Eastern Washington University McNair Director recounts her Ugandan adventure

Posted by on Sunday, January 31, 2010 11:37 - 0 Comments

logo_horizontal_4-colorWritten by Candice Helsing
March 2009 Newsletter

Dr. Karen McKinney, Director of the Eastern Washington University’s McNair Scholar Program, spent fall quarter visiting Makerere University in Uganda. While exploring possibilities for collaboration with the university’s women’s studies center, Dr. McKinney became immersed in a world of hope and activism. The women’s studies department was large, with numerous faculty and postgraduate students completing research on various issues concerning women’s rights. Dr. McKinney soon noticed a common thread that ran through the center and the dominant majority of its research – everything was geared towards policy change.

Researchers at Makerere not only wanted to study issues affecting women, particularly in regards to human rights, they overwhelmingly directed their research towards action and policy change at community and governmental levels. This all-encompassing grassroots movement was incredibly refreshing to Dr. McKinney, who had the opportunity to work one-on-one with a number of students and researchers by reading and discussing doctoral research proposals and reports. Two themes were prevalent in the proposals: the need for research to bring about change throughout Uganda and how each respective project is an integral piece of that goal. Further, the research was not only intended to analyze and critique policies and practices, it intended to provide an implementable, pragmatic transformation. Some of the most notable studies were in regards to women’s property rights and women’s ability to get out of abusive relationships. Catalyzing these changes is the increased access to education for women. Government policy in 1997 committed to eradicate illiteracy in both men and women by passing the Universal Primary Education Initiative, which mandated that all children, including women, receive at least an elementary level education. To further enhance gender equity in education, universities are now admitting more women and are working on improved facilities to house them. In a land notorious for its tradition of women being without rights, changes are rapidly occurring, with the women’s studies department of Makerere University leading the way.

The experience was so intense for Dr. McKinney that at the start of the interview, she struggled with where to begin. “It’s hard to explain such a profound experience,” she says. The trip “had the shimmering and depth of diamonds, with both peaks and valleys.”

Dr. McKinney (“Mama Karen” to her scholars at home), stands proudly next to her good friend, Ana Akot , the accountant for the Inter-University Council for East Africa.

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