Celebrating women who broke the gender barrier

Thursday March 7 2019

Speaker Rebecca Kadaga and Specioza Wandira

Speaker Rebecca Kadaga and Specioza Wandira Kazibwe. 

By Tony Mushoborozi

Speciosa Wandira Naigaga Kazibwe, First woman vice president of Uganda

When Specioza Wandira Kazibwe became Uganda’s vice president in 1994, no other woman had ever risen to such political heights in Uganda and in Africa.
Only a handful of women had ever been more powerful across the world.
Her ascendancy to that office was a historic moment. It was viewed by many as a crucial milestone in the journey of women’s emancipation.

Her vice presidency alone, even if she had sat still and did nothing at all, opened up a whole new world of possibilities. Women could now aspire for truly great positions in life.
This newspaper once wrote: “Dr. Kazibwe opened the gates for other women in Africa to rise to similar postings. She showed that women could be taken seriously in positions of power. It is thus not surprising that three years after she quit her post as VP [in 2003], there was a female presidential candidate in Uganda in Miria Obote [2006].”
Kazibwe’s vice presidency did not just open up the political space in Uganda, but in Africa.
In 2006 Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became president and in 2012 Malawi’s Joyce Banda became president.

Prof Victoria Nakiboneka Mwaka, First female professor in Uganda
When she became the first woman professor in 1991, Prof Victoria Nakiboneka Mwaka had been working at it since 1969. Young Nakiboneka started out as a teacher at Luweero Secondary School, before joining Makerere University as a teaching assistant. Through a relentless search for more, Nakiboneka kept rising; from the position of assistant lecturer, to lecturer, to associate professor of Geography. After 12 years of heading the Geography Department, she made history by becoming the first ever woman professor in the country in 1991.

As professor, she became the pioneer head of the department of Women and Gender Studies at Makerere University between 1991 and 1995 and participated in developing the curriculum at the department. The professor has on several occasions said one of the biggest challenges she faced was supervising male PhD students who, she says, found it problematic to believe that a woman would supervise them effectively at PhD level.

Today, the Geography professor and retired politician (she was woman MP for Luweero District 2006 - 2011), runs Victoria Model Secondary School in Luweero Town Council, a school she started in 1993 to offer affordable education for the girl-child.

Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga, First female Speaker of Parliament
When Rebecca Kadaga became the Speaker of Parliament of Uganda on May 19, 2011, she made history as the first ever female Speaker. A year later, she was honoured with the prestigious African Influential Amazon Award 2012 for that fit.
Before she became Speaker, she had been the deputy Speaker since 2001, serving under Edward Ssekandi. In 1974, Kadaga finished her secondary education at Namasagali College.

In 1978, she graduated with a Bachelors of Laws (LLB), and enrolled at the Law Development Centre for a diploma in 1979. In 1984, she became the first woman to open up a law firm in the country. She was engaged in private law practice at her law firm, Kadaga & Co. Advocates until 1989.

From 1989, she served as the Member of Parliament for Kamuli District in the District Woman’s Constituency until 1996. From 1996 to 1998, Kadaga was the Ugandan Minister of State for Regional Cooperation (Africa and the Middle East). From 1998 to 1999 she served as Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and from 1999 to 2000 as Minister of State for Communication and Aviation until she was elected deputy Speaker of Parliament in 2001. Today, she is serving her second term after being re-elected soon after the 2016 general election.



Florence Alice Lubega

Florence Alice Lubega

Florence Alice Lubega - Uganda’s first female legislator
Florence Alice Lubega, who will make 102 years on November 5, is Uganda’s first ever female legislator, having joined the Legislative Council (Legco) in 1957.

The Legislative Council was formed by the colonial government in 1920, and all its five members were European. The first Ugandan members were admitted in 1945 and by the time Lubega joined, 50 per cent of the members were Ugandan.

The Daily Monitor reported in 2017 thus: ‘In December 1939, after the death of the then Kabaka of Buganda Daudi Chwa, Lubega had an opportunity to live within the palace and took care of the princes and princesses and groomed them into better people. “I took care of many of them at that moment since the king had died and they needed a caretaker. I was tasked to take charge and helped them, especially Muteesa, who later became the King of Buganda,” she recounts.’

It is such closeness to power that made it possible for her to become a key member of the Legislative Council in 1957. In 1962, five years after she joined the council, Uganda gained her independence and she became the first female Ugandan to join the Uganda National Assembly (Parliament) in May, 1962.

Prof Josephine Nambooze – First Ugandan female physician
When she was admitted to Makerere University School of Medicine to study human medicine in the mid-1950s, she was the first female to be admitted into the school.

She finished her undergraduate degree in 1959 and went for postgraduate studies in the United Kingdom.
She returned to Uganda in 1962 to teach at Makerere University. She headed a teaching facility of Makerere University School of Public Health at Kasangati Health Centre for years.

After years of rising through the ranks and finally becoming full professor in the fields of public health and maternal and child health, she went on to serve as the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s representative to Botswana and also worked at the WHO regional office in Brazaville, Congo.

On Makerere University Medical School’s list of “Notable Alumni”, the professor is described as physician, professor of public health, maternal and child health specialist and public health consultant.



Miria Kalule Obote

Miria Kalule Obote

Miria Kalule Obote - First woman presidential candidate in Uganda
Miria Kalule Obote is the former first lady of Uganda, and widow of former President Milton Obote. After the ouster of Obote II in 1985, the couple went to exile in Zambia with their family.

Twenty years later, after the death of Obote, Miria Obote returned to Uganda in October, 2005.
Two months after the burial of her husband, who was the founder and leader of the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC), she was elected new leader of UPC and its presidential candidate for the 2006 General Election.

She was 70 years old at the time she became the first ever female presidential candidate.
Prior to becoming the UPC flag bearer in 2005, she criticised President Museveni’s government for causing the collapse of co-operative movement that had financially liberated many people during Obote’s reign.

She also asked Ugandans to forgive her late husband’s mistakes. She made efforts to pacify UPC which had been experiencing internal wars.
Such is the way she inadvertently stole the hearts of UPC supporters who hoisted her to the helm of the party.



Col Rebecca Mpagi

Col Rebecca Mpagi

Col Rebecca Mpagi – First female military pilot at Uganda People’s Defence Forces
Col Mpagi joined the NRA in 1986 as an aviation engineer. That same year, she became the first female pilot in Uganda. Her love of the military aviators’ uniform pushed her to bring her aviation skills to the army.
In 1972, she finished her O-Level studies at Nabisunsa Girls’ School after which she enrolled for her A-Level studies at Kololo Secondary School and finished in 1974.

In 1978, she joined the East African Civil Aviation Academy in Soroti to study aviation engineering.
This goes a long way to show that her love for Aviation started in her childhood. She finished her studies there in 1982.
In the 1979 war, fate tapped her on the shoulder. She had a job in Mbale while she was a student in Soroti.

Other appointments
In 1986, she joined the army and became a pilot.
In 1988, she was promoted to Second Lieutenant.
In 1990, she attained the rank of full lieutenant.
In 1999, she became a Captain.
In 2002, she became a Major.
In 2008, she became a Lieutenant. Colonel.

Dr Lydia Mungherera - First female president of Uganda Medical Association and first black woman to hold the position

In 2000, when Dr Lydia Mungherera was elected the president of Uganda Medical Association, she was the first woman to hold that position in the 65-year history of the body. In 2013, when she became the president of the World Medical Association, she was the first black woman to hold that position.

In 1997, she was brought back from a South African hospital to die. With a CD4 count below five, no one expected her to live. In the medical world, a CD4 count of 200 among HIV patients is dangerous and yet Mungherera’s was at five. Luckily, she was started on ARV treatment and made a recovery. When a year later she started working in communities struck heavily by HIV/Aids, most of the existing programmes had been targeted towards men while the women suffered silently. She was able to change that forever because her fight was for the infected woman.

Chief Justice, Laetitia Eulalia Mary Mukasa-Kikonyogo, first woman to be appointed deputy Chief Justice
In 2017, she suffered a heart attack and died at Mulago National Referral Hospital. Kikonyogo had been battling Parkinson’s disease. She was the first Ugandan woman magistrate Grade I (1971-1973), the first woman Chief Magistrate (1973-1986), the first woman to be appointed High Court judge (1986) and sat on the Court of Appeal. In 1997, she was appointed the first woman justice of the Supreme Court of Uganda and the first woman to be appointed deputy Chief Justice.

She was also head of the Court of Appeal and president of the Constitutional Court of Uganda in February 2001 and the first African president of the International Association of Women Judges. Pope Benedict XVI appointed her as one of two Ugandan dames to be the first ever women papal knights in the history of the Catholic Church.

Proscovia Nalweyiso Uganda’s first female Lieutenant General
Lt Gen Proscovia Nalweyiso is the highest ranking female army officer in the history of Uganda, East Africa and likely the whole of Africa. She joined the rebel outfit National Resistance Army (NRA) in 1982 when she was only 28. In 1983, soon after joining the NRA Bush War, Nalweyiso became the first commandant of the female wing.
In 1984, the unit was moved to western Uganda from their base in Luweero, where Nalweyiso played a big role in setting up a whole new NRA force (the Western Front).

In 1986, as the NRA victory became certain, Nalweyiso’s Western Front was in Fort Portal and her job was to secure that part of the country. When the NRA captured power, Nalweyiso was given the rank of Captain. By 2000, she had been promoted to Major and then to Lt. Col.

In 2011, she was promoted to the rank of Brigadier and in 2017, she was promoted to Major General. At that point, she entered the history books as the first ever female general in much of Africa.
In February, she was promoted to Lt Gen.

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