October 24, 2023
Interview with Regina Bafaki, Executive Director – Action for Development (ACFODE)
Regina Bafaki is the Executive Director for Action for Development (ACFODE), a women’s organization based in Kampala, Uganda. ACFODE was founded in 1985 to provide a platform for effective debate and action on women’s rights, empowerment, and gender equality in the East African country.
During its nearly four decades of existence, ACFODE has worked to…
- Increase women’s engagement in politics and decision-making
- Promote good governance and democracy throughout the country
- Eliminate discrimination and gender-based violence
- Drive policy change and programs that are gender-responsive
- Promote women’s economic security
- Collaborate and strengthen the capacity of civil society organizations doing similar work.
One of the most recent partners of WomenStrong International, Action for Development stands out for its success in elevating women’s economic opportunity and security in Kampala. We recently sat down with Ms. Bafaki to learn about her leadership style and ambitions for her organization.
Thank you for joining us today, Regina, and for your organization’s partnership with WomenStrong. We would like to start the interview by asking you about ACFODE’s vision to create “a just society where gender equality is a reality.” What does that mean to you? What does a just society look like?
Regina: Thank you very much. To us, a just society is a society where women, men, boys, and girls have equal access to opportunities, are not discriminated against, can freely express themselves, explore their potential, and lead dignified lives.
That is a bold vision, particularly given the persistence of inequity, violence against women and girls, and resistance to social change. How does ACFODE work to make strides toward your goal?
Regina: We employ different strategies in an attempt address inequality and violence against women and girls as we strive toward a just society. As an advocacy organization, we collaborate with other organizations to lobby for laws and policies that protect women’s and girls’ rights. We translate legislation into local dialects and disseminate it widely; we also facilitate the formation of bylaws and ordinances at the local level. We mobilize and organize women and girls, while we also provide safe spaces and encourage them to spend time in such spaces, where others appreciate their rights, share experiences, and help build agency and collective voice for the protection of girls’ and women’s rights.
We work with religious and cultural leaders, school authorities, and parents, who yield a lot of power and influence in society, to recognize and promote women and girls’ rights and gender equality. We deliberately identify families that violate women’s and girls’ rights and work with these families on gender norms, women’s rights, and children’s rights. These families later become role models and champion the rights of women and girls in their societies.
We also build and organize accountability fora for elected officials and civil servants, to call them to perform their duty in the protection of women’s and girls’ rights.
Working with organized groups, such as youth groups, students, cooperatives, and media, we partner with champions of women’s and girl’s rights and gender equality. ACFODE offers reflection meetings for staff, our board, and members to review the approaches we use and to identify new learnings and strategies.
ACFODE focuses on four key areas of work: (1) policy advocacy and research, (2) leadership development, (3) economic empowerment, and (4) transformative social-cultural change. First, what does transformative social-cultural change look like to you? How do you go about it?
Regina: Transformational social-cultural change occurs when there is a shift in beliefs, values, and norms. To me, such change happens when society’s behavior towards women and other vulnerable groups improves, and their rights are promoted and respected. It’s when women are supported to explore their potential in different aspects of life, such as leadership, asset acquisition – and when girls are given the same treatment as boys, for instance, in education and the inheritance of property. Meaningful change also happens when society recognizes the social and gender norms that perpetuate gender inequality, and when society addresses the norms either individually or collectively. Change also shows when there is a shift in the use of power; for instance, when there is joint decision-making between a husband and his spouse, and when there is respect for choices made by women and girls about their own sexual and reproductive health.
ACFODE addresses social-cultural change through a multipronged approach that includes research and documentation, capacity building with families (couples), women’s groups, cooperatives, cultural and religious leaders, teachers, elected officials and civil servants, and young people. We use media advocacy and help establish community structures that facilitate, monitor, and record the social-cultural changes. We also collaborate with likeminded organizations, development partners, academic institutions, and government agencies.
Of your four pillars of work, is there one you feel needs the most support – whether from partners, funders, or policymakers?
Regina: All the pillars of our work are important and interlink with each other; however, economic empowerment needs more support from partners, funders, and policymakers.
Economic empowerment supports women’s abilities to achieve wellbeing and reduces household poverty. Our economic empowerment initiatives enable ACFODE and the women we work with to explore and use existing opportunities, as well as to have greater access to and control over productive resources for their security. Economic empowerment enables women to access decent work, control their lives, use their voices and agency to influence policy change; and promotes their participation in decision-making at the family and societal levels, which in turn contributes to national development. Having financial security also enables women to access justice, in case their rights are violated and reduces their vulnerability.
How did you, yourself, get into this work, Regina? What called you to ACFODE and its mission?
Regina: I got involved in this work through a friend who was working at ACFODE, who used to share her interactions with the women they were working with in different parts of the country, and the publications she brought to me. I love reading. Some stories resonated well with my lived realities at the personal and community levels. This experience intrigued me to learn more about women’s rights and gender and shaped my choice for further studies; I earned a master’s in Gender and Development Studies. Thereafter, I got involved in the women’s movement – work that led me into closer contact with ACFODE and eventually to my employment.
About Regina Bafaki:
Regina Bafaki is the Executive Director of Action for Development (ACFODE), a national women’s rights organization in Uganda, whose vision is “A just society where gender equality is a reality” and whose mission is “To empower women, girls, and influence legislation and policies of gender equality in Uganda.”
Regina is a feminist and gender activist with 20 years’ experience. She has initiated and contributed to the development of organizations and networks in Uganda with the purpose of ensuring that their programs and services are gender responsive. Regina is passionate about youth development and has initiated and supported such initiatives as “Suati Ya Sasa,” Inter-university debates, and the formation of youth-focused organizations, such as Solidarity for Youth Empowerment (SOFOYE).
Regina has coordinated, contributed to, and overseen the development of programs on gender-transformative approaches, leadership, governance, gender-based violence (GBV) prevention, and economic empowerment. She is an editor of ACFODE’s women and gender equality advocacy publication, Arise Magazine. She also founded and has served on several boards in Uganda. These include Action Aid International – Uganda, Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET), the Centre for Domestic Violence, and the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU). She currently chairs Kigezi Women in Development (KWID) and is a member of the Steering Committee of the Women’s Situation Room, an initiative that promotes peaceful elections in Uganda.
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