With a constitution that provides for gender equality and prohibits discrimination against women, parity still evades Ugandan women in politics.
Uganda has a constitutional quota, which provides for affirmative action for women. In line with the quota system, women comprise thirty-five percent of Uganda’s Ninth Parliament, the majority of whom entered through affirmative action, and one-third of all local councils. Due to several factors, few women in Uganda vie for competitive seats. As a result, out of 375 MPs in the Ninth Parliament, only 11 women occupy competitive seats. Of the 112 district chairpersons, only three are women. These figures indicate that a lot more still needs to be done to ensure gender parity in political leadership in Uganda.
Gender assessments are important, because the information gleaned from them enable actors to plan and push for the reforms necessary to enhance gender parity.
On February 18, 2016, Ugandans went to the polls to elect a President and Members of Parliament. Prior to the elections, the Women’s Democracy Network (WDN) collaborated with its Uganda Chapter to conduct a gender assessment. The assessments occurred in nine of Uganda’s districts – Arua, Nebbi, Yumbe, Masaka, Koboko, Wakiso, Kampala, Kumi and Ngora.
The assessment indicated that, in comparison to 2011 elections, more women were involved in the campaigns as candidate agents and mobilizers. Additionally, in comparison to the 2011 elections, 83 women participated as candidates for open parliamentary seats even though the number of men contesting remained much higher at 1223. On Election Day, an average of three women out of six served as polling officials at polling stations for the Electoral Commission. In areas where there was access to radio, the most widely accessed medium for information and communication in Uganda, both men and women candidates used radio to campaign. Some of the women and men incumbents delivered during their term in office, which made it easy for them to campaign and to win re-election.
The factors that affected the participation of women and men in the 2016 election varied. Some women were unable to attend campaign rallies or even vote due to domestic responsibilities that consumed most of their day. Some men did not participate in the elections because they were not interested, but unlike women, they had the time to attend rallies and vote. Fear, low self-esteem and lack of trust in the judicial system affected women’s access to police stations to report irregularities. The media still exhibits gender bias. For instance, some media outlets still focus on the appearance of women candidates during the campaigns.
Role models for women play a major role in opening doors for other women who want to contest for election. As one man in the Ngora district stated “Having women like the Speaker of Parliament motivates women to run for office.”
Widely listened to media platforms like radio need to be increased in rural areas to increase voters’ access to information. Men and women should share domestic responsibilities so that women have an equal opportunity to participate in elections and wider political life. Journalists should receive regular training to improve their coverage and reporting on men and women candidates. Finally, political parties should increase their identification, recruitment and training of women candidates and give them the party tickets to contest on open seats.
Facts are important to address gender inequalities in politics. That is why gender assessments matter.