The Women's Movement is demanding 50/50 political representation by the year 2020. Although the Affirmative Action (AA) policy with regard to political leadership has contributed to an increase in the numerical presence of women in Parliament and Local Councils from less than 1% in the early post-independence era to 35% in the current 9th Parliament and 44% at the LC level, the Movement feels gender parity has not yet been realised. According to the Women’s Movement, Affirmative Action in the form of separate reserved seats has contributed to constructing a narrative that has emptied the women’s political representation of the substantive issue of a right to just a privilege.
Current debates about imposing term limits or even scrapping the women’s district seat completely point to an urgent need to change the narrative to emphasise the question of women citizenship and their right to representation and political participation.
At a public debate hosted by the School of Women and Gender Studies at Metropole Hotel on Wednesday, 17th June, 2015, participants deliberated on the Affirmative Action policy and made suggestions towards the realisation of Gender parity.
Focusing on the theme of the Public Debate, “Gender Parity NOW; Reclaiming Uganda Women’s Voice on Representation”, the Dean School of Women and Gender Studies, Associate Professor Josephine Ahikire, highlighted the need to articulate women representation within the governance question. “It is time for women in Uganda to be in charge of the narrative around justice and representation and to speak on issues affecting them so that they are not overshadowed by other voices,” she said. She called upon the Women's Movement to articulate the need for justice and use it to push for a socially equitable agenda.
The Chairperson of Uganda Women Parliamentarians Association (UWOPA), Hon. Betty Amongi, described Affirmative Action as a policy that deprives women of the their powers to effectively articulate issues affecting them. “Although the policy has contributed to the increase of women in Parliament, it makes them feel like they owe allegiance to someone who has reserved them a seat and therefore can’t effectively comment on issues affecting them,” she argued. She called for the adoption of a better quota system that allows effective representation of women.
Action Aid International Uganda Country Director, Arthur Larok, acknowledged the importance of the Affirmative Action policy in empowering women. He urged men to support the struggle for gender equality, noting that an empowered woman is crucial to the realisation of peace and development. “Men should overcome fear about women’s empowerment and actively involve themselves in debates aimed at transforming women,” he advised. He, however, argued that Affirmative Action has neither delivered quality, nor changed men’s attitude. He called for extensive debate on the type and quality of political representation required. “We need transformative leaders who believe in equal opportunities for all, leaders who will fight for justice in society," he said.
Ms Zaminah Malole, a member of the Equal Opportunities Commission was in agreement with the fact that Affirmative Action had increased the number of women representatives in Parliament but cautioned the quality of debates. She urged women representatives to desist being exploited to pass “funny” policies at the expense of their constituents. “There is need for women to assert their rights as primary and not secondary citizens. Don’t look at those positions as a privilege but rather a responsibility to society,” she noted.
Commenting on the ongoing countrywide survey on electoral reforms, Hon. Sheila Kawamara, a member of UWONET, said citizens were demanding a reduction in the number of MPs to one male and one female representative per district. She said a reduction in the number of MPs would help save a lot of resources to be used to start up developmental projects. On the issue of effective representation, Ms Kawamara said, “We should ignore affirmative action and quota system and focus on sending quality and talented women to Parliament.” On this note, participants urged women in academia to venture into politics as one of the ways of improving the quality of debates.
FIDA Chief Executive Officer Irene Ovonji–Odida reiterated the fact that Affirmative Action was achieved as a result of efforts and continued lobbying by the Women’s Movement. She reminded women politicians of their role to advance women interests. She further emphasized the need for those in elective politics to involve women at the grassroots. “FIDA supports the view that women representation in Parliament is crucial. We must move beyond gender parity to effective articulation of issues,” she advised.
In support of the Affirmative Action policy, Dr Aramanzan Madanda, a development consultant, also Lecturer at the School of Women and Gender Studies argued that effectiveness cannot be realised without numbers. He called for extensive debate on ways of increasing women representation in Parliament. Besides politics, Dr Madanda urged women to seek more representation in other sectors.
The Head, Budget Monitoring and Accountability Unit at the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Ms. Margret Kakande, argued that there should be an objective for gender parity. “We should set performance indicators if we are to have effective representation,” she said.
Makerere University Senior Lecturer at the School of Women and Gender Studies, Dr Sarah Ssali, concurred with Mr Arthur Larok on the need to involve men in the transformation of women.
In his closing remarks, the Deputy Principal of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Prof. Abasi Kiyimba, commended the School of Women and Gender Studies for spearheading debate on gender parity. He said the subject of gender had greatly helped girls understand their rights. He said Makerere University is committed to ensuring that the discipline of gender continues to be taught in order to produce quality graduates who can effectively champion gender issues.
The debate was moderated by Dr Tabitha Mulyampiti, Senior Lecturer at the School of Women and Gender Studies, who made a presentation on the role of Makerere University in public debate.