MAK commemorates 20th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration

On Thursday, 19th February, 2015, women activists converged at Makerere University to deliberate on the education and training for women and girls. The conference was organised by UN Women in collaboration with the School of Women and Gender Studies of Makerere University; UNICEF; the Ministry of Education and Sports; the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development and UNESCO to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted by 189 member States in 1995 as a global agenda for advancing women’s human rights, gender equality and the empowerment of women; and the Beijing + 20 Campaign in Uganda was launched on 31st July 2014 under the theme; “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity. Picture it!”.

The conference deliberations mainly focused on three subthemes namely; Women in Science and Technology; Creating Enabling Learning Environment for Women and Girls and Gender Friendly Pedagogies and the need for Female Involvement in Education.

In her keynote address, the Minister of Education and Sports, Hon. Jessica Alupo, said although the Government of Uganda had made significant progress in promoting girls’ education, a lot more needed to be done to retain the girl child in School. She noted that the number of girls in school had increased to about 4,168,130 but with numerous challenges affecting their retention.

She outlined some of the key challenges hindering the retention of girls in school as; the low value attached to girls’ education, child labour, sexual abuse, lack of basic necessities, inadequate mentorship and role models as well as early marriages. The Minister said the Government had put in place stringent measures against barriers to Girl child education. “The government has developed a National Strategy for Girls’ Education aimed at articulating Uganda’s strategy to achieve the national goal of narrowing the gender gap in education by addressing the most pressing barriers to girls’ education,” she noted. Clustered in four essential dimensions, namely social and cultural factors, school related factors, political and economic factors as well as administrative factors, the strategy acts as a plan of action, highlighting the role of different stakeholders in the sector, for more coordinated promotion of girls’ education.

The Minister thanked the organizers of the conference, saying the Ministry of Education and Sports would be the greatest beneficiary of the outcome.

The State Minister for Gender and Cultural Affairs in the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Hon. Rukia Nakadama Isanga, expressed government commitment to the Beijing Declaration. She said her Ministry had developed a strategy to end child marriages as one of the measures aimed at keeping girls in school.

UN Women Country Representative, Mrs. Hodan Addou, applauded the progress made so far in enrolling girls in school. She, however, called for joint action to address biases in teaching that hinder the girl child from continuing with school.

Presenting a Paper entitled; “Creating an Enabling Environment for Women and Girls”, the Dean of the School of Education at Makerere University, Dr Betty Ezati, reiterated that school dropout and Gender disparity at secondary and tertiary levels continue to be high due to poor learning environment. She urged teachers to be gender sensitive by reflecting and making conscious choices on the central parts of the course/syllabus as well as Literature and examples used in class. She also called for the involvement of parents in the learning process, emphasizing that support from the latter (parents) is key in improving the education of their children.

In her presentation entitled; “Women and Girls in Science and Technology”, Dr Dorothy Okello, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Electoral and Computer Engineering at the College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology at Makerere University, informed participants that globally, there are fewer women in the sciences. She appealed to the leadership of educational institutions to recognize and legitimize gender issues and their relevance to resolving the gender imbalances in Science and Technology. “There is need to establish a gender policy to synchronize programmes and activities for gender mainstreaming in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). We also need to conduct a gender audit on STEM teaching, research and community service at the institutions. A gender audit should assess the situations of women/girls relative to those of men/boys. It may focus on the gender gaps in enrolment, retention and achievement. It may also focus on staffing of academics, management and administrative posts by men and women,” she advised.

In a bid to encourage more girls to take on the sciences, two ladies; Ms Kevin Kisa Kya Maria (Architect) and Ms Mary Juliet Nampawu (Medical Doctor at Mulago Hospital), gave moving testimonies of how they made it from humble backgrounds to very powerful scientists.

The Principal Soroti Core Primary Teachers College, Mr Samuel Enyutu, gave a talk on gender-sensitive pedagogies and the need for female involvement in education. He called for situational classroom-based action research on gender sensitive pedagogies.

In his remarks, the Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Academic Affairs, Dr Okello Ogwang, decried the continued promotion of Sciences at the expense of humanities. He underscored the relevance of the humanities noting that they supplement the sciences and should not be undermined. He was commenting on one of the conference subthemes that emphasised the need to have more girls take on the science disciplines.

He thanked the conveners for conference aimed at furthering the education and training of women and girls.

The conference was attended by the PrincipalCollege of Humanities and Social Sciences, Prof. Edward K. Kirumira, the Dean, School of Women and Gender Studies, Dr Josephine Ahikire, and representatives from UN Agencies, development partners, civil society, academia, students and the media.   

It was moderated by Prof. Grace Bantebya with support from Dr Tabitha Mulyampiti from the School of Women and Gender StudiesMakerere University.

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