People often speak of moments that are life-changing, moments when the trajectory of their lives are forever altered.
For Kansiime Honest, that moment was when the Ugandan government passed a policy for universal education.
As an orphan growing up in Uganda’s Kanungu District, Honest dropped out of school at a young age because there was no way for her caretakers to afford the school fees and scholastic materials. Honest seemed destined to live a life similar to that of the other Ugandan orphans—one without opportunity or hope for the future.
When her government passed that law, however—which allowed all children to attend school without paying tuition fees—Honest marveled at the incredible power of the policymakers, the strangers that had such influence over her life’s path. It was then that Honest found her calling: she would help young Ugandan girls leverage that power by encouraging them to become policy makers themselves.
Founded by Honest in 2015, when it was also awarded a TPP grant, Girls to Lead Africa is a program that incubates, nurtures, grooms, and develops girl leaders in schools and institutions of learning in the Kanungu District. The overall goal of the program is to create a breed of young female policymakers who will influence school policies so that female students can live free from discrimination and suffering.
“My passion is to end injustice of all kind to humanity, especially injustice to the female gender,” says Honest. “To this effect, I founded the project through which I could raise these leaders. I challenge the girls to think critically about themselves, their roles, their gender, their identity, and their nation while breaking down negative messages fed to them by society. We empower them with lobbying skills and problem analysis skills. What inspires me in the world is to see justice reign and every creature on earth enjoying their rights with dignity.”
Honest believes policy is a particularly effective way of enacting large-scale change because she views it as a holistic approach to solving a problem. She notes that girls in Uganda are often afraid to apply to leadership positions in school because of low self-esteem and unfair patriarchal systems coupled with lack of necessary basic leadership skills, causing them to worry about asking for votes and being vetted by the teachers.
This shortage of female leaders causes many injustices and sufferings for girls at school, according to Honest. Honest knows, though, that if she is able to train girls in leadership skills, they may have the courage to apply for leadership positions in school and then go on to hold positions of power later in life.
To that end, Honest routinely visits every secondary and tertiary school in the Kanungu District to encourage young girls to not accept the school policies that are unfair to them, but instead to lobby for change themselves. She does this through trainings, exchange programs, school debates, alumni communities, and consultative meetings with school leaders.
Through her dedication, she has established Girls to Lead Africa clubs in almost all schools in the district as well as developed a leadership curriculum that most of the schools have completed.
“Right now, more than 600 girls from the Girls to Lead Africa program have competed with boys in their schools for leadership positions and have won,” Honest says proudly. Some of the policies these girls have passed include providing sanitary pads for first aid to girls at school and supporting zero-waste initiatives.
As for Honest, she models the behavior she wishes to see in her girls—she is currently running for election for a political position in Uganda in 2021.
“Politicians control our resources and economy … we put our lives into their hands. Most of our politicians are corrupt men who started their careers in school. If the problem is stemming from what happens in the schools, then let’s develop that spirit in girls of competing with the boys, let us work with them in school while they’re still young. Let’s encourage the mindset that you have to do something. When they grow in leadership, they become used to making decisions and finding solutions. Girls to Lead Africa will bridge the gender gap, and our graduates will be the leaders of tomorrow.”
As a TPP Team Leader in Uganda, Kansiime mentors other changemakers to realize their dreams. TPP thanks her for all her work supporting positive change in East Africa!