Kampala — Last week, the world celebrated International Women's Day. Uganda's women have come a long way in breaking the barriers that previously forbade them from taking on 'men's roles' and are today powerful CEOs and leaders in the country.
This is a male-dominated country. It is forbidden for a woman to eye a position of power in society. It is not right for a woman to head an organisation, most especially where she is the boss of even one man. It is unheard of for a girl to go to school. Tell that to today's woman. Chances are, you will be confronted by the scores of successful women whose tags are Chief Executive Officer (CEO), managing director, Member of Parliament, chief engineer, chief accountant, among others. In most cases, each of these women had to tussle it out with men to prove that they got the brains to do what they can do. It is unbelievable how far these women have come, how much they have achieved and how ably they head and direct their (male) colleagues at work.
For once upon a time, it was believed that a woman was all beauty and no brains. Then, women could not even dream of becoming vice-presidents. In fact, it was common knowledge that a woman was forbidden from certain professions. A doctor, for instance or even a lawyer. And who ever thought of a woman in parliament, a female engineer or a female accountant? Such positions, it was generally understood, were male domains. In fact, even school was a male domain, because girls were not allowed to attend school. For one, it was believed, girls were not brainy enough to comprehend the white man's stuff. Then there was the belief that even if they did, they would end up in the kitchen anyway, so why waste money on their education. When barriers were broken later on, schools like Gayaza Junior School admitted girls but solely for training as good wives and mothers. Even those who managed to excel had to become nurses and teachers. There was nowhere else to serve.
But all that sounds like a myth to today's woman, who has spread her arms to formerly untouchable realms. True, we are yet to see women in the middle of the road commandeering road construction work, sign posts that read "women at work" or even women atop an electricity pole. But we have seen women whose lives are about making decisions for their country, chairing board meetings and heading organisations in a male dominated society. While witnessing a significant change and attitudinal shift in both women's and society's thoughts about women's equality and emancipation, there are names you cannot ignore. They have weathered difficult financial and leadership times. Their companies showed marked improvement in performance. Their recruitment into these tough leadership positions was a struggle. They beat the "Old Boys Network" and the lack of support structures for females in high-level positions. These women include, but are not limited to:
"People thought because I am a woman I would not manage the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) responsibilities." She became the Commissioner General of the URA in 2004, and has been in the limelight as the iron lady of the institution since then. When she joined the tax organisation, it had carved its name in society as the place to work if you wanted to build a house, drive a powerful car and own lots of property and land within months of joining the organisation.
Her entry saw a massive restructuring exercise that trimmed the number of departments from 10 to five, reduced corruption and even saw the scrapping of the posts of Deputy Commissioner-General and Deputy Commissioner. With the necessary structural changes in place, she embarked on a campaign to clean up the URA's image, which was torn to shreds during a probe headed by then Justice Julia Sebutinde.
She was tasked with fighting corruption, inefficiency of officials, lack of ethics and slow service. She received death threats for her work and while another woman would have bolted from the office without a second look, she did not. Her achievements have placed her up on the list of the most visible women in the corporate world.
Given the nature of her work, she admits that juggling family responsibilities and work is not easy. In fact, her family once complained about being neglected, which is why she decided to set aside her weekends for family. She is a serious born-again Christian, which is one of the reasons why she does not tolerate unchristian practices at URA.
She's the LC5 chairperson, Kanungu District. When the Local Council system was being designed, there was no room for women, which is why you never hear of a chairwoman. This partly explains why few women dare to stand as chairmen - because they are not men. This woman, however, could have none of that, and she is the only female LC5 chairperson. She's had to challenge male contenders for the post in a district where most voters - who are farmers and cattle keepers take culture seriously. She has been pivotal in developing the district since it gained district status in 2001.
She joined politics through the women's affirmative action in 1989 and moved to the sub-county level. By 1992, she had become the district's woman councillor and within two years, she went for the Rukungiri District Constituent Assembly seat but lost to Winnie Matsiko.
But her loss did not kill her political ambitions, for she bounced back as the vice-chairperson of Rukungiri in 1998. When Kanungu became a district in 2001, she was posted there as acting chairperson six months before elections. She proved her worth for the post and was elected unopposed. She retained her seat in 2006 and is not planning to quit politics just yet.
DR. MARGARET JEAN KIGOZI
"When faced with obstacles I always find a way out. I do not just lie back and surrender. I may watch a movie while finding a solution," she said during an interview. And therein lies the power of her success. She has been the executive director of the Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) since 1999, during which time foreign and domestic investments have increased. Her work is to woo and facilitate investors in the country. UIA has won several prizes during her leadership, including the Corporate Location Prize for the best Investment Promotion Agency in Africa and the Middle East. She worked in Uganda, Zambia, and Kenya before joining the private sector. She was first posted as marketing director of Crown Bottlers Limited in 1994. She was later appointed board member of Uganda Manufacturers Association. She played a big role as the chairperson of the Sector Committee by advising the Government on policies that affect the private sector. She is also the chancellor of Nkumba University, a board member of Uganda Export Promotion Board, chief commissioner to the Uganda Scouts Association and patron to the Uganda Change Agents. She is a member and patron of several other organisations. During her younger days, she was into sports with a passion for motor-bikes. She represented Uganda in table tennis, lawn tennis, squash and hockey.
OLIVE ZAITUN KIGONGO
She commands immense power and respect as the president of Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry. She's the first woman president in this organisation that covers the private sector and whose membership is drawn from all sectors of the economy and regions. She is also an advisor on the panel of the World Islamic Economic Forum Foundation. She is a prominent businesswoman and the managing director of Mosa Courts apartments.
She is the founder and director of Taibah schools. She championed education change in Uganda when she founded her first school, Taibah High School, in 1991. She had expanded to four schools within 10 years. She is revered in education circles because of her achievements and has won several awards for her initiative. She has a master's degree in education. She taught at Makerere College School and St Joseph's Secondary School Nsambya. She's also the executive director of Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Association and is a member of several associations. She is also a board member of several organisations.
Referred to as Mowa by friends, she stepped into a man's world - car industry - when she became the executive director of Spear Group of Companies. She is a shareholder of the (Wavamunno) family business, which covers different sectors. She's also into real estate and construction despite her training as a secretary. Away from her busy male-like work, she takes on typically feminine duties - she dresses hair, exercises and goes gardening.
ENGINEER IRENE MULONI
First, she went into engineering, a predominantly man's area of expertise. Then she was elected as the managing director of Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Limited. During one interview, she revealed that her appointment surprised her and admitted that "it impacted on me as an individual in many ways.
The demands can wear one down. They are so amorphous. It meant reducing time for my family." At the work place, she is an advocate of team work, focus and is target oriented. Despite her achievements as a CEO, she (wo)mans the kitchen because she believes that as a woman, she has to "think about my career development and see to it that my family is happy at the same time".
She is the executive director of Uganda Export Promotion Board, whose job is to brand Uganda as a supplier of reliable and quality export products on world markets. She's very articulate and exudes confidence and seriousness.
She's the managing director and CEO of United Bank for Africa. A Certified Chartered Accountant and Bachelor of Business Administration degree holder, hers is a record of over 20 years of success at managerial level in the private and public sector. She served as the managing director of Barclays Bank Ghana and was the first woman manager of Barclays Bank Zambia. Before joining Barclays, she served as director general of the Zambia Investment Centre and was the chairperson of the National AIDS Council, Zambia, and the Munda Wanga Botanical and Zoological Gardens.
She also sat on several boards in Zambia. She's very passionate about women issues and at one time talked about her achievements as "clear testimony that women can achieve as well as men".
My own challenge is to encourage and bring the capability that is abundant out there, to the fore. We simply need more and more women in senior positions. This is why I am particularly passionate about equality and diversity."
She is the managing director of the Cotton Development Organisation (CDO). Although the cotton industry is not exactly flourishing today, she has managed to keep the cotton growing areas interested in the crop.