An 18% tax has been imposed on piped water, while cosmetics will attract 10% excise duty. Carol Natukunda got views about how the taxes are likely to affect women
At last!' one woman sighed, "We are going to have our own hospital!" Perhaps that is the biggest news in the budget this year - women getting a special hospital.
The move comes at a time when many women are dying due to childbirth complications. Statistics show that there are 352 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, while the infant mortality rate is estimated at 54 deaths per 1,000 live births.
Once the hospital is complete, enthusiasts feel there would be a huge difference in maternal health, considering that women almost have to struggle to access health facilities and doctors most of the time. But critics are quick to point out that one hospital cannot certainly serve every woman in the country.
"You are going to build a hospital in Kampala. What about the woman in Karamoja? Will she travel all the way when she can't even go to the nearest health centre in her district?" asks Nabilah Naggayi, the Kampala Woman MP.
Naggayi says even with the few existing hospitals, some women give birth in corridors due to shortage of staff and inadequate facilities.
"If we are to realise tremendous gains in maternal health, there must be a deliberate effort to extend all the necessary facilities to the woman at the grassroots," she adds.
Solome Nakaweesi, a woman activist, says in this year's budget, men have gained largely compared to the women.
"They (men) own most of the construction firms, so they will get money for the roads and bridges. They will not pay graduated tax, school fees or buy food at home. So the man gains," Nakaweesi says.
"We want our make-up tax-free."
Perhaps the saddest news in the budget is the 18% tax on water. Nakaweesi feels that an increase in the water bill will ultimately affect the woman since she runs the home and uses water to cook, bathe her children and wash clothes, whether she is in town or rural areas.
Naggayi agrees, adding that women are likely to suffer more when it comes to hygiene.
"There is always cholera in urban centres and slums. What is going to happen now, when the water is not affordable? More children and women falling sick!" she predicts.
And as the woman is contemplating on the water bills for her family, she will also have to worry about her make-up, following the 10% excise duty, which has been imposed on cosmetics and perfumes. As trivial as it might appear, the women are angry.
"It is like you are deliberately segregating the woman. They think this is luxury, but it is not. It is the women who run most of the beauty and luxury products businesses such as salons," stresses Naggayi. "They think we are just extravagant, but in the real sense, they are not digging deeper to get solutions."
Nakaweesi also says: "It means we are going to pay about three times more for our make-up!"
And just when the one thought that women will most probably celebrate the 60% excise tax on the locally-made gin, to tame their drunken hubbies, a cross-section of people think that it is actually the woman in the village who is most times involved in brewing the local gins.
So if her customers fall short, without readily-available cash to start another business, it would affect livelihoods. For the urban woman, there is an argument more women prefer consuming wines and spirits, whether locally or brewed. Whether or not that is significant to their health is another matter.
Nutrition, agriculture boosted
But their health would probably come into the spotlight, when it comes to food supplements. With the obesity and lifestyle diseases on the rise, critics question the Government's move to remove taxes on food supplements, which are imported in the country, arguing that packaged foods have more chemicals.
But Augustus Nuwagaba, a leading development expert, is quick to point out that this will help improve the nutrition of mothers and children.
"If we have these foods available, mothers will be able to feed their children," he says. "We have enough food in the country, but the prices are too high, and many times, the production centres don't exactly link with the consumption centres. So this is a good measure to bring the food closer to the mother and her children."
That should not be a surprise. Moreover, with the increase in taxes on lotteries and sports betting, more women can only pray that this will probably bring the men to take charge of their families and spend less money on gambling.
The completion of the Bujagali power project will enable business women to operate without power cuts. Hopefully, we will not have children dying in the incubators or women undergoing caesarean sections under the lamp because of lack of electricity.
The women engaged in agriculture also have a reason to smile, as the Government has announced plans to provide them with improved seed and farm inputs. This is aimed at increasing production of maize, beans, coffee, market fruits and vegetables and fish.
For instance, maize farmers in specific zones in the country will be facilitated to access both improved seed, and also the means to access flour milling plants and equipment to add value to their produce. This will enable maize farmers to benefit from higher prices paid for maize flour.
While the woman might be suffering moving up and down to fetch water, there are plans to rehabilitate irrigation schemes in the communities, and establishing new ones to increase provision of water for irrigation, livestock and for the flower firms.
And for the housewife who has always feared to start a business because of the daunting licensing process, there will perhaps be no need to worry, as about 27 licences all of which were found to be obsolete have been scrapped. An electronic licences registry that will serve as a repository for all approved business licensing in Uganda will be established so the ordinary woman should not feel cheated or intimated.
Another piece of good news is that with the education sector taking a big chunk of the budget, mothers can be assured of their daughters going to school, being empowered to access graduate fund, or the youth fund as start-up capital in case they fail to get employed. That will possibly make the women to take charge of her lives, according to gender minister Rukia Nakadama.
And after all has been said and done, the woman will be assured of accessing the health facilities. Negotiations to build a women-only hospital will be finalised, while major referrals in Kirudu and Kawempe zones will be constructed to ease congestion. Other hospitals including Itojo, Kabale, Hoima, Fort portal, Lugazi and Kawolo are to be rehabilitated.
In the budget, more money will go into the transport sector for repairing roads, so we shall most likely see the woman ably accessing the hospital or transporting their agricultural produce to the urban centres.
Not all hope is lost
Gender minister Rukia Nakadama appeals to women to be positive. "We should not look only at the negative things. The tax on water will be a challenge, but it is a win-win situation. We have been crying of women dying in childbirth, now it is time to sacrifice and source for money to be able to equip, say, the women's hospital," she stresses.
On the tax on cosmetics, she says, "Cosmetics are a luxury. The woman from my village in Mayuge never has money to buy lip shine or lipstick.
That's for the well-to-do. We are looking at sacrificing a few things so we can equip hospitals, repair our roads, equip schools and give graduates and the youth a start-up capital, so that the woman is empowered," says Nakadama.
"Let us be optimistic. If something doesn't work, then another budget will address it next year," the minister says.