Women’s Political Representation Continues to remain stagnant despite an Increase in the Number of Districts in Uganda
By Atim Charlotte
Women’s participation in political affairs is both a democratic and a human right as enshrined in the constitution. In this line, over the past two decades, Uganda has shown commitment to achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment.
For instance, the Uganda 1995 Constitution prohibits laws, customs, or traditions against degrading the dignity, welfare, and interests of women. The constitution also protects an affirmative action policy that has enabled significant progress in women’s representation across government.
Despite these efforts, women in Uganda still face discrimination and marginalization due to derailed changes in societal attitudes as the country’s politics and decision-making processes remain highly dominated by men.
In spite of the challenges, women have shown interest in breaking the gender barrier while making attempts to take up political seats but those who take up this initiative are ridiculed and considered immoral, badly brought up, and unruly. However, the extent to which such stereotypes, sexism, and women’s representation exist has been inadequately documented in the media. According to the GMMP report, print, radio, and TV media raised stories about women in politics and government by only 19%, based on the figure below.
Some of the challenges affecting Ugandan women intending to make a mark in politics include unequal access to education, poverty, domestic work, oppression, male dominancy, and persistent gender stereotypes, among others.
Although females and young people make up 51% and 77% of the population, respectively, they are still particularly under-represented in public positions. Notwithstanding, the country’s policy and legal commitments, there is significant inequality between women and men regarding political representation. Statistics from the Electoral Commission highlight the gender disparity in parliamentary representation as indicated in the table below.
The election results also show that the number of men elected by sex was 338 compared to women at 161, which included constituency representatives, district representatives, youth representatives, representatives of disabled persons, workers representatives, representatives of older people, and representatives of Uganda’s Peoples Defense Forces.
The number of women among the Constituency Representatives decreased from 15 to 14.
Regardless of an increase of over 300% in the number of districts over the last 20 years, the proportion of women MPs has stagnated at 30% during elections held over the period. Similarly, the party leadership of major political parties is male-dominated, based on the chart below.
More women can vie for the open seats and compete with men; however, they are always intimidated by their male counterparts. One case to note is from the just-concluded parliamentary elections where a male contestant drew a pistol at a female competitor who was said to be leading in the race.
The situation is worsened in the Ugandan community, which is highly religious with a majority of people identifying as Muslims or Christians. Interestingly, society usually quotes the Bible and Quran to justify leadership as a male domain. Furthermore, female political candidates are expected to negotiate the discriminatory attitudes and practices at a family level, which is usually denied when they request approval.
At the political party level, the seats are normally reserved for men and females are required to go an extra mile. The nomination fees are generally prohibitive, which requires a “male sponsor” to be taken seriously.
Women going for top positions
Worth noting is that women seeking political leadership have not been confined to lower positions but have in the past shown interest in the presidency. Mama Miria Obote was the first woman to run for the top office in the country in 2005. The Uganda People’s Congress flag bearer only managed to garner 0.6% of the votes cast.
In 2011, Betty Kamya sponsored by the Uganda Federal Alliance received 0.66% of the votes while in 2016 Nancy Kalembe vying as an independent candidate received 0.37% of the votes cast.
Faith Kyala, also an independent candidate, garnered 0.43% of the votes in 2016. Even though Uganda has more registered female than male voters, none of these women has managed to dislodge gender stereotypes and injustices to win presidential elections.
However, women have also received high profile appointments in government. For example, President Yoweri Museveni appointed Jessica Alupo and Robinah Nabbanja as vice-president and prime minister respectively. Notably, Alupo is the second female Vice President in Uganda after Specioza Wandera Kazibwe, who served from 1994 to 2003.
Additionally, Rebecca Kadaga also served as the speaker of Parliament for ten years while Anitah Among is currently occupying the seat. With these appointments, one can argue that the possibilities of women’s rights reform are improving in Uganda, which is a positive response to increasing women’s political representation. These appointments would inspire other women to engage in politics and aspire to high posts.
Despite the presence of women in local governments, several factors affect their effectiveness.
The majority of the women elected on affirmative action have more than one electoral area they represent. This affects their effectiveness because they do not have additional resources to responsibly represent the additional electoral areas.
Elsewhere, illiteracy levels in Uganda are also influencing women’s ability to join politics. Lack of education is known to erode the confidence of women and, ultimately, their electorate because they shy away from speaking.
The need for more women in leadership is motivated by the fact that interest for both genders varies. Women are needed in representative positions to articulate the interests of fellow women. For instance, concerning health, women pay more attention to specific issues like maternal health.
According to Elizabeth Steiner, political participation as a human right grants “citizens the right to take part, directly or through representatives, in the conduct of public affairs and government. Overall. Women’s political leadership allows them to set agendas, and, in such roles, they are made responsive to constituencies and the public.
Impact of political gender biases
These biases and gaps impact women’s ability to participate in public spaces actively and generate income and contribute to economic growth as agents of development. The government should adequately invest in efforts to address these limitations and consider several recommendations.
One option to improve involvement in politics is to fund grassroots organisations that build the capacity of women so they can participate, both individually and collectively, in social, economic, political, and public life. Additionally, there is a need to incorporate men in training to support and promote women and girls as leaders and decision-makers.
From an educational perspective, the sector should enact a gender-responsive system with several contingency plans and budgets grounded in gender analyses of roles, risks, responsibilities, and social norms. Lastly, the state can initiate plans to explore ways in which women’s representation can move beyond affirmative action, like considering a 50–50 model in all decision-making places.