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Winnie Byanyima: A life spent fighting for equity

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Winnie Byanyima: A portrait of remarkable woman

Apart from the tough woman personae she displays in public, Winnie is also a wife to Dr Kizza Besigye and mother to their son, Anselm, the reason her family members say, she put politics on the side: to raise him.  

By Solomon Arinaitwe

Posted  Wednesday, January 23  2013 at  00:00

In Summary

She has been appointed the executive director of Oxfam, moving on from the United Nations. Those close to her tell about the making of this vocal proponent of women’s rights and an ardent crusader of good governance. Their conclusion; we have not seen enough of Winnie – and soon, she could make a return to her passion; national politics.


By the 1990s, many women were still relegated to the backdoor life of domestic chores like cooking, maintaining households and farming while men, considered the stronger sex, dominated public life.

Women that occupied public offices were few, and did not aggresively confront gender discrimination, perhaps, in fear of antagonising time-old social, political and administrative structures.

But that trend was to gradually change as a certain Winnie Byanyima dared to delve into the political terrain, when she was elected to represent Mbarara Municipality in the 1994 Constituent Assembly elections.

Winnie, as she is fondly called by many was born to Boniface and Gertrude Byanyima in a family of seven [one passed away], in Ruti, around 4km along the Mbarara-Kabale highway.

She went to St Hellen’s Primary School, a walkable distance from Ruti trading centre, for her primary education.

For her O and A levels respectively, she was at Mt St Mary’s, Namagunga and Kings College Budo before going to the University of Manchester for her Bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering.

With a first class degree, she became the first female Ugandan to become an aeronautical engineer - it was probably a sign of what was to come from her.

She later added a Masters degree in Mechanical Engineering [Energy Conservation] from Cranfield University, to her academic honours.

When Anthony Byanyima, a younger brother, speaks about her, he does so in a very calculated way.

He thinks deeply before answering questions, emphasising that there was nothing extraordinary about his sister’s childhood, save for being “a very intelligent girl.”

He describes her sister as an “extremely focused person who likes winning, hates losing and will work very hard to make sure that she achieves what she wants.”

Hectic schedules for most of the family members have restricted them to meeting only during holidays like the Christmas season.

Winnie’s marriage to Dr Besigye
Winnie’s marriage to the Dr Kizza Besigye might have been a quiet affair then, but it later turned out to be a topic of discussion, especially among the political elite.

Anthony, who led the wedding’s organising committee, says his sister demanded for “a wedding that is as small as possible”, despite the family having the resources to manage one with pomp.

“It is probably the smallest wedding I have ever attended and like all marriages in our family, it was a personal decision,” the brother responds as I probe about whether her choice of husband could have caused a stir in the family.

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