Today Uganda joins the world to officially commemorate International Women’s Day under the banner “an equal world is an enabled world,” a reminder that equal rights for women is a victory for us all.”
This year’s national theme, “Celebrating 25 Years of the 1995 Constitution: Milestones in Promoting Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Uganda,” is particularly important as it marks 25 years since the promulgation of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, a constitution that recognises the necessity and justice of equality between men and women, and that vowed to and continues to strive to outlaw gender based discrimination at every conceivable socioeconomic level.
Gender equality is a core development objective as it enhances productivity and contributes significantly to the improvement of Uganda’s development outcomes. Providing women and girls with quality education, health care, decent work, access and ownership rights over property and technology, and equal participation in political and economic decision-making process will lead to social, economic and environmental sustainability across the Country. The enactment of policies, legislation, regulations and programmes during the last quarter century has facilitated significant progress.
In 2010, the Equal Opportunities Act was enacted to eliminate discrimination and inequality against any individual or group on the basis of sex, age, race, color, ethnic origin, tribe, birth, creed or religion, health status, social or economic standing, political opinion or disability, and take affirmative action in favor of groups marginalized on those grounds.
Acts as specific as these are necessary in a society as multi-cultural, sectoral and varied as Uganda. We are a melting pot of religions, values, and traditions, and the Equal Opportunity Act ensures all are guaranteed fair treatment under the law. They require governmental backing from multiple Ministries, Departments and Agencies, and the support received reflects a universal desire to enable and empower marginalized groups.
The Equal Opportunities Commission centralized this cooperation, and issued a Gender and Equity Certificate, an accountability mechanism that accounts for gender equity for all MDAs benefiting from public resources before being presented to Parliament for approval.
Provisions for the protection of women and their rights are accounted for under Article 33(3) of the 1995 Constitution, taking into account their unique contributions to society, whilst Article 40(4) provides that employers shall accord women protection during pregnancy and after birth.
Other key laws enacted to promote women’s human rights are; the National Women’s Council Act 1993, Land Act 1998; the Domestic Violence Act (2010); the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act (2010); and the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act (2009), the Persons with Disabilities Act as amended (2019) and the Child (Amendment) Act 2016.
Additionally, the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development is implementing the National Policy and Action Plan on the Elimination of Gender Based Violence in Uganda, the National Strategy on Ending Child Marriage and Teenage Pregnancy, the Referral Pathway for Response to Gender Based Violence cases in Uganda and the Guidelines for establishment and Management of GBV Shelters in Uganda. This regulatory framework has empowered State, Non-State and individual actors with effective tools to combat all forms of GBV, leading to a more holistic and integrated response to brutal and misogynistic practices still prevalent today such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
The implementation of legislative health interventions and policies has contributed to positive developments that have propagated significant improvement in women’s health and subsequently, the betterment of the entire population’s health. Advancements in neonatal care – including government investment in training, infrastructure, such as the newly constructed, 450-bed specialised women and neonatal unit at Mulago National Referral Hospital, and equipment – has led to decreased maternal and infant mortality rates: maternal mortality rate reduced from 505 in 2000 to 336 in 2019 whilst infant mortality rates reduced from 81 per 100,000 births in 2000 to 54 per 100,000 births in 2015.
The Government of Uganda has also invested in sensitisation campaigns, focusing on sexual and reproductive health – including contraceptive information, dispelling medical and societal preconceptions, and the articulation of medical resources across the regions – with the result that total fertility rates have drastically reduced from 6.9 in 2000 to 5.4 in 2019 while deliveries in health facilities increased from 37% in 2000 to 73% in 2015 and the use of contraceptive methods by married women more than doubled between 1995 and 2011 from 15% to 35%.
Moving forward, the Government is focusing on reaching at-risk demographics, particularly adolescent girls, who remain the most vulnerable groups for a multitude of gender-specific threats, including gender-based violence, teenage pregnancy, human trafficking, and the contraction of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS.
Additionally, the Ministry of Gender, labour and Social Development is determined to step up efforts to prevent and protect women in the workplace; the Occupational Safety and Health Act (2006), the Employment Act (2006), the Employment Regulations (2011), the National Employment Policy (2011) and the Employment and Sexual Harassment Regulations (2012) all aim to ensure decent, safe, remunerated employment for women.
Economic and financial independence is crucial to ensuring women remain empowered and equal. To that effect, the Government of Uganda developed various initiatives including the Uganda Women Entrepreneurship Programme (UWEP) which begun in FY 2015/16 to avail women interest-free credit as well as skills development and marketing support. By October 2019, a total of 10,446 women projects had been financed, directly benefitting 130,258 women, including those in rural areas who comprise 80% of beneficiaries. The Youth Livelihood Programme (YLP) which started in FY 2013/2014 has financed 20,159 projects reaching 241,799 beneficiaries of which 110,322 are female youth which is 46 % of total beneficiaries.
By July 2019, the Social Assistance Grant for Empowerment (SAGE) had reached 149,091 older persons in all the target areas, 60% (88,890) of whom were female and 40% male (60,201). Together with UN partners, Government established the Green Jobs Programme which targets both educated and uneducated women and youth in the promotion of environmentally-friendly and sustainable work.
36% of Senior Ministers 30.43% of Ministers of State are women, a better gender balance than any opposing shadow cabinet. The percentage of female representatives in Parliament now stands at 34.86%.
The Speaker for the 9th and 10th Parliaments have been female, which is a logical reflection of the parliamentary landscape: increasingly, women are leading parliamentary committees, with 11 of 28 committees being chaired by women.
In 2016, women constituted 45.7% of all district councilors. Within the Judiciary, women constitute 44% of judges in the higher levels of the High Court, 36% in the Court of Appeal and 44% in the Supreme Court.
In the education sector, The Ministry of Education and Sports have been implementing programmes to further gender equality, including the Gender in Education Policy, which envisions an inclusive and equitable quality education and sports and learning opportunities for all girls and boys, women and men. Uganda achieved gender balance on pre-primary enrollment at 49.5% for boys and 50.5% for girls. The primary education enrolment also increased from 49.9% for girls and 50.1% for boys in 2008. By 2015, a balance in enrollment for both girls and boys was struck. Secondary education net enrollment rate stands at 83.5% for girls and 82.3% for boys. The performance index at the Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE) is currently 62% for girls compared to 59% for boys.
The education of girls is quintessential to furthering their rights: these are the women of tomorrow. Equipping them with the wisdom and certainty that they deserve more than what historically and globally has been available to them, and the determination to strive for it is invaluable and necessary.
Teaching the young boys that will grow up to be the allies of those women is equally as important. Impressing upon them that equality for all is a victory for all is paramount. That whether they choose careers in the private or public sector, they can work alongside the Government of Uganda to further advance gender equality, that an equal nation is and enabled nation, and that empowering women is empowering our nation.