Uganda’s next generation of female doctors, lawyers, accountants, and human rights professionals may have gotten their start through sandal design.

Women in Uganda face an uphill climb toward attaining high level education and employment. Only 5.4 percent of men and women officially eligible for tertiary education were enrolled in 2010, and of that small number, 44 percent were women. Supporting these women to someday see their name on a university diploma is the aim of Sseko Designs, a sandal and accessory design social enterprise dedicated to providing women with dignified employment, financial planning tools, and a sturdy link from secondary school to a university education.

Ugandan students take a nine-month gap between secondary school and university in order to earn tuition funds. This gap challenges the momentum of women hoping to leap from secondary to university graduation, as the fairly equitable number of women in secondary education does not translate into equality in social and economic spheres. A UN Millennium Development Goals report notes that women in Uganda spend significantly more hours completing unpaid, home-care activities than men, and an average of seven hours less engaged in economic activity. Even if able to find reliable employment, the same UN report notes a startling wage gap, with men’s median wages around double that of women’s, regardless of the manner of employment.

This is where Sseko steps in. The fashion line aims to employ “high potential” women during their nine-month gap, along with a long-term team of Ugandan women from all walks of life. More than 70 women have graduated from the university program so far, and all participants have gone on to pursue university education. Fifty percent of the university program participants’ paycheck is only accessible when a tuition payment is due, ensuring that the money earned will only be used to secure a true route out of poverty by way of education. Sseko then provides scholarships that match 100 percent of the money each woman has saved away at the end of her nine-month term. Sseko also partners with a non-profit for women previously in the sex industry, providing crucial dignifying, fair-wage employment within that community.

Integrating women into the economic landscape is good for business and society. Liz Bohannon, the founder of Sseko, observes that Ugandan women only needed “to work in an environment and with people who saw beyond the seemingly impossible barriers of the now and had a vision for what they would become” in order to succeed. Sseko graduates are the inevitable future of their country, and through dignified employment and education, the future, and the fashion, looks bright.

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Jennie Spector

Jennie previously worked as a student research fellow with The Fuller Project for International Reporting and with Foreign Policy Interrupted. She is completing her undergraduate studies in International...

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