UAE Real Life: Meet the Inspirational Woman Collecting Bras in the UAE to Support Women in Uganda
When it comes to putting on your bra each morning, what goes through your mind? Colour perhaps? Lacy or plain? Strapless, backless, padded or underwired? As you rummage through the many choices in your underwear drawer, chances are, unlike thousands of women in Uganda, the last thing you’re feeling is an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
For the majority of women and girls living in rural Uganda, owning even one bra is a privilege. Many in this East African nation spend a lifetime bra-less, despite having and breast-feeding an average of three children. They walk miles each day to collect water from a pump or attend school, they carry heavy loads of firewood on their heads, and they work for hours in the fields. All this without the support of a bra – whether it be lacy or plain, old or new, it really doesn’t matter.
The Social Impact
It’s not just the everyday practicalities of going bra-less that take its toll on these women. The biggest danger is the psychological and social impact. This is where 36-year-old Juliana Kagugube comes in.
For Juliana, a social worker and teacher born and brought up in Uganda and now living and working in Dubai, something as simple as a bra can seriously change a woman’s life and ultimately the social state of her country.
“I believe that one of the reasons why rape is so rife in Uganda is because women are so poor, they can’t afford clothes to cover themselves properly,” says Juliana. “Once they’re raped the chances are high that they’ll be raped again. They lose all their confidence and self-esteem, and they become a lifelong victim of social crime. Having a bra is more than just a means of covering up; it goes some way to rebuilding that shattered confidence. It helps women feel protected and allows them to hold their heads high once more,” she says.
Having travelled extensively throughout her homeland as a social worker, witnessing firsthand the atrocities of Uganda’s vicious Kony War and the spread of diseases (namely HIV/AIDS), Juliana is all too aware of “the diminishing morality” in her country. “The war has left thousands of widows and orphans displaced and living in poverty,” she says. “They are in desperate need of help.”
It was pondering their plight late one August night that saw Juliana set up her campaign, Bras4SocialCrime. “It was 3am and I was up studying for my master’s degree. I just got thinking: in the UAE where we all have so much, I just know there must be something that we can do to help – however small it may be.
“I went onto the community section of Dubizzle and posted one sentence asking women to send me their old bras. It wasn’t really a campaign, just a plea for help. Within a week I had over 300 emails and now I have thousands of bras, over 250kg,” she says.
Word has spread. Friends of Juliana have become ‘ambassadors’ of her campaign and are collecting bras from across the UAE and are organising fundraising events. The British Embassy donated over 70 bras, and even the underwear giant K-Lynn has come on board, offering discounts to anyone who donates bras to the cause. “I want to reach at least 300kg before I ship the first load out – hopefully by Christmas,” she says.
Juliana is in talks with corporations, NGOs and church communities to arrange for the bras to be shipped and distributed to two refugee camps in Uganda. “I’m overwhelmed. All good things start from just a small seed – I’m just sowing that seed,” says Juliana.
Just the Beginning
Secretly, Juliana has hopes for more. “The bras are just the start,” she says. “I really want to get to the root of the problem. I’d love to open a centre for these girls and women where they can receive professional counselling, guidance and support.
“For many, the love inside them has died. They are full of bitterness. They have suffered crimes that go unreported, earning them a ruined and hopeless future. How can they love others if they can’t love themselves?” asks Juliana.
As a widow herself, Juliana had her first son at just 15 years old – she now has three boys, all grown-up and living in Uganda. While very reluctant to talk about it, she hints at having had a very troubled life herself. Yet, looking at the smile on her face and seeing the confidence that this bright young woman exudes, Juliana is proof that with help and love you can go on and achieve great things. “I just want to support women,” she says, “literally!”