In the past, Uganda’s cultural system was deeply entrenched in patriarchy; a societal system in which men hold exclusive power. However with the coming of the National Resistance Movement government, in 1986, Uganda has made tremendous steps in the inclusion of women as partakers in the country’s development and decision-making process. For the very first time in Uganda’s history, women’s rights were enshrined in the 1995 Constitution of Uganda.
Particularly, the Ugandan Constitution provides for equality of all persons and rights of women to equal treatment and facilitation of the realization of their rights by the state. This, in spite of the still prevailing male dominance, has evidenced general increased awareness and acceptance of women as equal beings in society.
The Constitution and other consequent legislations like the Local Government Act and the Employment Act do not only entitle women to rights but also encourage their participation in political, economic and developmental affairs.
The guaranteed right to education for the female
The Constitution secures for women a right to be educated, participate in politics, employment and equality in marriage. The foundation of enjoyment of these rights is rooted in education because it is the medium through which people’s minds are opened up to various platforms. Exposing women to an education allows them to learn of their rights and empowers them to fight for what they deserve.
In 1997, in a move to secure equal access to education, the government introduced Universal Primary Education (UPE) in which free education was provided to at least four children in each family, two of whom were mandated to be girls. UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report of 2010 showed that by 2008, 49.9% of girls were enrolled to primary school.
Although this got more girls into classrooms for the basic level, not many achieved higher education because of issues akin to girls such as lack of confidence and early pregnancies or marriages leading girls to drop out of school early. To counter this flaw, Universal Secondary Education was introduced and “1.5 extra points” were given to girls at the tertiary level. These extra points are a compensation for what girls go through and this encourages more of them to pursue university education.
In the same year, 44% of the students who were enrolled to higher institutions of learning were females as compared to 37% enrolled in 2000. This is attributed to the additional 1.5 points.
The idea of facilitating girls to finish school is based on affirmative action to promote gender equality in education. Acquiring this equality creates a platform for women to participate and be empowered.
Today, with continued backing from the government, women are participating in politics. Parliament is required to have a woman representative for every district. The Local Government Act also secures a third of all legislative and civic positions for women, a big shift from the previous state of affairs which is being strictly adhered to.
With representation in higher leadership positions, women are generally encouraged to take on various mantles they otherwise would not. Their economic rights further protected under the Constitution, mandating all employers of women to accord them with protection during pregnancy and after birth is another new phenomenon. The Employment Act also prohibits any sexual harassment at work places. This means women can work in environments free of tension and undignified conditions propagated by men.
Women and Marriage in Uganda
In the marriage sphere, women were generally known to endure violence and other indignities for various reasons ranging from culture, economic dependence and lack of protection from the law. Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) in a 2007 Report indicated that 68% of women between 15 and 45 suffered some form of violence inflicted by their spouses in marriage. Today however, the law recognizes women as equal partners to men in marriage.
The stringent provisions, like those in the Divorce Act, were challenged in the courts of law in the FIDA case, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was abolished and bride price made optional. Also, women can now own property in marriages under the 1998 Land Act as amended.
Eliminating the Patriarchal system
With due regard to Uganda’s progress in fighting patriarchy and gender based violence, the deeply entrenched culture has its shortcomings. These are mostly due to a society that has lived under very strict gender roles and norms, where men, educated or not, are generally still very patriarchic. In fact, state minister of Gender and Woman MP for Mayuge district, Rukia Nakadama, noted that women still lag behind in the social and economic environment because of society’s obsolete thinking.
Another huge shortcoming is that many women are not aware of their legal rights, something fundamental to actually put the laws made in practice to truly benefit women.
Deborah Auma, of Forum for Women in Democracy advises that women need continued empowerment with skills and that those in power need to advocate and lobby for resources strongly. She says that women need to compete for higher positions rather than undermine their potential in the workplace.
Uganda has come a long way, but the government still needs to continue working out policies that will narrow the gap between men and women as well as support women engaged in small scale businesses to grow.
The challenge now falls on today’s man and the already empowered woman to raise the consciousness other women regarding their rights by igniting a willingness on her part to know and act on the various ways of enjoying these rights within a “politically correct” environment.
Uganda embarked on a journey to realize and harness the full potential of ‘her’ woman. However from where ‘she’ came from, Uganda celebrates feminine freedom, a future to confident, enlightened, elite and accomplished women who are economically empowered and play a major role in leadership and diversification of the political, economic and developmental culture.