Unequal participation in politics and decision making processes could be one of the reasons why Uganda may not attain the middle income status by 2020
Uganda is a party to various international, regional and sub-regional legal frameworks on women’s participation in leadership and decision making. Key among these include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) Article 21 that recognizes the right of every one to take part in the government of his or her country; The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979 creates binding legal obligations on women’s equal enjoyment with men of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
Article 7 of CEDAW reiterates the importance of women’s representation in the political life and Article 8 further urges states parties to take appropriate measures to overcome historical discrimination against women’s participation in decision making processes. The 2011 UN General Assembly Resolution further reaffirms that equal and active participation of women at all decision-making levels is essential to the achievement of equality, sustainable development, peace and democracy. The African Union has further supported the establishment of the African Women Leaders’ Network that is spearheading various initiatives to improve women’s leadership for Africa’s transformation.
The 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda domesticated the commitments on gender equality and women’s rights as reflected in national objective VI on gender balance and fair representation of marginalized groups, and objective XV that recognizes the role of women in society. The constitution also has solid key provisions including Articles 21(1) on equality of all persons before the law and all spheres of political, economic, social and cultural life; 32(1) on affirmative action in favor of marginalized groups to address imbalance; and 33(4) that states that women have the same right to equal treatment as men and that that right shall include equal opportunities in political activities.
To reinforce the above provisions, Uganda has also put in place an enabling institutional and legal framework. The Local Government Act provides for at least 30% of the representatives in Local Government Councils should be women. In addition, the Public Finance and Management Act (2015) requires that the national budget, policy statement and budget framework papers should be gender and equity responsive and should provide for measures to equalize opportunities for women, men, persons with disabilities and other marginalized groups.
The number of Women participating in political leadership has increased over time taking Parliament as a sample since 1989;
Table 1: Women in Uganda’s Legislature from 1989 to 2016
|No. of Districts
Source: WDG Report (2016)
The issue and recommendations
Despite the existence of the legal, institutional and policy framework, the issue of inclusive and equal participation of women in politics remains problematic (The Women’s Manifesto 2016-2021). Women have limited opportunities and lack equal access to political and public life including the right to vote, to stand for election as well as to hold public office due to a number of factors:
Uganda conducted elections for Local Council I Chairpersons and the women councils in July 2018 which were marred by general low voter turn up in both exercises across the country. Women’s turn up for Local Council I Chairpersons’ elections was however relatively higher as compared to that for the Women Council elections. In some villages, women did not vie for the Women’s Council seats while in others that had initially shown interest as candidates stepped down leaving some women’s committees vacant.
Evidence from the survey conducted by the Centre for Women in Governance (CEWIGO) in May 2018 indicates that low participation of women as electorates and as candidates is attributable to a number of institutional, socio-economic and cultural barriers.
The lack of adequate civic information among women limits their participation and decision making prospects. Much as there are electoral laws and The Electoral Commission (EC) issues guidelines, such are disseminated in a manner that are most vulnerable are not reached with timely correct information. Most women for example do not own radios, cannot afford the cost of local newspapers, websites and social media sites where such information is usually shared.
Many women were not aware of the electoral road map as many of those above the age of 18 did not register while a few of those that registered did not participate in the display of the Village Women’s Council registers. A similar situation was faced during the 2016 general elections where the electorates were more concerned about getting their national identification cards than checking their details during the voter registers display exercise (Women’s Democracy Group 2016).
The fact that most women have not broken through due to their social status as unmarried, separated, divorced, never married or widowed among others for both Local and Women’s Councils yet male politicians are not subjected to the same standards is not only ridiculous but awake up call to EC all her partners to increase civic awareness.
Despite the existence of many women’s empowerment programs in place, key informant interviews held by CEWIGO during the Baseline survey conducted in May 2018 indicated that women leaders and potential women leaders are still struggling issues like lack of confidence, low levels of education, fear, intimidation, limited political experience and the lack of adequate leadership skills continue to hinder women from pursuing their leadership dreams.
Historical societal and cultural imbalances including norms, gender bias and stereotypes have also been institutionalized leading to poor political party internal democracy and miniature credibility of opportunities within the male dominated political environment. CEWIGO’s consultations with religious leaders and cultural leaders on strengthening women’s leadership in Mbarara, Buhweju, Hoima, Masindi, Buliisa, Kween, Kapchorwa and Bukwo districts indicated that men have a bigger influence on women’s involvement in politics. Women are required to obtain consent from their spouses and other male relatives to compete for leadership or even go to vote on the polling day.
For society and men to fully embrace women’s political rights, the Government of Uganda, Development Partners and other key prayers including civil society ought to commit adequate resources for male involvement programs. Focus should also be drawn towards mentor-ship programs for young women to empower and interest them in political leadership and in the continuous capacity strengthening for women already in leadership for them to be more effective in service and influencing positive change.
Most potential women candidates are also bogged down by the monetization of politics bearing in mind the existence of electoral laws and policies. It should also be noted that women form the majority poor and very few women own productive resources. The government of Uganda should tackle the question of the high monetized of politics, and other electoral related unethical practices like voter buying and corruption that have become continuous barriers to women’s participation in politics.
Implications unequal participation of women in politics and decision making processes
Women’s absence in active politics and inequalities in decision making processes have far reaching negative implications on development. In order to realize sustainable development and Uganda’s aspirations, policy makers and influencers need to deeply reflect on the African Proverb “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
At local level for example, the absence of women in village councils, women’s councils and committees does not only result into lack of female role model leaders that can inspire young girls to become future leaders but it undermines women’s role in transforming local politics. This is contrary to The African Union agenda 2063 that takes cognizance of women and youth as key players in bringing about transformation and the 2025 targets on gender parity.
An interaction with one of the female LC I Chairpersons in Mukono Central Division a week after she was voted in power indicated that she had attended to three cases of Gender Based Violence unlike her male counter parts who were planning on how to secure office space, stationery and alike. That alone portrays that women leaders are generally trusted and pay keen attention to challenges, issues, needs and interests of women and children at large. It is disappointing that irrespective of education and socio status, very many women are still grappling with ill health, denial of land and property rights, denial of girl child education, unbalanced economic empowerment and marginalization in political leadership and decision making yet these issues were fronted by the women of Uganda in the Women’s Manifesto for urgent redress. It is also important to note that if women were accorded equal space in politics and other spheres of life, the situation would have been different.
Local Council leaders have the mandate to ensure effective service delivery in key sectors like health, education and agriculture but this cannot be possible due to imbalances since females form more than half of Uganda’s population. Taking the example of health, the 2017 State of Uganda’s Population Report indicates that infant mortality is at 43 per 1,000 live births, maternal mortality at 336 per 1,000 live births and unmet need for Family Planning at 28%. It is no longer contentious that women pay more keen attention to such issues since they are directly affected thus making the role of women leaders in monitoring for effective and quality service delivery paramount.
With such worrying demographic indicators, Uganda is likely not to achieve the middle income status by 2020 in line with Vision 2040 and the 2015/16-201/20 National Development Plan. It should also be noted that women’s participation in the electoral processes is not only advantageous to women themselves and their families but to development and democracy in general. As long as stringent measures to improve women’s political participation are not taken, Uganda’s progress towards attaining Sustainable Development Goals will also slowdown in particular, Goal number 5 on Gender Equality.
Increasing the participation of women in leadership and governance remains critical in achieving development priorities. It is prudent therefore for all stakeholders to develop gender trans-formative programs that address the barriers to women’s inclusive participation in politics and leadership at all levels as we plan for the for 2021 General Elections and Beyond.