By Elizabeth Kabibi
Gender equality is not only a central human right, but also a prerequisite for sustainable development. It is believed that empowering women benefits the entire society, contrary to the deeply embedded African patriarchal opinion, which held women in a position only described as powerless; where they were not allowed to express their opinions in public, to participate in decision making and to go to school among others.
Differing from the previous governments, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government has made an effort to empower women, Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) and Children through its various programs. It was discovered that the foundation of empowering women was through educating them, hence the NRM government introducing a policy of offering additional (1.5) points to female applicants into the university which substantially increased enrollment of girls into Universities and other tertiary institutions.
Introduction of Universal Primary Education in 1997 also increased enrollment of girls in to primary school and the country was able to attain a 50/50 percent enrollment of both boys and girls. Today, the ratio of girls to boys in school is at 1:1, with girls beating boys in some of the subjects like English and Literature.
Because women have been given an education by the NRM government, the docks of cabinet in which men previously sat alone have since opened to women, top office positions are occupied by women and the country is in an era of female CEOs, professors, doctors, military and police officers, among others. In the same regard, numbers of women in government rose from 23 percent in 2006 to 28 percent in 2011.
Uganda’s first female Vice President Her Excellency Specioza Wandira Kazibwe, first female minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development; Hon. Syda Bbumba, first female Speaker of Parliament; Rt Hon Rebbecca Kadaga, retired Executive Director of Kampala; Mrs Jenifer Musisi, Uganda National Roads Authority boss Allen Kagina among other spectacular women have not only sent chills down the men’s spines with their remarkable contribution to development, but also inspired other young women to aspire for higher positions of leadership.
The NRM government also took to empower women out of poverty, a report titled ‘Chronic Poverty in Uganda’ reveals that over eight million of 30.7 million people in Uganda are chronically poor, with women forming the bulk. Overall, 27% of the chronically poor households in rural areas are headed by women with the percentage rising to 40% in the urban setting. Through the various programs such as; the Uganda Women Entrepreneurship Programme (UWEP); an initiative of the Government of Uganda aimed at improving access to financial services for women and equipping them with skills for enterprise growth, value addition and marketing of their products and services, women have been supported to start businesses.
Among other government programs to reduce poverty among women are; the presidential initiative on skilling the girl child, which aims to reduce unemployment rates by offering girls extra skills in baking, tailoring, weaving, shoe-making and hair-dressing and the Women Enterprise Fund where women groups are provided interest-free credit for enterprise development.
Statistics also indicate that up to 68% of our women have experienced some form of violence which is largely due to deep cultural beliefs, such as the belief that a wife should be hit as a way to discipline her. Other harmful practices against girls and women, like: Female Genital Mutilation, forced marriages, child marriages, bride price, widow inheritance, discriminatory inheritance continue to be wiped out by government through; mass sensitization and strict laws such as the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, 2010; an Act of Parliament to provide for the prohibition of female genital mutilation, the offences, prosecution and punishment of offenders and the protection of victims as well as girls and women under threat of female genital mutilation and to provide for other related matters.
In line with the country’s commitment to observe and respect human rights especially for marginalized groups, the NRM government has gone on to ensure equal opportunities for everyone. A government policy to ensure that learners with special needs have equal education is in place, it stipulates guidelines for provision of specialized instructional materials, equipment and supportive services. It also provides for training of special needs and inclusive education personnel and guides on access to physical environment in schools, the curriculum, assessment and information.
Uganda has been praised as one of the champions in sub-Saharan Africa for advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities with their rights integrated in the national legal framework. This includes the 1995 constitution which recognizes the rights of persons with disabilities to attain full mental and physical potential as well as development of the 2006 National Policy on Disability. Several other laws have been established to advocate for the rights of PWDs as highlighted below:
The 1996 Children’s Statute for early assessment of disabilities amongst children for early treatment, rehabilitation and education. The NRM government also took on massive immunization of all children to prevent them from the six and now eight killer diseases.
The Parliamentary Elections Statute of 1996 established five positions in parliament where women held one and the 1997 Local Government Act that established representation of PWDs at all local government levels for both males and females. Also Parliament recognized the use of sign language for the deaf.
As we celebrate Liberation day 33 years later, we celebrate the progress special groups have reached in Uganda under the stewardship of President Museveni for ensuring their liberation from marginalization to having a public opinion and being equally represented especially in government and all social platforms.
The writer works as a Communications Officer for Government Citizens Interaction Centre (GCIC) at Ministry of ICT & National Guidance.