KAMPALA – The Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE) recently launched a report on women in leadership positions in Uganda. In this interview with PML Daily, FOWODE’s Executive Director Patricia Munabi Babiiha delves into the report, ‘Reality Check: Women in Leadership Positions in Uganda’.
Globally, the participation of women in leadership and decision-making structures and processes remains a central issue in gender equality activism. Why is it important, in the first place, to study patterns such as how many women are progressing in Uganda’s public sector?
Taking stock of women in decision making is premised on the understanding that women’s involvement is critical to effective governance. According to the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women, practitioners and scholars agree on the importance of having equal numbers of women and men in political office. Internationally recognized arguments supporting the inclusion of women in political decision-making and leadership include the justice argument which reiterates that women account for approximately half the global population and therefore have the right to be represented as such. In Uganda, the National Development Plan II reiterates the same argument. The plan noted that “more than half of Uganda’s population are women and yet they continue to be left behind in the development process, thus slowing down the country’s economic development.
The United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women also advances the experience argument which reasons that women’s experiences are different from men’s and their need to be represented in discussions that result in policy-making and implementation is critical. Due to their distinct background and understanding, women act differently in the political sphere from men. This variance that could have espoused equity and accountability is largely ignored.
The third premise which the UN advances is on the interests’ argument following the rationale that the interests of men and women are different and at times conflicting. Therefore, women’s presence in public institutions enables the creation of spaces for the articulation of the specific interests of women, but also of the general population. Lastly, it is argued that women are attracted to public offices if they have existing role models in the system. The presence of significant women in policy-making arenas incentivizes women to view the space as accommodative and enabling to women’s interests.
What is the legal basis for your advocacy for there to be an equal share of jobs between men and women?
Under the 1995 constitution of Uganda, National Objective VI, it is stipulated that the State shall ensure gender balance and fair representation of marginalized groups on all constitutional and other bodies. Article 32 states, “Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, the State shall take affirmative action in favour of groups marginalized on the basis of gender, age, disability or any other reason created by history, tradition or custom, for the purpose of redressing imbalances which exist against them,” while Article 33 (4) commands that, “Women shall have the right to equal treatment with men and that right shall include equal opportunities in political, economic and social activities”.
The Uganda Gender Policy (2007) acknowledges that gender equity is critical for good governance as it ensures the effective participation of women and men in the democratization process, leadership, decision-making and law enforcement. The main governance challenges identified for action by the policy include; obstacles to women’s engagement in elective processes, limited capacity to participate effectively in leadership and decision making, low presence of women in technical and management positions in public and private sector, limited articulation of gender in sectoral policies and programmes. The policy also reiterates the government’s commitment to addressing these concerns by strengthening women’s capacities and presence in decision making for their meaningful participation in administrative and political processes.
Additionally, National Development Plan II acknowledges gender imbalances and their impact on the socioeconomic transformation of Uganda. The plan notes that, “the attainment of gender equality and women’s empowerment is a prerequisite for accelerated socioeconomic transformation.” Based on these and more arguments which, by the way, FOWODE entirely associates with, we undertook a second study (the first was in 2014) that does a surgical analysis of our public sector and gives a reality check on the position of women in our public sector.
What did your study find?
The study covered 24 ministries, six commissions, agencies and authorities, one institution of parliament, courts of judicature and three academic institutions. In all the statistical information obtained from MDAs, the analysis focused on the total number of public servants recruited in the institution, the specific institutional position they held at the time and their sex. These data sets were further used to establish any gender differences in job placements, career progress, or any other significant similarities and/or deviations as well as the implications of these for gender equality, and women empowerment.
A glance at the top leadership of Uganda’s Executive, Judiciary and the Legislature reveals the institutionalized masculine norm in the three arms of government. Just as it was four years ago, only 1 out of the three heads of arms of government is a woman. At the level of the deputies of the heads of Executive, Judiciary, and Legislature, women representation remains non-existent. Out of the topmost 7 leaders in the country, only 1 (14%) is female. This image of male-centered political leadership is ingrained and normalized in leadership cultures of other public and private institutions.
Well, someone would say that at least we have the Speaker who is a woman…
That is true. It is notable that although women remain marginal at this level of leadership, the choice of a female Speaker as the head of one of the three arms of government is an important step towards having women in critical leadership positions. Having served as a Deputy Speaker of Parliament and now in her second 5-year term as the speaker of the House, Rt. Hon. Rebecca Kadaga remains the most senior ranking woman in the country. Her presence is a pointer to women’s ability to lead in top leadership, despite many forms of resistance they encounter along their managerial paths. The Speaker also heralded the reforms in the Parliamentary rules of procedure to promote gender balance in the leadership of committees of Parliament.
What is the situation like in terms of permanent secretaries?
Permanent secretaries hold the critical role of running the day to day functioning of ministries, such as accounting for resources allocated to different departments, chairing management meetings and providing technical guidance to ministers on matters of national development in their specific sectors. These technical officials are appointed by the President to serve in specific ministries. Statistics in 2018 pointed to an overall increase in the total number of PSs by 7. Most of these new appointments have been filled by women. Consequently, the number of female PSs doubled by 2018 – from the previous 6 (out of the total of 23 PSs) to 12 PSs (out of the total 30 PSs). Despite an increase in the number of female PSs from 24% to 40%, females remain fewer.
Are there some positive cases in government departments or ministries where the gender gap is being closed?
Oh yes. Apart from having an all-male ministerial team and demonstrating a public image of the military as a masculine domain, the ministry of Defence registers a significant number of women in its leadership ranks. These include a female Permanent Secretary and Under Secretary in charge of Finance and Administration. Women make up 49% of all staff, with the majority of these recorded at officer entry level (59%) and among senior officers (49%). There is the Office of the President (OP) which is a Government Ministry through which The President of Uganda provides leadership in public policy management and good governance for National Development. Office of the President has a total of six hundred fifty-three (653) staff, 42% of whom are female. A higher percentage of women can be found in some positions with the highest representation registered at the officer level entry (72%), with senior officers at (57%) and principal officers at (55%). Like the President’s office, State House also has a fair distribution of women in its ranks. Out of a total of 963 public servants, women comprise 42% in relation to 58% men. The highest numbers of women are recorded amongst Special Presidential Assistants (83%), and Officer Entry Level (OEL) at 58%. Both President’s office and State House point to higher numbers of female officers recruited at the officer-entry level (U4), although numbers of women begin to dwindle as they progress towards higher positions in the hierarchy. This is a similar trend noted in the 2014 report.
Why do the women numbers dwindle as they progress towards the higher positions in the hierarchy?
The narrowing of female staff towards middle and top managerial positions is attributed to gender-specific constraints that women face in their career path. Considering that the majority of the female staff are in their reproductive age, their career prospects are constrained by specific roles such as pregnancy, giving birth and nurturing children. Gender stereotypes e.g. policing women’s movements especially in field trips or medium-term capacity building programmes also obstructs women’s careers. Officials noted during the interviews we held that more female than male staff may pull out of the training programmes outside the country for fear of being accused of ‘sexual pervasion’ with other men. Yet training and capacity building programmes are key for knowledge exposure, skills acquisition, and mentorship for career progress.
Where are the extreme cases of gender inequality in the government departments, ministries and agencies?
Like other sectors, the Mulago National Referral Hospital experiences high instances of gender inequalities in terms of staffing. Women continue to be underrepresented in senior management roles. Higher numbers of women are noticeable in positions such as Clinical Officer, Enrolled Midwife, Enrolled Nurse, Nurses and Nursing Assistants.
Women represent the majority of staff at the referral hospital with men only making up 33% of the employees. Statistical mapping of female staff points to women dominance in positions such as Nurses and Nursing Assistants (94%), Midwives (90%) and Clinical Officers (62%). However, numbers of female staff reduced drastically in categories such as laboratory officers, consultants and those in senior managerial positions of the hospital.
What explains women dominating up to 94% positions such as nurses and nursing assistants then the number dramatically drops as one goes up the career ladder?
These statistics resonate with gender stereotypes noticeable in academic institutions. For example, students’ intake in Makerere University reveals high gender gaps in terms of female students’ enrollment in science-related courses. According to the Makerere University Fact Book 2016/17, most science courses attracted less than 40% female students; in the College of Natural Sciences females account for only 25%, in Engineering, Design Art and Technology for only 29 %, and in Veterinary Medicine and Health Sciences women make up only 33% of the students.
For the case of Mulago National Referral Hospital, the predominance of women in lower positions produces and institutionalizes women as nurturers at the heart of health care provision, whether for the household members or as a state duty. Beyond women’s low placement in formal health care provision, this trend points to the politics of unpaid care work in the domestic sphere – where women are expected to provide care to the sick, children and elderly in homes. These social expectations and stereotypes leave women in dependency and inhibit their progress to positions that enable them to participate in decision making to transform their lives and of those around them.
What can be done to fix these glaring gender inequality realities in our public sector?
To ensure mainstreaming of gender in the human resource function of Ministries, Departments, and Agencies, we shall be disseminating Reality Check (Second Edition) to MDAs with a view of raising awareness about the existing gender inequalities in the Human Resource function of the public sector. Sector specific advocacy messages will be developed aimed at creating awareness and explaining the rationale of a gender-responsive human resource in achieving sector mandates.
We shall also continue holding government to account for the global and national commitments to gender equality such as the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, Beijing Platform for Action, Sustainable Development Goals, the Uganda Gender Policy), and other sector-specific policies.
Deliberate (rather than adhoc) government efforts to address gender imbalances in human resource should be advocated for. FOWODE in partnership with other women’s rights organisations will continue to promote gender equality activism and highlight ways of promoting a culture of addressing gender imbalances without risking erosion of meritocracy. There is need to advocate for making gender considerations part and parcel of merit. This involves sensitization and creating awareness about the gendered nature of ‘merit’ and how qualified and skilled women can be recruited/promoted taking into consideration different gendered constraints that women and men meet in their career path.
Lastly, we shall continue to lobby the Equal Opportunities Commission on the inclusion and assessment of gender balance in staffing as part and parcel of the indicators for the awarding of Gender and Equity Certificates to MDAs. This also includes ensuring that MDAs disaggregate their staff lists in the ministerial policy statements by sex and position to enable them to understand the magnitude of the inequalities in staffing.