By Willis Bashaasha
March 8 marks the international women’s day, so I join the rest of the world to congratulate our mothers, wives, and daughters, et al, upon this celebration of the day.
In his Women’s Day speech to the country this year, H.E. President Yoweri Museveni reiterated the importance of women in the socioeconomic development of societies. He then stressed the government’s commitment to its highly successful women empowerment drive.
This is further confirmation of NRM’s prioritization of women as part of its political agenda since 1986, when it took over power.
It is not by chance therefore, that the current government architecture boasts the highest number of women in different decision-making positions (both at political and technical levels), a milestone that’s unprecedented in the country’s history. Juxtapose this with the shocking reality that throughout post-colonial Uganda, it is only the current government that has given women more chances to exploit their potential as excellent leaders and decision makers.
This therefore demands that the current leadership both at the political and technical levels ensure that we appreciate the president’s message and consequently actualize government’s ultimate commitment to harness the various benefits of an empowered womenfolk to this country.
In the 36 years of NRM governance, several women have, and continue to play very critical roles in enabling Uganda to be better and stable.
This however, has been achieved through a deliberate will and strategy of the NRM since it took over power. This pro-women agenda was conjoined in the NRM party philosophy and has over the years been part and parcel of NRM’s manifesto commitments.
Historically before the NRM came to power, only a few names were recognized for higher positions of leadership.
To name but a few include: Sarah Ntiro’s, Rhoda Kalema, and Namirembe Bitamazire among a few others et al. But with the NRM government taking over, this trend has been moved to unprecedented levels. It’s then that we witnessed appointments of the first female Vice President (Specioza Wandira Kazibwe), first female Prime Minister (Robinah Nabbanja), the first female IGG, while many other government departments and agencies are being superintended by their first female leaders. The same trend is seen in parliament where since 1986 the participation and involvement of our women has moved to 35% of the total representation in parliament, 12.1% of whom were directly elected MPs by 2021. It is also important to note that women hold three of the four topmost positions in our current cabinet following CEC’s endorsement of former Deputy Speaker Anita Among to replace late Jacob Oulanyah as the new speaker of the 11th Parliament. Forgetting that ever since democratic elections were restored in 1996, we have had four women: Miria Kalule Obote (2005), Beti Kamya (2011), Maureen Faith Kyalya (2016) and most recently, Nancy Kalembe (2021) eyeing the country’s top seat. This speaks volumes about their empowerment!
GIRL CHILD EDUCATION
Overtime, the issue of women has been captured clearly in the various thematic areas of the NRM manifestos. For instance, several programs in the field of education have been designed specifically to foster gender parity in education by increasing the chances of access to education by the girl child. A case in point is the National Action Plan on Women (NAPW) and the National Gender Policy (NGP) which are spearheaded through the Ministry of Gender. Other deliberate intervention programmes include: the National Strategy for Girls Education (NSGE), Universal Primary Education (UPE), the Universal secondary Education (USE), and the Promotion of Girls Education (PGE); all of which are run by the ministry of education and sports— some specifically handled by the Gender desk at the MoES. These programmes were designed to advocate for gender equity at all levels, increase girl child enrolment in schools and improve girls’ retention and performance at school, among other objectives.
Fortunately, the success registered has been immense. For instance, upon its launch in 1997 (following a 1996 Manifesto pledge), UPE increased girl child enrolment from 46% to 48% by 1999, while at the same time lowering the dropout rate by girls from 11% in 1995 to just 5.6% by 1998. To date, the total enrollment stands at 90% as of 2021.
Equally, the USE programme which was introduced in 2007 (after a 2006 manifesto commitment) has seen girls’ enrolment grow almost in parity to boys, standing at 49.6% in 2020, up from 47.3 in 2017.
At tertiary education level, a 1990 affirmative action measure awarded 1.5 bonus points to women qualifying to enter public universities. This was in tandem with the third point of the NRM ten-point programme (elimination of all forms of sectarianism and discrimination). This increased the number of women graduates, with enrolment of women at the university level shooting from 23 in 1989 to 35% by 1999, and 41 percent in 2002.
It is now safe to say that with enrollment largely achieved, subsequent manifesto pledges are now designed around improving quality to education through increased access to learning facilities and breaking all barriers to effective learning.
In this regard, there has been an increase in capitation grants to both USE and UPE schools over the years as well as increase in classroom blocks and recruitment of teachers to reduce teacher: pupil ratios, among others. For instance, this year government commissioned 34 seed secondary schools across five regions of the country including: Ankole (7), Buganda (13), Bukedi (4), Bunyoro (4) and Busoga (6). These will help to further aid access to education, especially by the girl child.
According to Global Financial Development Report: Financial Inclusion (World Bank 2014), financial inclusion can aid self-employment, improve household consumption, support greater local economic activity, and reduce inequality. Well aware of this, Uganda has stepped up efforts to implement national financial inclusion strategies as part of its broader national development plans. As a result, The National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS) clearly shows that financial inclusion — especially for women — is improving. Statistics for instance show that 54% of adults were financially included in formal institutions in 2013 compared to 28% in 2009. The better news though is that the Finscope 2018 study showed that up to 77% adult women in the country are financially included. Fortunately, government has continued to innovate programmes aimed at improving this picture even further.
For instance, in the recently launched Parish Development Model, the parish development committees (PDCs) have women representatives specifically tasked to cater for women’s interests. Apart from lobbying for funds and identifying beneficiary women groups, the PDC members will tackle the mindset change programme to enable women break mindsets that are detrimental to their socioeconomic development.
Also, several programmes such as Emyooga, OWC have special funds dedicated to women empowerment. A case in point is the agricultural cluster development programme which has a budget specially put aside to support women groups.
Earlier on, Government initiated the Uganda Women Entrepreneurship Programme (UWEP), aimed at improving access to financial services for women, through equipping them with skills for enterprise growth, value addition and marketing of their produce. Manned at the sub county level, the programme is heavily managed by women who are members of the Beneficiary Selection Committee. To date, UWEP has empowered thousands of women groups in the country to get out of poverty.
UWEP’s footprint is also seen in the 2016-2021 manifesto, where the government’s continued commitment to women emancipation saw 136 women MPs trained in effective gender responsive legislation. This was upon realization that by that time, women made up 35% of the total representation in parliament, 19 (12.1%) of whom were directly elected MPs. Since then, women legislators have continued to pass critical laws that have enabled the implementation of the manifesto to the citizens of Uganda.
This goes together with pro-women interventions in the health sector. For instance, the government increased the number of Health Centre IVs from 198 in 2016 to 232 by 2021; with up to 81% of these now with the capacity to offer caesarian sections while 51% of them offer both caesarian sections and blood transfusion services.
The author is the Director Manifesto Implementation Unit