30 January 2013

Uganda: NRMs 27 Years - Opening Doors for Women to the Top

As the National Resistance Movement commemorates 27 years since it came to power, Watuwa Timbiti explores some of its achievements in regard to women empowerment

Two weeks ago, Ugandans, especially the females and nationalists, were exhilarated when feminist and civil society activist Winnie Byanyima sprang to one of the most coveted global helms - she was appointed the executive director of Oxfam International. Oxfam International is a confederation of 17 organisations working together to find lasting solutions to poverty and injustice.

Similarly, last year, two other prolific Ugandan women rose in international stature. The East African Legislative Assembly hoisted Margaret Zziwa to its speakership, making her the first woman and Ugandan to occupy that seat. Dr. Margaret Mungherera, who was the president of the Uganda Medical Association, was elected president of the World Medical Association.

In the Ugandan socio-economic or socio-political context, women have surpassed many limitations to get to the top. For instance, Rebecca Kadaga, Christine Ondoa and Maria Kiwanuka are at the helm of Parliament, the health and finance ministries, respectively.

Women have also ascended to influential positions in corporate companies and in the civil society. They are country directors and coordinators of non-government organisations.

A dark pre-NRM era for women:

The women's shift, as seen in Uganda today, to the helm of society is not accidental. It is a corollary of humanist policies and laws promulgated by the National Resistance Movement (NRM) aimed at liberating women from socially-constructed subjugation and peripheral existence.

In her book, When Hens Begin to Crow: Gender and Parliamentary Politics in Uganda, Dr. Sylvia Tamale, the first women dean at Makerere University's faculty of law, describes the position of the Ugandan woman in the pre-NRM era as that of imposed powerlessness.

Back then, she observes, and perhaps even today, it is believed that women were not supposed to speak up or express their opinions in public, a view that is deeply embedded in African patriarchal values, which relegate women to the affairs of the home and family.

Tamale notes that with the Government's 1989 affirmative action policy, guaranteeing the election of a minimum of 39 women district representatives to the national legislature, the gender dynamics shifted in favour of women.

Since then, she adds, women have increasingly defied custom, culture, discrimination and marginalisation to join formal politics in Uganda.

"The tight races for affirmative action seats in the Constituent Assembly elections of 1994 marked an increase in women's political awareness relative to the 1989 race," Tamale argues.

Additionally, she emphasises that the June 1996 parliamentary race of the National Assembly was even more competitive, with more women than ever before standing for the affirmative action seats.

"In that race, 106 women competed for the 39 seats reserved for women and 28 tussled it out with men for the county seats," Tamale explains.

To widen the women's national presence, the Government created women constituencies as explained in NRM 25 Years: Politics, Policies and Personalities, a book about the hallmark achievements of NRM in 25 years.

"The creation of a specific political constituency for women and their deeper involvement (or political recruitment) in Uganda's electoral politics, brought about a change in political space from that characterised by total male dominance to one in which an alternative, more participatory politics was made possible, at least in the quantitative sense," the book reads in part.

Today, it is observed, women comprise the highest number of the five special interest groups that Uganda' Constitution recognises.

"They have a representative from each district against the army which has a total of 10 and the youth, people with disabilities and the workers all of who have a total of five representatives each," the book reads.

To level further the socio-political turf for women, the Government has signed and ratified several international, regional and sub-regional instruments aimed at promoting gender equality and women's empowerment.

For instance, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), for instance, MDGs three and five, which target gender equality and women's empowerment and improving maternal health, respectively.

Despite such judicious policies and gestures from the Government to uplift the socio-political stature of women, there are limitations to this progress - the journey ahead for women is perhaps much longer than what they have walked so far.

Although some have sailed through to the top, majority of women in Uganda are still wallowing at the lowest rungs of society.

In most corporate entities, most women are mid-level managers, the top positions are male-dominated. Notably, most Cabinet and senior public positions in the public service such as permanent secretaries are in the male domain.

In the area of maternal health, women, especially those in the rural areas, are still victims of pregnancy-related complications despite various interventions from the Government.

Looking at education, the school drop-out rate for girls is higher than that of boys. Additionally, for the last three years, more boys than girls, going by the Primary Leaving Examination (PLE) results, have passed in divisions one and two.

For instance, according to the recently-released 2012 PLE results, of the 284,647 boys who registered, 35,347 passed in division one and 132,109 in division two. On the other hand, of the 279,413 girls who registered, 23,807 passed in division one and 117,926 passed in division two.

According to these figures, more boys passed in divisions one and two than girls. This was the trend even for the two preceding years.

According to the 2012 Uganda Bureau of Statistics Statistical Abstract, for the 2010 PLE results, 25,377 males passed in division one compared 16,818 females. Similarly, 119,208 males passed in division two compared to 101,611 females.

The situation was not any better at the 2009 PLE results, where 19,810 males passed in division one compared to 13,030 females. Similarly, 106,325 males passed in division two compared to 90,623 females.

Additionally, the enrolment of women into higher institutions of learning is still lower than that of men. According to the Statistical Abstract, the 2011 enrolment for 32 universities in Uganda did not favour girls. For example, of the 140,096 students admitted, 78,817 were males and 61,270 were females.

Way forward:

There is an inter-connection or positive correlation between social or individual development and quality or level of education. Therefore, if more women are to wield power and influence, more should access quality education, especially higher learning.

Education brings with it a sense of self-discovery and self-determination, manifested through self-worth and self-value.

For that matter, an educated woman is an empowered one, thus the ability to overcome obstacles of progress such as poverty, disease, ignorance, violence and inhibiting customs or traditions.

What makes the Ugandan society male-dominated is the fact that there are more educated men than women - a trend that can be reversed.

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