BY Patricia Munabi Babiiha
As the world gears up to mark the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, it is important to take stock of the journey so far and map out what lies ahead.
The Beijing+25 marks the 25th anniversary of when 17,000 delegates and 30,000 activists from across the world, met in the Chinese capital Beijing to attend the fourth World Women’s Conference.
That meeting was one of the largest to promote women’s rights ever held.
The year 2020 is therefore a pivotal year for the accelerated realization of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, everywhere.
But even as Uganda joins the rest of the world to celebrate the day, there is little to celebrate for the Ugandan woman.
As a signatory to international and regional commitments to gender equality and women’s empowerment like the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Beijing Platform of Action (BPA), the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is incumbent upon Uganda to do better.
That is not to say that it is all dark and gloom.
Ugandan women are still not fully participating in decision making and leadership. Women’s equal participation in decision-making is not simply a demand for justice or democracy but a necessary condition for women’s interests to be taken into account.
And, without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women’s perspectives at all levels of decision-making, the goals of gender equality, sustainable development and peace cannot be achieved.
Having women in leadership is a critical step towards challenging patriarchal forms of oppression that constrain women and girls’ participation in public spheres of life.
However, the situation in Uganda does not make for good reading as women are still excluded from the top leadership positions, women are still major victims of election violence and women still do not fully participate in leadership and decision making.
The participation of women in leadership and decision-making structures and processes remains a central issue in gender equality activism.
In 2014, none of the topmost 6 Executive positions were occupied by women. These included the President, Vice President, Prime Minister, and all the Deputy Prime Ministers.
With the exception of the 2005 cabinet, where Uganda had the first-ever female Vice President on the African continent, Uganda’s topmost leadership remains masculine to-date.
The situation is worse at the Local Government level as there is only 1% of chairpersons at the different levels (LC1 to LCV), representing a limited number of women that are actually wielding political power.
Violence against Women (VAW) is a key inhibitor to their participation in politics.
Fowode’s study on Violence Against Women in the 2016 General Elections (VAWE) highlighted incidents of violence against women who stood for elective office or voted contrary to the desire of a spouse or relative.
Fowode notes that weak democratic and support structures within political parties push women to stand as independent candidates.
These weak systems foster unhealthy environments in which sexual demands from party leaders and campaign managers are a norm.
As observed in Fowode’s VAWE study, the media often sexualizes and reduces women to objects of entertainment.
An analysis of three Ugandan newspapers during the 2016 General Elections revealed that women were misrepresented and given less media time and coverage in comparison to men, diminishing their visibility, brand and outreach.
Fair media coverage and representation can boost women leaders’ constituencies and give them solid platforms from which they can share their agendas.
Accordingly, the empowerment and autonomy of women and the improvement of women’s and girls’ social, economic, and political status are essential for the achievement of both transparent and accountable governance and sustainable development in all areas of life.
The writer is the Executive Director of Forum for Women in Democracy