The advent of a new Uganda Constitution in 1995 came with a bounty for women in the country. For the first time in generations, women would be invited to sit on the country’s male-dominated political tables in what sparked Uganda’s remarkable journey towards gender parity.
Uganda took a bold step to protect the rights of groups of people who had been marginalised, especially women, by including an affirmative-action provision in the Constitution.
The Local Government Act 1997 then laid the foundation for the inclusion of women in the government’s decision making structures, by specifying that women councillors must form at least one-third of the membership of all local government councils.
But as the country marked the International Women’s Day yesterday, questions continued to abound as to just how much progress has been recorded in the struggle for gender equity.
A 2007 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) mid term report on Uganda’s performance on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) shows that the country is on track to achieve its target on gender equality and empowerment of women by 2015 even though the progress has been hampered by several setbacks including a high drop out rate of girls from school.
However, by 2006 alone, enrolment of the girl child in schools had spiked from 44.2 per cent in 1990 to 49.8 per cent by 2006, thanks in large part to the introduction of free primary school education.
“Reasons for the narrowing of the gender gap in enrolment include enlightenment, affirmative action, and most importantly to the introduction of UPE at the primary school level that has specific provisions to address gender and other inequities,” the report reads in part.
The report also concluded that a portion of girls who get enrolled in school drop out before completing primary, accounting for 43 per cent of total enrollment compared to a 35percent drop-out rate among boys.
Many girls drop out of schools for various reasons including financial difficulties, family responsibilities, early marriage and pregnancy. Experts have pointed out that for government to end the cycle of male-domination, conditions must be set to improve the environment in which the girl child studies. Girls must remain in school until they complete secondary school education.
Women in politics
However, statistics show more women today directly participate in the democratic process of the country, as Uganda records a spike in the numbers of women who hold political office.
In Parliament for instance, there are a total of 102 female MPs. At Local Government, at least one third of all posts are occupied by women, even though each local council has a post for secretary of women affairs, a reserve for the women. Coming into power 24 years ago, President Museveni has spent much of his reign creating a favourable environment for women’s organisations to thrive and ensured that more women get appointed to the same top government positions as men.
Uganda inked her name in the African history books in 1994 following the appointment of Specioza Wandera Kazibwe as Vice President. At the time, she was the first woman in Africa to assume that office.
Justice Leaticia Kikonyongo then walked in the same path following her appointment as Deputy Chief Justice. Several women then found their place in Cabinet and other top civil service jobs.
But despite these achievements, women and gender activists say equality in employment and leadership positions for women have not been equal to that of men.
Pader Woman MP Franca Akello told Daily Monitor yesterday that Uganda has not made “real” progress in uplifting women because most of them hold top jobs because of policies like affirmative action.
“If you look at the majority of women we have in Parliament and at the local council level, they are there because of affirmative action. Does it mean that we would not have all these numbers if we didn’t have this policy in place?” she asked.
The MP said most women prefer to contest on the affirmative action ticket because they don’t usually get the support from both men and women when they contest in constituencies.
“It is a perception issue that we must address because if every woman voted for a fellow woman, given that 50 per cent of the population is made up of women, half of the parliamentarians we have today would be women,” she added.
The MDG report shows for example that the share of women in wage employment in the non agricultural sector stands at 35 per cent compared to 53.3 per cent for males.
Another area of concern is the military. Uganda does not have a single female army general, with Col. Prossy Nalwesiyo standing as the highest decorated woman in the UPDF.
Army and Defence Spokesman Maj. Felix Kulayigye moved to defend the startling statistic and said: “Those who were senior to Col. Nalweyiso either died or took on a political path outside the military.”
He cited the likes of Janat Mukwaya and Getrude Njuba who have since joined active politics following their exploits in the 1980’s bush war struggle.
However, the government has and continues to use the policy of affirmative action to reduce gender imbalances in several areas like higher education, governance, politics, and management.
From 1990 when the affirmative action policy was introduced in favour of women seeking admission at universities and other tertiary institutions, the number of female students enrolled in these institutions increased from 31 per cent in 1993/94 to 42 per cent by 2004.
In primary teacher colleges, women numbers also went up to 48 per cent of the total student population by 2003. Ms Brenda Kugonza, the advocacy officer at the Centre for Domestic Violence Prevention says government has scored well in terms of promoting the rights of women and their participation in politics and social economic development.
Women activists are hoping that the Domestic violence Bill that was passed in November 2009 will help end violence in homes, especially against women and girls.
But Kaberamaido Woman MP Florence Ekwau insists women do not have much to celebrate in terms of equality and empowerment especially in the rural areas.
“We are still very far from achieving equality.
Women are still being manipulated by men, they have no voice in homes, they don’t own land and many are still dying just because they are not empowered,” she said.
Ms Ekwau said even though some women hold top positions in public offices, it just represents a drop in the ocean. “What is the use of giving one top job to a woman and another 20 to men? How many women district chairpersons or Resident District Commissioners do we have,” she asked.
Women in top posts by numbers
Top women army officers
1.Col Prossy Nalweyiso, President’s Military Assistant
2.Lt Col. Rebecca Mpagi, Director of Women Affairs
3.Lt Col. Annette Nkalubo, UN Mission
4.Lt. Col. Birabwa, Sen. Nursing Officer
5.Maj. Sarah Mpabwa, Army MP
6.Maj. Nekesa, President’s Physician
7.Maj. Jane Mukasa, head of training, directorate of women affairs (commanded parade in Ishaka, Bushenyi yesterday)
Top women cabinet ministers
1.Syda Bumba (Finance)
2.Hope Mwesigye (Agriculture)
3.Geraldine Bitamazire (Educ)
4.Janat Mukwaya (Gen. Duties)
5.Kabakumba Masiko (Information)
6.Beatrice Wabudeya (Presidency)
7.Dorothy Huhya (Without Portfolio)
8.Maria Mutagamba (Water)
Ministers of State
1.Janet Museveni (Karamoja)
2.Ruth Nankabirwa (Microfinance)
3.Sezzi Mbaguta (Public Service)
4.Jennifer Namuyangu (Water)
5.Rukia Chekamondo (Privatisation)
6.Jessica Eriyo (Environment)
7.Rukia Nakadama (Gender and Culture)
8.Jessica Alupo (Youth Affairs)
Top women police officers
1.Jessica Oridoyo (Assistant IGP)
2.Elizabeth Muwanga (Director of Welfare)
3.Oliver Wabwire, (RPC)
4.Alison Agaba (RPC)
5.Teddy Nabirye (Acting
6.Grace Akullo (Head Serious
7.Annet Nabagala (Head of Protocol)
8.Judith Nabakooba (Head of PR)
Compiled by Andrew Bagala and Emmanuel Gyezaho