“We must support women to fulfil their potential whatever their career ambitions.”
Those were the words of the Minister for Social Justice, Jane Hutt, this International Women’s Day as she underlined the Welsh Government’s commitment to improving gender equality.
To mark the day the Minister met a woman who has overcome barriers in her homeland in Uganda to run a successful business and inspire women and girls in her community.
Over the last week the Minister also commemorated the lives of two Welsh women awarded Purple Plaques after fighting tirelessly for girls to study medicine and for gender equality in Wales.
Speaking during an event at Portland House in Cardiff Bay, the Minister said the success of female-led projects as part of the Wales and Africa programme showed exactly what could be achieved with the right support.
Wales and Africa funds and builds projects that support learning, the exchange of skills, joint working and tackling climate change.
These include projects supporting vulnerable Ugandan girls back into education, helping widows and married women into beekeeping in northern Uganda, and tree planting to help women into natural resources management:
Jenipher Sambazi, who has been supported through the programme, overcame barriers in her homeland of Uganda in a sector that has long been male dominated to now help run the social enterprise coffee brand Jenipher's Coffi.
Historically in Uganda, women have had less access to land, credit and technical assistance but Jenipher’s farms are now producing high quality, Fairtrade certified, organically grown coffee.
Recognising how Jenipher continues to actively challenge the gender gap and support women to lead and succeed on their own terms, the Minister said:
In Wales we will always continue to look to other countries to help us better understand our own role in the world, so it has been a privilege speaking to Jenipher to hear how she has overcome challenges she faced. It’s truly inspirational to see how she is leading the way for women and communities.
We all have a role to play in advancing gender equality in Wales. It is crucial that we work in partnership to achieve the change we all want to see a gender equal Wales.
Jenipher Sambazi, who has travelled from Uganda to spend some time in Wales during Fairtrade Fortnight (February 27 to March 12), said:
The support for Fairtrade by the Welsh Government and others has allowed me to play a full role in the running of my coffee cooperative.
Widows like me never used to have a say in how our coffee was sold but we now get a better price and a Fairtrade premium to help our families.
Over the last week the Minister has also celebrated the lives of two women who fought tirelessly for gender equality in Wales. Last Friday the Minister unveiled a Purple Plaque in Brecon to commemorate the life of Frances Hoggan, who was born in 1843 and faced huge challenges to study and practice medicine as a woman in a male-dominated world, becoming only the second woman in Europe to be awarded a Medical Doctorate at just 26 years old.
The Minister also celebrated the life of former politician and equalities campaigner Val Feld, who was the first woman in the UK to have a purple plaque commemorated in her honour at the Senedd in 2018. Val Feld, who was also previously director of the Equal Opportunities Commission for Wales and Shelter Cymru, campaigned to give a voice to women and minority groups throughout her political life.
The Minister added:
Frances never forgot her roots and campaigned for education for girls in Wales. I am sure she would have approved of the work we are doing to encourage girls and young women into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, STEM
Val was a champion for equalities and social justice, leading the way for others to follow in her footsteps, and it was a pleasure to work alongside her.