Joseph Nye of Harvard University coined the term “soft power” to give name to a force that attracts and compels rather than uses brute force. This idea has been applied to the idea that women hold power in society differently than men. Power in its traditional sense evokes a coercive tone while soft power suggests, persuades and collaborates. Ruth Molly Lematia and her work in Uganda over the course of her life gives us a picture of what soft power can look like.
The Honorable Ruth Molly Lematia is currently representing her district as a Member of Parliament in Uganda. A professional nurse for over 48 years with a double master’s degree in oncology and community health, she has helped create and develop the Ugandan nursing education programs for over 35 years. She currently sits on the Committee on HIV/AIDS and Related Matters, the Committee on Social Services, as well as the Committee on Health. Beyond her professional and governmental responsibilities, Mrs. Lematia is a wife, a mother of five and grandmother of two and has taken on the care of several orphans from her local community.
Mrs. Ruth Molly Lematia sees that peace-building needs to engage and consider every aspect of human life. The spiritual, mental, physical and economic needs of everyday life feed into sustainable peace. In her speech at the Global Peace Conference in Atlanta, GA, she noted, “A hungry soul is a miserable soul and it prevents peace in the home.”
She points out that Uganda has the distinction of being one of the first countries in Africa with a female vice-president and many women in high levels of government. To this end, the government has encouraged and advanced opportunities for women through scholarships, educational opportunities and an affirmative-action style clause that reserves 40 percent of governmental positions for women.
While the Ugandan government increases opportunities for women to attend school, Mrs. Lematia has worked to connect women to these opportunities in ways that meet their realities. She has pushed for adult education courses with schedules tailored to fit adults with multiple responsibilities. She has also recently been promoting economic self-sufficiency for the local women in her district in the form of chicken farming. In this, she is creating pathways for these women to take opportunities that would otherwise have been unattainable.
Her personal experience of raising a family and balancing her work as a nurse, an educator, a community organizer and a politician has made her sensitive to the needs of women with jobs and families to care for. Her time at the Western Case University in Ohio would not have been possible without the help of her mother and husband, who took care of her children in Uganda while she studied abroad.
Even now, with her governmental and societal roles increasing, she makes time for her grandchildren and her adopted children from her local community. Her personal experience informs her efforts to design ways in which to advance local development.
She has also seen that encouragement goes a long way. In the 1980s, when she saw that the numbers of Muslim girls attending the nursing programs didn’t match those of the Christian population, she and others encouraged them to join their peers. Today the difference in the numbers are negligible.
Having reached impressive professional echelons as a nurse, an educator, and politician, Hon. Lematia is leading the way for women to contribute to peace and development on multiple levels of society.