What women want from leaders in 2021

Saturday January 16 2021
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Aisha Lwasa prepares pancakes and half cakes for the evening sales at her stall in Kisaasi, Kampala. PHOTO/Eronie Kamukama

By ERONIE KAMUKAMA

Most mornings, as daylight tears open the hues of the world, Aisha Lwasa weaves through stall holders in Kalerwe market and haggles over the prices of food.  She brings those fruits, vegetables and bananas to her stall in Kisaasi, a Kampala suburb, just in time to catch early buyers.

Like other Ugandans, she voted her next president and members of parliament. She is concise when she talks about her needs as a woman. She wants the presiden-elect to create an economy that works for women.

She wants access to capital to build the business of her desire. She wants to earn more income from her sweat. In her words, the ever increasing prices of goods and the daily fight to fend for her family is overwhelming. 

“Every evening, I invest Shs50,000 to make half cakes and pancakes but sometimes there is hardly a profit because prices of goods are too high. Sometimes, I end up buying goods on credit. No leader can give me a job but they can reduce taxes on goods to facilitate businesspeople to make profits,” Lwasa says.

For the seven years she has operated a market stall, investment capital has been hard to come by. To make ends meet, she spares some hours a day to wash people’s clothes and buy stock for the day.

The market vendor in her 40s is the sole caretaker of six children, who must eat, study and have a roof over their heads.

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Article 59 (1) of the Ugandan constitution states that every Ugandan of 18 years has a right to vote. As of September 16, 2020, the Electoral Commission recorded 17,658,527 registered voters. Lwasa is one of the 9,218,963 female voters that queued up last Thursday to cast her vote.

David Mugambe Mpiima, a lecturer in the School of Women and Gender Studies at Makerere University, says, while women in markets, streets and homes voice their successes and frustrations daily, politicians have made basic needs appear prominent.

“A woman spends three hours a day fetching water. It is absurd that someone falls sick and cannot access a health centre because they do not have a penny. These are the things women talk about daily. They do not talk about taxes. They talk about basics and these are closer to women than to any other person because that is their life,” he says.

Pheona Wall, the president of Uganda Law Society was very interested in these elections and what leaders pledged. Wall is a businesswoman interested in what the future holds, especially post elections. She wants leaders to be more accountable.

She wants leaders to sniff out the corrupt and bring them to book.  At the height of the chaotic campaign processes, she was disappointed and demands respect for the rule of law. From presidential candidates to the populace and security organs, the level of disregard for human rights is tormenting. 

“Without the rule of law, our safety is not guaranteed and none of us can run our businesses. Women are vulnerable in this space. Women are a powerful demographic, slightly over 50 per cent. The informal sector is primarily run by women and when it comes to election violence, these are the most affected. Women are not smart enough to take advantage of this chaos and many become victims,” says Wall.

Literacy levels

Former minister for Agriculture Victoria Sekitoleko wants literacy to take priority.  The Uganda Household Survey 2016/2017 indicates that 31 per cent of households are headed by women. The same survey shows lower literacy rates among women than men, a report that doesn’t sit well with Sekitoleko.

“Unfortunately, the majority are women. To make matters worse, it is these illiterate women who are the heads of these households. Not that the husbands are dead but they make most decisions,” she says.

Sekitoleko says if Uganda is to prosper, the people making decisions for households should be equipped for the job.

“Babies are stunted because their mothers dropped out of school in Primary One or Three. Senior Six exams are coming. These children started primary one in 2008 and they were 1.9million children. Out of that, less than 100,000 are now in Senior Six and majority are girls. Potentially, these are heads of households and if Uganda is to become middle income economy, we must change this status quo,” she explains.

Poverty and ignorance

Diana Ayikoru contested for Arua Woman Member of Parliament. As she traversed the villages, she witnessed firsthand poverty and ignorance. Although she lost the election primaries, she says it would be a relief to have leaders who will help women to be economically independent as opposed to receiving handouts.

“There is a particular Sub-county in Arua called Ajia without a secondary school, she says. We need better infrastructure, schools and to educate masses about the importance of education,” she says.  

She adds that women need refresher courses on survival skills, agricultural methods and how best to market their products.

Election promises

National Unity Platform pledged to implement policies that provide for childcare in both formal and informal workplaces. There are plans to draft a policy to protect women from sexual harassment and abuse at work. Employers offering a minimum of 30 per cent of their jobs to women are set to receive tax incentives. This is expected to avail more jobs for women.

National Resistance Movement focuses on representation of women at Sub-county councils, district councils and Parliament. The budget for women at these councils will only increase as the economy improves. The party plans to continue uplifting women using funds availed through Emyooga and Operation Wealth Creation programsmes. 

The Forum for Democratic Change plan leans hard on the failures of the sitting government. It offers an elaborate fix to women’s issues and in there are elaborate proposals to build schools in every parish, separate latrines for girls, provide free sanitary pads for girls in government aided schools, guidance and counselling to reduce school dropouts and adult literacy programmes for those women that dropped out of school.

Every household is to receive safe water. Women in the informal sector are to access cheap loans. On the health front, women should expect more midwives in health centres, free mama kits, and those women abused either through domestic violence or outdated cultural practices like child marriages, rehabilitation homes are to be built.

Top on Willy Mayambala, a presidential candidate’s proposals, is maternity health care that includes free maternity and delivery services in hospitals.  New mothers are to receive Shs500,000 to take care of their new born babies at home. His government is to provide free mama kits. There is also a pledge to ensure men and women have equal opportunities within the labour and political spheres. “I would like to put women at the fore-front of every developmental project in the country,” he says.

To listen to politicians speak the language of women on childcare, equal work rights and health is one thing. Representing the interests once elected into office is another but to be aware of them feels like a good starting point for most women. From now on, women can only wait to see that their desires are not denied.

“Politicians have their own interests. Your interests as voters do not become the aggregate of the interests of the politician because they buy off voters,” Mpiima says. In fact, this is all too familiar as the women in Kisaasi Market view whoever questions their interests in the elections as a delivery girl of the night’s meal.

“We got tired of people who ask us what we want from leaders. We simply want money, we mean cash, so, if you belong to the sitting party or the National Unity Platform, just give us the money,” three of the market women say.

Mpiima says, “Once there, politicians patch up holes dug in their pockets. In such situations, it is hard for politicians to look out for your interests as a woman. Some have funded a few women groups but largely, you can say that women issues are paid lip service. Broader society issues are paid lip service and women issues get lost in there.”

Accountability

Cissy Kagaba, the executive director of Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda says Uganda needs leaders that will be accountable and not mere politicking. “We want leaders who will stand against government excesses of abusing tax payers’ money. If you read the Auditor General’s reports, you will notice there are instances of abuse of power that has led to loss or abuse of tax payers’ money,” says Kagaba.

Peace and stability

Sheila Kawamara, the executive director of the Eastern African Sub-region Support Innitiative for the Advancement of Women, understands the language of peace. 

“Women want peace and stability. It is true we want our rights to be respected but my family comes first before I care about everybody else. Whenever there is instability, men run. Those of us who lived in the past and witnessed wars, men took off to exile and women remained. Whenever there is danger, women stand to lose more,” she says.

From leaders, Kawamara says she wants development, peace and stability. “As a politician, when you lose an election, lose gracefully. We need maturity and calmness. Accept the result. If you are genuine and want the best for this country, when you lose, wait for the next time,” she says.

Track school dropouts

Former minister for Agriculture Victoria Sekitoleko wants literacy to take priority.  The Uganda Household Survey 2016/2017 indicates that 31 per cent of households are headed by women. The same survey shows lower literacy rates among women than men, a report that doesn’t sit well with Sekitoleko. She says majority of these are women who are the heads of these households.

What others say

My desire is to have a president who will create an enabling environment for businesses to start, grow and scale. I want an environment where women who own 60 per cent of businesses have access to capital, markets, reliable and timely business information, especially the small and medium enterprises. Despite the fact that Uganda is very entrepreneurial, 70 per cent of the businesses fail within the third year.

Beatrice Senora – Chief executive officer -Chamber of Commerce for Small and Medium Enterprises

I just want a leader that can seriously tackle corruption. The state of corruption in Uganda is worrying. As an artiste, I would be glad if they strengthen the copyright law. We need a law that works and protects us. Just like other sectors such as agriculture or sports, the government should recognise the existence of the creative economy. In this era, the creative economy needs an independent ministry.

Karole Kasita- Female artiste

I had never voted and I was tired of complaining about our leadership and not doing anything about it. So, this time round, I exercised my right as a Ugandan and voted. As a youth, I want someone who can relate to our issues and a president who would guarantee equal opportunities for all Ugandans.

Harriet Nassazi- Engineer

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