Saturday April 5 2014

Where are the women in BCU and women issues in electoral reforms?

By Margaret Wokuri Madanda

When the Minister for Tourism Trade and Industry Ms Amelia Kyambadde now ‘gishutised ‘ as Ms Mutonyi announced that she was to hand over the Bugisu Cooperative Union forensic audit report , I jumped on the trail with the BCU elders to rally farmers for the common cause.

I was awed listening to those farmers across the region speak in unison, sharing how they had resisted manipulations from self-seekers and vowing to take any money brought but retain the Nandala Mafabi led board that they considered to have revived the union! This to me was not just a great experience but a rejuvenation of hope that after all, there are still people in this country, who can say no to hand- outs and resist patronage!

A big thank you to Canon Muliro and your team of elders who have relentlessly ensured that the BCU properties are not snatched by the hovering hawks!

But, as a researcher and gender advocate, my eye caught the peculiarity of less representation of women among BCU elders, delegates and board!

In all the meetings held, it was only at Bukhaweka in Manafa and Kalawa in Sironko that had one or two women among the delegates. But in other places like Tsutsu in Bududa, Bumuyaga and Nyondo in Mbale, Muyembe in Bulambuli Bulambuli, and Bugusege in Sironko; there was no woman delegate in the audience!

The BCU scenario is of course just a reflection of what goes on in our communities. Statistics show that 80 per cent of farmers in Uganda live in rural areas and women constitute 85 per cent of the labour force in agriculture. In coffee farming, the women weed, pick, dry and sort the coffee beans. Then the husband, son, or brother takes the coffee for sale. It is not surprising that when it comes to representation of these primary societies, only men become delegates because elections take place at the societies where coffee is sold.

Fortunately, when I put this to Mr Mafabi (chairman BCU) and his outgoing Vice Chair Mr John Musira, I was informed that by the time their board was suspended in 2010, there were on-going policy amendments that would ensure more women are elected as delegates and board members. Over to you Mr Coffee and the reinstated Board!

This brings me to the gender issues in the current constitutional and electoral reforms. Both opposition and civil society proposed reforms scantly address women issues. The gender issues therein are by coincidence not design! I commend Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy (CCEDU) for the proposal to cap spending during campaigns. Most women are afraid of presenting themselves in elective positions because of the prohibitive expenditures that have characterised Ugandan politics. Capping campaign expenditures may go a long way in addressing this anomaly.

On Affirmative Action seats, both opposition and Civil Society have called for removal of the army in Parliament and none interference of security forces in electoral processes. This is also a positive aspect because demilitarising elections may also bring more women in participation.

CCEDU has additionally proposed universal suffrage for youth, workers and people with disabilities, but, there is nagging silence on how we can address the ever bulging Parliament and the unfairness of the women’s district seat while our male counter parts have only three to five sub counties to contend with. Equitable women representation can be achieved through the Indian or Tanzanian models, whose details this space cannot accord.

These need to be studied and so that the Constitutional and electoral reforms that may be required are included.

But on reducing parliamentary numbers, I would propose two MPs per district i.e. one man one woman. At the current 112 districts, this would give us 224 MPs. An addition of five Youth, five Workers and five for PWD would give us 239 MPs in the next Parliament.

But aware that many male MP’s -whose livelihoods depend on their small constituencies-, can never pass this; the best option, therefore, is to draw electoral boundaries pegged on the population rather than an administrative boundary. We could make an amendment so that every MP represents 200,000 people. At the current 34 million population, we will only need 170 constituencies, which should be represented by one man and one woman, add the other 15 for youth, workers and PWD, then we should have 355 MPs in the 10th Parliament.

Ms Wokuri Madanda is a policy analyst and gender activist.