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The Constitution of Uganda sets the policy and legal framework for gender equality and women’s participation in politics. It recognizes gender equality as a fundamental human rights principle (Chapter 4), provides for affirmative action to redress imbalances including those based on gender, specifically recognizes the rights of women to reach their full potential in social, economic and political activities, calls for the outlawing of customs, traditions and practices that undermine the welfare, dignity and interests of women.
Specifically, Article 33 of the 1995 Uganda Constitution, which outlines the “Rights of Women”, states that women, shall have equal rights, dignity, and opportunities to those of men. Article 32 deals with “Affirmative Action in Favour of Marginalized Groups” and states: “Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, the State shall take affirmative action in favour of groups marginalised on the basis of gender, age, disability or any other reason created by history, tradition or custom, for the purpose of redressing imbalances which exist against them”. Article 33 (5) furthermore explains that “… women shall have the right to affirmative action for the purpose of redressing the imbalances created by history, tradition or custom.”1
Uganda also has a National Gender Policy developed in 1997 and revised in 2007, that provides a framework and strategies for gender mainstreaming and women’s empowerment, in line with national priorities and with regional and international commitments on women’s rights to which Uganda is signatory. These include: The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW 1979), the United Nations Declaration on Violence Against Women (1993), the International Conference on Population and Development Plan of Action (1994), the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995), and the Millennium Declaration (2000), the Commonwealth Plan of Action on Gender and Development (2005-2010).
As a result of the efforts by Uganda to enact gender responsive laws, there has been an increase in women’s access to leadership positions and education, as well as a strengthening of their economic rights, and partly also of their self-determination. Uganda’s 9th Parliament currently comprises of 375 members with 129 (34.4%) of them being female. 112 of them represent districts as a result of affirmative action; these are the so called women MPs. The current cabinet is 29% female, with women holding key ministerial portfolios, such as the Ministries of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Education, Energy, Trade, Information, and National Guidance.
Women MPs under their umbrella association UWOPA and in consultation with civil society organizations spear headed the passing of selected gender responsive laws such as the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act (2010), the Domestic Violence Act (2010), and the Control of Trafficking in Persons Act (2010).
In spite of the above outlined positive trends in numbers, there are still considerable gaps when it comes to gender equality in Uganda. Even when looking at the political sector only, this becomes very obvious: The high numbers of women in parliament and local councils have been boosted by the affirmative action policy which guarantees at least one women representative from each district in the country, rather than by the fact that women stand for elections on a level playing field with men. Without this provision, there would only be 11 female members of parliament, namely those who competed for direct seats and won - accounting for only 3% of parliament. This shows that women have not yet broken through the barriers of competing with men for direct seats. They are still held back by widely spread perceptions that a woman’s role besides contributing to the livelihood of the family is that of being a mother and housewife rather than aiming for positions of political leadership. Another area of concern is the limited progress of women councilors to articulate women’s issues and make the decentralized governance structures of government accountable to its commitments on gender equality at the district, sub-county, and community levels. As with the general access to political leadership structures, this is partly based on the fact that women lack the confidence and sometimes also the technical capacities to engage actively and efficiently in council politics. This, on the other hand, means that the main purpose of affirmative action, which is not to put selected women in positions of political power, but to improve the status of women in a society in general, was not and cannot be achieved. This becomes also very obvious when looking at the time frame, in which affirmative action for women has been implemented so far, and the fact that affirmative action should always only be a temporary solution until gender equality can be achieved and affirmative action is not needed any more.
Behind this background, the run up to the 2016 General Elections presents a unique opportunity for women in Uganda to reflect and position themselves for the different opportunities within their political parties and the overall political structures of their country. In order to speak with a unified and strong voice towards, during, and after the elections, women’s issues in the country need to be discussed broadly and the different views and opinions have to be streamlined. Through that, the 2016 elections will not only be a step towards strengthening democracy in Uganda, but ideally also strengthen the standing of women in society, politics, and economy.
In light of the above context, ACFODE in partnership with KAS organises a 1 day national convention to provide an opportunity for women in politics to:
(1) Reflect on the current political climate in Uganda in regard to gender equality and on challenges encountered by women in engendering politics in Uganda,
(2) Share strategies of how to make women relevant in their respective political parties towards the 2016 elections,
(3) Reflect and discuss key issues that will contribute to the women’s manifesto for the 2016 elections, which will be used as a bargaining tool for the political aspirants, and
(4) Discuss how the media can influence the political structures and practices towards realising gender mainstreaming on all levels.