Gender Studies key to national development

The achievements realised by the School of Women and Gender Studies, Makerere University have placed it in a unique position in the global gender and feminist studies leading to national and international demands to expand the discipline across the African Continent.  Addressing participants at the opening session of the international conference convened to discuss the future of Gender Studies, Research and Service, the Dean, Dr Consolata Kabonesa, said the School was receiving requests to support sister universities and colleges across Africa to establish gender studies units because of its achievements in teaching, research and service to the community. She reiterated the importance of the discipline in providing direction for sustainable ways of addressing gender inequality and poverty and called for concerted efforts in establishing and institutionalising women and gender studies globally.

During the three-day conference that started on Wednesday, 7th November, 2014, participants, mainly feminist scholars from Africa, Asia and Europe shared experiences and discussed mechanisms of strengthening gender studies. They highlighted lack of political will, limited funding and the human resource gap as some of the key challenges to establishing and sustaining gender studies programmes. The participants underscored the need for governments’ commitment to ensure continuity of the programme of gender studies that is deemed crucial for national development. “Political commitment underlined the initial steps in laying foundation for establishing academic units on women and gender studies. At Makerere University, the good will of the new regime of NRM was pivotal in the establishment of the Women and Gender Studies Department,” they noted.

To further advance gender studies, the participants called for strengthened collaboration between the academia and civil society for more relevant gender-based programmes and services.  They also noted that advancing women in leadership would go a long way in refining the discipline of gender studies, subsequently promoting gender equality. They appealed to managers of higher institutions of learning across the globe to incorporate gender studies in all their programmes.

Presenting a paper entitled “The Role Gender in Development Practice”, Prof. Susan P. Murphy from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland emphasized the relevance of gender studies and called for continued research into the constructions and relational dynamic of gender in local and global contexts.

Commenting on Uganda’s ranking in the 2014 Global Gender Gap Report, the Head of the Public Accountability Monitoring Unit in the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Ms Margaret Kakande, said limited financial support for gender-related activities affected the performance. Uganda is now ranked 88th out of 142 countries. She advised gender scholars to invest in applied research that facilitates policy making for various stakeholders as a way of raising funds for their activities.

The participants resolved to work together towards the promotion of gender studies by researching and publishing jointly, mentoring women to effectively take up leadership opportunities and establishing Gender Study centres that have an authoritative voice.

One of the founders of the Department of Women and Gender Studies at Makerere University, Prof. Maxine Ankrah, challenged scholars to be more proactive in advancing In his remarks, the Vice Chancellor, Prof. John Ddumba-Ssentamu, commended the School of Women and Gender Studies for its magnificent contribution to the current status of Makerere University’s gender responsiveness. “When Makerere University started in 1922, it was non-accommodating to aspiring female students, and this was manifested in the motto: “Let Us Be Men”. But that has changed and we not only admit female students, we have tried to mainstream gender in our structures and policies,” he explained.  He noted that the School of Women and Gender Studies initiated the process of gender mainstreaming in the University and established the Directorate of Gender Mainstreaming in 2000.

A number of gender scholars presented papers at the conference. Prof. Susan P. Murphy briefed participants on the role of gender in development practice; Dr. Emmy Kipsoi from Moi University discussed institutional building whereas Prof. Grace Bantebya shared experience on heading a Women Studies Unit. Prof. Maxine Ankrah recounted the genesis of the School of Women and Gender Studies at Makerere University.

The theme of the conference was; "Advancing Women in Leadership, Institutional Building and Collaborating for Sustainable Global Partnerships".

See some of the presentations below