The last two decades have been recognised as critical in national and global efforts in the empowerment of women and in enhancing their participation in governance and leadership spaces. The outcomes of the successful campaign for increased women’s participation in public life have been reflected in the following international, regional and national legal policy commitments on Gender equality, Women’s rights, and their participation in peace processes:
- Beijing Platform for Action (1995);
- Millennium Development Goal (MDG 3);
- United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (2000);
- Protocol to the African Charter on human, people’s and Women’s Rights in Africa (2003);
- Commonwealth plan of Action for Gender equality (2005)
- Constitution of the Republic of Uganda (1995)
From the perspective of the global and the national women’s movement, the emphasis is that achieving the goal of equal participation of women and men in leadership and decision-making provides a balanced development framework and more accurately reflects the composition of society; strengthens democracy and promotes proper functioning of systems and structures. In this sense, women’s equal participation in governance and decision-making is not only a demand for justice, but also a necessary condition for gender equality and making sure that the present institutional culture is deconstructed to take women’s interests into account.
Women’s Presence and roles in Leadership in Uganda
In Uganda, the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and the women’s movement have continued to strengthen the capacity of women political leaders and to lobby and advocate for the advancement of the women’s agenda and national development in general. The women leaders on their part have espoused their newly acquired status and recognition through Affirmative Action Policy to affirm their visibility on the frontline of political participation and engagement to push for gender sensitive policies. From 1986 women legislators have taken a lead in enactment of critical laws like Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act (2009), Domestic Violence Act (2010) and the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (2010) and have sustained the debates on issues that infringe on the security of women generally. During the process of legislation, women leaders were key in mobilisation, moving motions and doing research to support legislation. These laws marked a significant advancement in the area of laws governing human dignity and domestic relations. In other instances women Members of Parliament (MPs) also raised a red flag on many cases of sexual abuse against girls in schools and maternal deaths as urgent issues of national concern. At the local council levels, the women councillors have emphasised legislation on Gender Based Violence (GBV) and delivery of services for livelihood enhancement.
The International frameworks and the constitution making in Uganda indeed facilitated women’s vibrancy in political leadership. In terms of numerical strength, the increase in numbers of women in formal politics has been progressive. In 1998 for instance, the Uganda women parliamentarian composition was 16% and by 2011, it has risen to 35%. In the local government, the Affirmative Action Policy has enabled 30% women representation in council V and III. The women have recognised the visibility of the physical presence of women as a critical breakthrough, an initial step of breaking into a domain that was historically not theirs. The initial entry set the stage for other fundamental forms of engagement in women’s political participation such as running as presidential candidates in 2006 and 2011 respectively. The ascendance of a woman to position of speaker of Ugandan parliament and a Uganda female legislator as speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) have demonstrated women’s ability to govern. These and many other national and local incidences helped to make women’s constituency visible and their presence in public spaces demystify the stereotypes about political contest of the higher offices as a male preserve. The gradual increase of women in public politics has had the impact of women being socially accepted not only as active participants in politics, but also as equals of men in other socio-economic and cultural fields.
In post conflict Northern Uganda, women’s increased exposure in Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps through empowerment initiatives by NGOs and development partners placed them in relatively authoritative positions. At household level, involvement in petty trade and commodity production availed women financial resources that led to some level of economic autonomy which gave them ability to make certain decisions at family level and consequently the broader community. This changed the power relations between men and women and put men in a position of flux to a point of helplessness and vulnerability since they are no longer able to carry their roles to protect, provide for and rule. Socially, men have taken to alcoholism leading to escalated Gender Based Violence (GBV).
Women strategies to Galvanise for collective actions
Despite the promulgation of the constitution and the signing and ratification of various instruments that paved the way for increased physical presence in political leadership, gender inequalities and cultural stereotyping of women have persisted in excluding women from key decision-making processes and participation in formal peace processes. During the Juba Peace talks between the LRA rebels and Government of Uganda (GoU), the women did not receive a forum to discuss their strategic needs and were not part of the negotiating teams. However, the women invoked the mandate of UNSCR 1325 to advocate for women to be included on the negotiation teams as well as maintaining a presence in Juba. Part of the women’s activity was to support constructive dialogue through informal information about the people’s interests, needs and expectations of the negotiation outcome and providing skills training to enhance capacity of the negotiation teams in negotiation and mediation.
In order to overcome a number of blockages to women’s sustained efforts to make a difference in the political leadership and decision-making processes, women are trying to develop clear political agendas that take on the broad issues of democracy, governance and their gendered nature in a more consistent manner. This is to be achieved by building a vibrant, unified women’s movement that is functioning and well-coordinated as a social movement, with strong leadership and feedback mechanisms as well as involving a network of women activists, researchers, academics, and CSOs from a wide range of organisations in continuous participatory planning on how to deal with patriarchal power and discrimination based on customary law or culture. There is also need to create a vertical relationship between district councils and national levels parliamentarians for mentorship, solidarity, capacity building programmes on democracy, gender and civic education, and articulation of common issues that affect citizens. A process has begun to develop a shared women’s agenda for effective substantive representation.
The women MPs have formed Uganda Women Parliamentary Association (UWOPA) as a forum to discuss, share experience and support activities that facilitate women’s participation and leadership with the aim of ensuring gender responsive legislation processes. The women’s movement has used UWOPA as a channel for advocacy at parliamentary level, as an opportunity to focus on issues as women, and a window to work with women’s organisation to influence laws and policies.