Commentary

Affirmative action is still necessary for women to participate in governance

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By Betty Iyamuremye

Posted  Monday, May 5  2014 at  01:00
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As the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party flag bearer Rose Masaaba Mutonyi was pronounced the winner of the Bubulo County West Parliamentary by-election in Manafwa District, after a landslide victory recently, the women movement did not only celebrate her triumph but were also enthusiastic given the few number of women MPs on direct/constituency ticket. Ms Mutonyi’s victory brings the number of such powerful women to 13 out of the 135 female legislators in Parliament. The majority of the female MPs are voted to Parliament through affirmative action provision.

Article 32 of the 1995 Constitution provides for affirmative action in favour of groups marginalised by gender or other reasons created by history in order to redress imbalances which exist against them. In line with this provision, most party structures have put constitutional provisions for affirmative action at 40 per cent.

Therefore, without this provision, it would mean that we would have only half or less of all female legislators in Parliament today. And yet as we near the 2016 general elections, there is an unceasing spat and thinking by a few Ugandans, quizzical of the relevancy of this affirmative provision.
One of the commonest points of contention is that this provision should be amended to have term limits to enable as many women to benefit from it. In fact, they go ahead to state that there are female legislators who have over ‘stayed’ in power and, therefore, hamper the chances of other beneficiaries. However, one may also question why the problem of clinging on to power should be tagged to this provision and not to all leaders whether, on affirmative action or not.

Secondly, this kind of argument could have made sense if the same reasons for which the affirmative action was constituted were 100 per cent achieved. Despite the affirmative action and quota system, majority of Ugandan women do not have any major and effective say in the decision making and priority setting. And yet, not involving women in decision-making is against the democratic framework.

The other angle of argument is that the electorate should be left to choose a candidate of their choice. We ought to be reminded that Uganda upholds the equal participation of women and men in public life as one of the cornerstones of the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 1979.
Additionally, whether we like it or not, there are special interest groups in every contemporary setting and this should be incumbent of any government to take care of them; and in this speciality, women come first.

In 1995, the UN Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing generated renewed pressure for the implementation of the CEDAW provisions: the Beijing Platform for Action identified ‘inequality between men and women in the sharing of power and decision-making at all levels’ and ‘insufficient mechanisms at all levels to promote the advancement of women’ as two areas of significant concern where action was critical for the advancement of women. In order to enforce the above, Uganda has come up with laws, policies and frameworks like the Uganda Vision 2040, National Development Plan, the NRM Manifesto, the Uganda Gender Policy and other several sectoral policies in addition to the affirmative provision where programmes for equality and women empowerment are enshrined.

As a result of these concerted efforts, participation of women in the politics has progressed steadily. At the national level, the current Parliament comprising 375 members with 129 (34.4 per cent) women, an increase from the 31 per cent in the 8th Parliament, but still lower than the parity target set by the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. However, the numbers of women MPs who competed with men fell from 16 in 2006 to 11 in 2011; and of the 129 women MPs, 112 represent districts as a result of affirmative action. This shows that women have not yet broken through the barriers of competing with men for political positions.

Therefore, it is important to bridge the gap that exists by bringing more women to Parliament and Local Government councils and condemn all those against this democratic strategy of women emancipation and empowerment.

Ms Iyamuremye is the Communication and Advocacy Officer, Uganda Women Parliamentary Association.