Uganda’s parliament is likely to hit the 500-member mark after the 2021 general election. Currently, parliament of Uganda is comprised of 290 Constituency Representatives, 120 District Woman Representatives, 10 Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces Representatives, 5 Representatives of the Youth, 5 Representatives of Persons with Disabilities, 5 Representatives of Workers and 17 Ex Officio Members.
Gender equality experts and activists are proposing that this number should be cut down to just one male and female Member of parliament per district. That would reduce the number of MPs to less than 240 with a 50-50 gender parity.
This suggestion was mooted on Friday at the launch of three reports by the Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE) in Kampala by Professor Josephine Ahikire, the former Dean, School of Women and Gender Studies, Makerere University. Ahikire has 20 years of teaching Women and Gender Studies in the field of women’s empowerment, gender, politics and society, livelihood, and culture.
She was discussing a report launched by FOWODE titled, “Women Shattering the Glass Ceiling” in which the plight of women contesting for open seats was discussed.
The affirmative action seat, she argued, has done what it ought to have done but with the creation of districts and the changing political landscape, the policy that constitutionally requires every district to have one woman representative, should be revisited.
Ahikire said, “Uganda has been moving but not at the pace of the 1990s when it was top 15 in terms of women representation; we are behind South Africa, Rwanda, Tanzania and even Burundi.”
Prof. Ahikire proposed, “The solution cannot be made by people who would lose. Our proposal is that every district should be represented by a male and female. If you have 120 districts, that would be 240 MPs. At one stroke you would address issues of appropriation and create an enabling environment for the state to deliver on development.”
According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union Report of 2019, after the 2016 general elections, women constituted 34.9% of Uganda’s parliament. The country was ranked 32nd out of the 191 surveyed states, posting 160 females of the 459 legislators.
However, by 2019, there are only 20 female legislators who were directly elected to represent Open Seat constituencies in the 10th Parliament. These make only 4.6% of the membership of the entire 10th Parliament.
Former legislator and now UNAIDS executive director Winnie Byanyima in her key note address saluted FOWODE, which she co-founded more than 25 years ago, for being a consistent and bold champion of women’s rights in Uganda and Africa.
Byanyima shared that FOWODE’s pioneering work to nurture young feminist leaders to make gender equality central to resource allocation and taxation and to build up accountability for women’s rights and gender equality across government, has had a significant and tangible impact. She saluted the women’s movement for championing, alongside the Equal Opportunities Commission, gender sensitive budget guidelines and land rights for women.
The UNAIDS chief said, “Equality and inclusivity in decision making results in more equitable outcomes and more equality in society. Numbers are not everything but numbers matter; we must continue to work towards equality of numbers in decision making at all sectors, review our theories of change and strategies to achieve the greatest impact. FOWODE’s movement building work and its long-standing young women leaders’ program are an important contribution to shaping transformative feminist leadership.” To do this, she advised, a critical mass of leaders who are alive to gender equality and live the values, must be built.