Meet the Match
A Champion for Gender Equality in Uganda
Nalwadda never expected to become a basketball player. In primary school in Bukoto Mulira Zone—a disadvantaged area in Uganda’s capital city of Kampala—she ran the 100 and 200 meters on the track and field team, and played soccer. After graduating, she no longer had access to sports facilities. But, she did find a basketball court near her home and soon began playing every time she had free time.
Nalwadda excelled as a player. With few Ugandan girls playing basketball in 2002, she earned attention from the prestigious Crane High School, which offered her an athletic scholarship. In both school and sport, she showed tremendous potential for success. When it came time for university, Nalwadda was offered a talented Young Scholars government scholarship to Kyambogo University, where she captained the basketball team and earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science.
As a student-athlete at university, Nalwadda became aware of the different treatment given toward male and female athletes.
“Our team trained a lot and had good results, but whenever teams were selected to participate in the East Africa University Games, they always sent the men and not the women,” Nalwadda says. “The university told us there was no money, but that wasn’t something new. Women have always been marginalized; when there is little money, women are the first to be excluded.”
Spurred on by the inequality she encountered, Nalwadda garnered support from her team and ran for president of the Games Union, Kyambogo university’s student guild council. After winning the election, she contested and won a position as a student-athlete representative for the National University Sports Federation of Uganda (currently known as the Association of Ugandan University Sports), the country’s version of the NCAA.
“People in Uganda often say, ‘Women cannot lead in sports.’” Nalwadda says. “And I respond: “How do you know? Women have always been left out.’ Sport is a language that all people in Uganda understand, and it transforms people so they can give back to their communities. If sports could empower me as a woman in the slum into the person I am today, it can empower any woman in Uganda.”
Throughout the years, Nalwadda’s passion for advocacy and gender equality has made her one of Uganda’s most influential female leaders in sport, and a role model for girls nationwide. In 2013, her leadership attracted the attention of the Uganda Olympic Committee, which appointed her to its women and sports commission. One year later, Nalwadda was selected to participate in the Women’s Sports Leadership Academy at the University of Chichester, alongside U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program alumna Luz Amuchastegui of Argentina. In 2016, Nalwadda was elected to her current position as a youth councilor for the Kampala City Council.
During all of this time, Nalwadda found a way to balance her many responsibilities and complete a master’s degree in Olympic Studies from the German Sport University Cologne, while still playing basketball in the national women’s league, working as a software developer, and running her own tomato sauce manufacturing company.
“When I was growing up, there was no role models for us,” Nalwadda says. “I want make sure girls can look to me. I want to show them that sports, education, and empowerment are all connected, and teach them skills they can translate over into other areas of their lives.”
In Uganda, gender inequality affects women in many ways. While the country ranks in the top half of the world according to the 2016 Global Gender Gap Report, Uganda is 120th of 140 countries when it comes to educational attainment, and 87th in economic participation and opportunity. The OECD’s Social Institutions and Gender Index indicates high rates of discriminatory family code and lack of physical integrity and freedom for women.
Through her work, Nalwadda plans to address the lack of sport facilities, sponsorship, and support for women’s sports, as well as challenge negative social stereotypes that pressure women to leave sport.
“There is nothing that entices women to come play sports,” Immaculate says. “Our women’s professional leagues are stagnant, so they realize they cannot make money in sports and leave. Our athletes are very vulnerable to pressure. If a man can get you out of sports, it is very difficult in our society to get back involved.”
By participating in the GSMP, Nalwadda gained insight to aide her in uniting life skills education with sports to make women economically empowered and provide a tangible result of the benefits of sport in their lives. She is mentored by Val Ackerman, commissioner, and Ann Wells Crandall, chief marketing officer, for the Big East Conference. As the founding president of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and one of the United States’ most respected women’s sports and basketball leaders, Val’s vast experience in sports business are complemented by Ann’s strong background in public relations, marketing, and promotions. With the support of her mentorship duo, Nalwadda has everything she needs to reach more girls and women with the message that sport can empower and transform lives.