Women leaders at national celebration renew calls for equality

Ms Violet Mbabazi entertains the crowd during the celebrations yesterday. PHOTO BY STEPHEN WANDERA

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Contention. The women say despite government doing a lot to empower them over the last 30 years, they still face many challenges.

KAMPALA. Women leaders used yesterday’s national commemoration of the International Women’s Day to demand that government does more to ensure gender equality by 2030.
They asked government to ensure female students complete school, women access good health services and are engaged in decision–making.
While appreciating what government has done to empower women over the last 30 years such as ensuring one-third of the elective political positions are held by women, the women leaders said they still face many challenges.

Picking on President Museveni’s pledge to provide free sanitary towels to female students, the Persons with Disabilities MP (Eastern), Ms Hellen Grace Asamo, said more needs to be done to keep them in school.
“These [sanitary towels] will go a long way in ensuring retention and completion rates,” Ms Asamo said. “However, many schools continue to face the challenge of limited access to water and washrooms. This has led to many girls dropping out of school at the onset of their menstruation cycles.”

Consequently, she said, shortage of water and lack of washrooms had led to a decrease in the gains towards promoting women empowerment.
“It is our humble request, as mothers of the nation, that all public schools in the country be provided with rainwater harvesting tanks and also facilitate the construction of both bath shelters and restrooms for girls experiencing painful monthly periods,” Ms Asamo added.

The challenges
Some NGOs monitoring school attendance say one in every three school girls, especially those in rural areas, drop out of school during their periods. Many of the pupils and the students who drop out of school on account of their menses are from low–income households, which would be at pains to buy even a packet at Shs2,000.
Mr Museveni has since 2001 been promising to provide free sanitary towels to school girls. Then, as during campaigns for the February 2016 general election, he said he was touched when he learnt that many students drop out of school during their menstrual periods.

In 2001, Mr Museveni vouched for the exemption of sanitary towels from the 18 per cent Value Added Tax (VAT). But removal of VAT reduced the cost of the sanitary marginally, by Shs360 for each pack of Shs2, 000.
Later, the Education ministry weighed in, saying it would take more than just handing out sanitary towels. The ministry pointed out that the government would have to construct pit-latrines purposely for disposal of sanitary towels.

This year’s International Women’s Day celebrations were held under the theme; Pledge for Parity. The national celebration at Kololo Independence Grounds was hosted under the theme ‘Women’s Economic Empowerment; A Vehicle for Sustainable Development.’
President Museveni, who was chief guest, said empowering women economically also means education for all.
“The NRM government has done a lot towards empowering women. The UPE programme has empowered everyone, especially the girl children, who were the biggest victims suffering from lack of education. An educated girl does not only have literacy but also skills which enables her to generate income,” Mr Museveni said.

The President said to promote women-led businesses to create jobs, he would set aside Shs234 billion each year for the Women Fund.
“Empowering women economically involves putting capital in their hands and allowing them to earn an independent income and in this way, contribute financially to their households, communities and the nation at large.” Mr Museveni said the NRM government has always embedded in its manifesto commitment to uplifting the status of vulnerable groups, including women, youth, the elderly and persons with disability.

“It is the NRM’s policy to empower these disadvantaged groups, to create wealth and contribute to the process of leading Uganda into a middle income status,” the President said.
Despite the on-going petition against his re-election, Mr Museveni congratulated Ugandans who participated in the general election.
“I wish to thank everyone who has contributed to the renewal of my mandate and reinforcing your confidence in the NRM to steer you to Uganda’s Vision 2040....”

He said his government will focus on unity, peace, development, wealth creation, jobs, skills development and political stability.
UN Women Uganda Country Representative Hodan Addou said much as the Women’s Day is a time to celebrate achievements, it is also to pay attention on the future, reiterating the importance of an inclusive process and greater participation of women as a prerequisite for successful implementation of Agenda 2030.
The UN envisages a world where girls and women have equal rights with men. To achieve that, UN members agreed to the ‘Step It Up’ campaign, through which they committed to adopt policies that will close the gender gap.

According to the UN, among other targets, the policies should end all forms of discrimination against women and girls. They should eliminate violence against women, trafficking, eliminate early and forced marriages.
The UN says governments should work harder to eliminate female genital mutilation and draw up policies that recognise unpaid care and domestic work, ensure women’s full participation in leadership at all levels and also ensure access to universal access to sexual and reproductive health.