Happy International Women’s Day! Today we are celebrating and recognising women and girls across the world. Here’s to a more equal future, here’s to a future where no woman is left behind. Comment below and tag a woman who inspires you – let’s create a ripple of #IWD2023 love online today!
We, at CPAR Uganda, are inspired, educated and provoked by Dr. Miria Matembe. Recently, at the launch of the Inter-Party Women Platform (IWOP), Dr. Matebe, educated us on a perspective of what Uganda’s Affirmative Action facility was intended to achieve, in terms of women participation in the national political arena. She explained that Affirmative Action was intended to provide women with spaces on the national political scene so that the Ugandan society would see women do good and appreciate that even women can be political leaders. This, in turn, her logic goes, would encourage other women to offer themselves to take up leadership positions; and as well increase the likelihood that women would be voted into office by the people.
At the launch of IWOP, Dr. Matembe gave the example of her own experience in Mbarara. She was among the 214 elected delegates of the Constituent Assembly in 1994 who were tasked to and drafted Uganda’s 1995 Constitution. She was one of the Mabarara District representatives and according to her she and other women on the Constituent Assembly did so well that when they contested to become Members of Parliament, they were easily voted in. She was elected first Mbarara District Woman Representative in Parliament; while Eng. Winnie Byanyima contested with men and she beat them to be elected the Mbarara Municipality Member of Parliament.
Dr. Matembe, seemingly regrets stepping down as Woman Member of Parliament, in order to make way for other women to occupy the seat. She, indeed, expresses disagreement with those who hold the view that women elected on the Affirmative Action ticket should step aside after one or two terms, in order to make way for another woman to take up the Affirmative Action seat. Her view is that good strong women leaders should continue occupying the Affirmative action seat and to lead by example – showing other women and the electorate how women are good leaders. According to her, that is the essence of Uganda’s Affirmative Action.
And so, Dr. Matembe decries the popular perspective that women need only benefit from Affirmative Action through being given a chance to occupy the Affirmative Action seat. She is of the view that strong good women leaders occupying the Affirmative Action seat should instead be the motivation for women to contest for direct elective constituency seats, such as Eng. Winnie Byanyima did.
The current status quo of the composition of the Parliament of the Republic of Uganda lends credence to Dr. Matembe’s school of thought. There are currently 189 women that are members of parliament; making up 34 percent of members of parliament. Only 16 of those 189 women are directly elected constituency representatives. The majority, 173 of them, are in Parliament on the the Affirmative Action seat, as Woman District Representative. This means that after decades of Affirmative Action, and without Affirmative Action seats, there would only be 16 women in parliament of the 350 plus members of parliament for direct elective constituencies.
And if at each election cycle the experienced women members of parliament step aside from the Affirmative Action seats, while male members of parliament continue to hold onto direct constituency seats perpetually, it means the quality of women participation in political debate is further weakened. And so, going forward, we are inclined to agree with Dr. Matebe that it may be best to support senior women holding onto the Affirmative Action seat, on condition that they use it to campaign for and to elevate other women to take up the direct elective constituency seats. This may be a good strategy for ensuring that representation in Parliament reflects the gender demographics of Uganda’s population of which 51 percent of Ugandans are female.
Otherwise, even though it may appear that we are making progress, without the Affirmative Action seats, we in fact seem regressing. Contextualize our assertion with the Centre for Policy Analysis of Uganda’s representation by gender in parliament:
“In 1962, women acquired the right to vote and stand for election in Uganda . Although Ugandan women gained franchise at this time, their involvement in politics did not change much after obtaining the right to vote and to contest for election. Career opportunities in electoral politics were culturally closed to them. In the 1960s, there were two women in the legislature in Uganda and in the 1980s there was only one woman Members of Parliament (MPs) out of the 143 members in the House. In fact, during the period 1962-1986, there was little growth in the representation of women; the parliament was significantly biased against women.”Centre for Policy Analysis
A major reason that the parliament remains significantly biased against women is what “women participating in active politics have raised concerns over what they call increasing cases of sexual harassment from their male counterparts.” Sadly, even though women may talk about the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence in the political arena and in the other aspects of their lives as well, in most cases they do so abstractly and generally. Rarely, if at all, do the actual victims of sexual and gender based violence.
It is against this background that CPAR Uganda is fundraising in order to implement interventions that will help women of Uganda to heal, speak out and speak up against sexual and gender based violence.