundation to develop a holistic program for children orphaned or made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS within the National HIV/AIDS response framework for Malawi until July 2008. She operates as an independent consultant based in Uganda.