Igoye: Growing up, my family lived through war. My parents were teachers who shifted around a lot and once, we were living on the front line. We had to stay indoors all the time; there was gunfire outside, and we had to crawl out to the cassava garden for food.
After that, my dad packed us all up to go back to our village home, but there, the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels came. We had to flee because there was sexual exploitation and slavery, and as young girls, we were at risk of being taken. We ended up at a camp for internally displaced people at a mission and had to start over. Seeing what was happening around me as we were fleeing—the way people were exploited—left a big impact on me. It made me determined to help victims of such exploitation.
The world woke up to the fact that we had to do something about human trafficking with the United Nations’ Palermo Protocol in 2000. But trafficking was happening in Uganda even before that. So when we crafted our own law in 2009, the Trafficking in Persons Act on the issue of exploitation, we included other things that are peculiar to Uganda: child marriage, the use of children in armed conflict, forced marriage, human sacrifice, removal of organs for witchcraft, and child labor. In Uganda, like the rest of the world, women are hugely affected. This is something I am particularly invested in, helping female victims and survivors of trafficking.
Ganesan: How does being a woman in a position of leadership change the dynamics of the work you do? What are the challenges you face?
Igoye: It helps me because I think about women. There are certain things that are so basic but don’t get enough attention. As a woman, when I’m training, I think of simple things like providing sanitary towels. I think about women who are breastfeeding, or how women with children can have the time to come into work. When I consider posting a woman somewhere, I think about keeping her away from her family and about being flexible if she’s pregnant.
But women in these positions have to be tough. There are situations in which you go into a meeting and the things you say aren’t recorded or seized on, while if a man says the same things they think it is worth doing. So as a woman, you have to assert yourself.
We are also very aware that we are representing all women. We are expected to lead by example, to perform—if you do something wrong, they’ll say, “Ah, you see, women!” So you have that responsibility, which means you have to work extra hard to deliver, to prove yourself. That is why it is important to put the right role models out there for women, to show that they can be leaders.
Ganesan: Who are your role models? Where did you get an idea of what leadership could look like for you?
Igoye: My parents. My mother was a brilliant girl who couldn’t study further because her family couldn’t afford the school fees, so she became a teacher of the lowest grade. Much later, after I was born, she went back to school and got training to be a teacher for more advanced students. Seeing my mother do that, the leadership role she took and her contribution to our education, that was a big influence.
It is also important to have male champions. My father had a lot of influence on my life, giving me a chance to go to school even though people questioned why he educated his daughters. We showed the whole village that a girl child doesn’t only have to be married, that we could make it. If I didn’t have that father figure believing in me from such a young age, it would have been difficult to be who I am today. In my family, we are six girls and two boys—and the girls are the tough ones.