23 June 2010

Uganda: Museveni Played a Big Role in Women Empowerment


Kampala Woman MP Nabilah Ssempala's recent dismissal, during an NTV news interview, the roles of President Museveni and the NRM in the emancipation of Uganda's women was disingenuous. Objectively, Ugandan women under the NRM are by universal standards, some of the most liberated.

However, according to Ms Ssempala, this emancipation resulted from what she termed global trends like women's rights, feminist, 1980s Nairobi and Beijing conferences. To her, Ugandan leaders have merely implemented globalisation's dictates in an aping fashion, mechanistically without reflection.

Ms Ssempala is not alone in peddling such shallow assertions, which at best are based on ignorance and at worst, are informed by cheap populism. For if it's the mechanical aping of globalisation by Ugandan leaders that emancipated our women, how come similar, if not higher levels of female liberation have not been achieved in Sudan, Ghana, Botswana, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, or the developed democracies of the United States, Britain or India? Are these countries less prone to follow global trends? Or are their women less educated and organised than their Ugandan counterparts?

Of course none of these are correct. For civil society in most of these countries is older, more organised and resourced than Uganda's. We can only locate the actual answer from the respective internal politics of these countries.

Ugandan women obtained their social political liberation through the initiative and agency of President Museveni and the NRM. The laboratory for this progressive experimentation was the Luweero Triangle when resisting UPC's neo-fascist regime (1981-86). This social political liberation first took root in the NRM's innovated Resistance Councils (RCs) or Obukiiko. These being democratically constituted peasantry, local governance structures.

Mr Museveni and the NRM ensured their mandatory gender responsiveness - with women and the youth being by law accommodated in their make-up. It's this affirmative action that institutionalised peasant, women and youth participation in Ugandan politics. Apart from Mr Museveni, other individuals who played an instrumental role in the creation and nurturing of RCs included Mr Moses Kigongo, Mr Eriya Kategaya, Mr Jacob Assimwe, Ms Getrude Njuba, and Mr Abby Mukwaya and Ms Janat Mukwaya.

RCs were formulated in 1981 before the Nairobi and Beijing feminist conferences. Even then, gender affirmative action deliberately manifested at all levels within NRM politics. The NRA created a women's wing that actively participated in combat, headed by Ms Proscovia Nalweyiso. Women as Buganda's senior Princess Sarah Ndagire of Nankulabye, Ms Joy Mirembe, Ms Njuba and many others played daring key roles in the NRM underground. Women constituted up to 10 per cent of the 30 or so members of the National Resistance Council (NRC), the NRM's supreme policy making organ.

They included Ms Njuba, Ms Mukwaya and Ms Olivia Zizinga. Most fundamentally, Mr Museveni and the NRM's commitment ensured the introduction of Uganda's most enlightened 1995 Constitution. This enshrined the mandatory 33.3 per cent political representation of women in Uganda's 65,000 village councils, 10,000 lower local governments, 101 district councils and national Parliament. Ms Ssempala, being an affirmative action MP, directly benefits from these reforms. Certainly without them, she would be serving in a different capacity. Fortunately, most Ugandans better appreciate their history.

Mr Museveni and the NRM have also appointed women to the highest levels within the ruling party and government. This is in addition to providing our girl-child 1.5 additional points for entry to university as well as the introduction of Universal primary and secondary education, and Prosperity for All programme among others.

Mr Nyago is the deputy Principal Private Secretary to the President

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