KAMPALA— Unceasing a traditionally patriarchal society has massively impacted women and girls across the country especially in rural Uganda but there is a renewed push from women themselves to speak up for equal rights.
At a recent forum held on the margins of International Women’s Day held at Mestil Hotel in Kampala, women called for stronger laws against perpetrators of sexually motivated violence as well as underaged or forced marriages.
These spirited discussions were kicked off following a keynote address presentation by Dr. Roselyn Karugonjo-Segawa, the chairperson Leadership Code Tribunal in which she highlighted experiences that grass root women go through and the great role they have played and continue to play in advancing women’s rights and empowerment.
“Achieving gender equality is key to empowering women and therefore securing a sustainable future as it guarantees the dignity, rights and freedoms of all persons who have moreover benefited from the care of women who for the most part have been society’s care givers,” Dr. Karugonjo said.
She added: “Breaking the bias addresses the issues that have still challenged attaining equality. Transforming social and institutional structures, allowing the freedom of decision making and making women full and equal participants in their communities is key to economic, social and political empowerment of all women at all levels.”
“In today’s gathering, we recognize all women, and particularly grass root women and the great role they have played and continue to play in advancing women’s rights and empowerment. The work done by such strong-willed women taps into a widely underutilised resource found in women.
“The challenges are still multitudinous and so our journey as women continues. Women have been blessed with fortitude and a resilient nature and this is clear from the great things we have achieved this far in the journey to economic, political, and social empowerment. Let us not despair even when the journey gets tougher. Let us encourage and build each other with appropriate support systems that will allow women to break through and defy the odds stacked against them. “
According to participants there are two areas which could significantly empower women: Stopping underage or forced marriages and enabling women to own property.
“We have been neglected and denied our rights for far too long,” said Christine Adong, a local leader from Kibuku District of Eastern Uganda.
“Our ability to take decisions or hold leadership positions—whether in our government or local institutions or even among our communities—is negligible in comparison to men,” Adong, whose words led to applause and ululations from her peers at a one day roundtable discussion jointly organized by the Action Aid Uganda and Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda and Uganda Debt Network.
Former Leader of Opposition in Parliament Betty Aol Ochan castigated the ruling government for refusing to finance women local councils which she said are key in women economic empowerment.
Aol, the Gulu City Woman Member of Parliament told reporters at the sidelines of an awarding ceremony for women who have taken key positions in advancing women rights and empowerment, said despite the country having a large number of women in influential positions than ever before, less has achieved at the grassroot level.
“It’s the women council that can mobilize at grass root, however much strong I may be but without these people, we people at the top we can’t do much. I pray that they are given a reasonable budget to cater for their needs,” Aol said.
“Most of the influential women in top positions have done a lot in advocating for promotion of women’s rights but this cannot be felt by all people at once. Other issues minus equality, we have been able to advocate for better health services like putting up at least 2-3 beds in maternity wings of Health Center two’s (at Parish level) because we couldn’t tolerate seeing fellow women delivering from verandas or under the trees,” Aol said.
“There is no country in the world where we have gender equality. I call upon the women of the world to stand behind every girl or woman to ensure that they move forward and take the driving seat,” Julie Koch, Action Aid International Director said, commending Uganda for making the strides.
On his part, Francis Xavier Ejoyi, Action Aid Country Director said his organization sought to honor and appreciate women who have sacrificed a lot to gender break barriers including succeeding in “men’s departments.”
“In the past, women were never allowed to own land but currently, many have acquired it, growing food which not only feeds their families but the nation at large,” he said.
The forum closed with participants coming up with recommended solutions that would enable women to harness their potential as social transformers and leaders. An important aspect: Ensuring legal spaces specifically for women to access justice mechanisms.