KAMPALA – The Women’s Movement in Uganda has asked the Government to freeze interest rates on all acquired loans for men and women working in the informal sector and put in place a small-businesses’ rebuilding plan to provide interest-free start-up packages to revive businesses of this kind at the end of the pandemic.
The Movement had joined the global community in commemorating International Women’s Day (IWD) 2021 themed “Women in Leadership Achievement an Equal Future in a Covid-19 World”. On March 8 annually the world celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
Addressing the media at the Uganda Network on Law Ethics and HIV/AIDS (UGANET) offices on Wednesday, March 10, the Women’s Movement said that all initiatives aimed at wealth and job creation, such as Emyooga should benefit women equally. The members of the Movement included Dorah Kiconco Musinguzi, Executive Director UGANET, Christine Nankubuge, Programme Officer Movement Building, Tina Musuya Executive Director for Domestic Violence Prevention, Bernadette Bakkidde, Executive Director, Landnet Uganda, Monica Emiru, Executive Director, National Associations for Women’s Organization in Uganda (NAWOU) and Ester Namboka Emoru from Girls Forum.
Following World Health Organisation (WHO) declaration of the pandemic, the government of Uganda introduced measures to curb the spread of coronavirus. Measures included restrictions on human movement, closure of schools, the total lockdown of economic activities and curfew among others which the movement says shattered the country economically, socially and politically.
Ms Musinguzi says that there is a gendered nature of infectious disease outbreak ranging from the inaccessibility of sexual and reproductive health services (SRHR) such as HIV and family planning services, increased risk of domestic violence due to household stressors and escalated cases of domestic violence and growing care burdens falling on women.
“There is data evidence of a 10-20% increase of women unable to access family planning leading to an increase in unintended pregnancies. Women with disabilities were greatly impacted as their livelihoods depended largely on small income-generating activities,” she said.
“We recognize and celebrate that amidst the social challenges, women kept the nation moving on as frontline healthcare givers, sustaining their families as household heads and keeping social networks strong to get through the effects of the pandemic,” she added to say.
The women’s movement in Uganda is supported by the European Union-United Nations Global Spotlight Initiative. The initiative operates across six pillars and the women’s movement is recognized as pillar six, whose overall goal is to create a strong, vibrant, inclusive and active women’s movement in Uganda. This pillar is spearheaded by UN Women and is designed to empower women and youth, particularly those who have traditionally been excluded to take collective action for gender equality and women’s rights. On IWD, we reflect on the critical contributions women always make in every sector of society including their resilience to continue shouldering the burden of unpaid care work, during the Covid-19 pandemic. We recommit ourselves to addressing all forms of discrimination, exploitation and structural barriers that limit women’s full participation in public life around the world.
According to the movement, at the peak of the lockdown, the Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development (MGLSD) recorded a rise in domestic violence and VAWD cases. Between March 30 and April 28, a total of 3,280 of gender-based violence and 283 cases of violence against children were reported to the police.
“The lockdown affected women and children trapped with their abusive partners and guardians. Survivors were unable to seek medical treatment, counselling, legal aid services due to financial and transport constraints. It must to noted that these services were not considered essential or emergency channels. Many cases were unreported because fear of stigmatization and community backlash,” they revealed.
On the economy, the Women’s Movement said that majority of Ugandan women are self-employed in the informal economy, making up an estimated 70% of informal businesses who were hit hardest as the pandemic affected them at enterprise, household and individual level.
“Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), majority of which are owned by women were forced into a situation of uncertainty due to a sudden loss of markets, reduction in cash flow which is the blood life of any enterprise. They faced the increased threat of failure of meet tax obligations, demand repayments. The situation led to disrupted supply chains, increased costs of production, demand insufficiencies due to alternations in customers’ priorities, and closure of specific market segments, yet the businesswomen have continued in production.”
“Bravely, the women continued to support the economy. Women in the informal economy particularly in the markets continuously risked their lives day after day to provide for Ugandans amidst scarcity of food during the total countrywide lockdown, they slept in the dilapidated market structures to insure that Ugandans continue to have access to food but also for the women to sustain their families,” they said.
On the leadership, they have appealed to the government to appoint more women in key cabinet positions and public offices.
“Women were engaged in the frontline of healthcare delivery and yet remained underrepresented in political decision-making processes. We recognized that during the just concluded elections, women came out in big numbers as candidates, voters, campaign agents and polling officers. The Electoral Commission (EC) issued guidelines banning public campaigns for candidates who adopted virtual means of campaigning which was very expressive and not accessible to the women.”
In the just-concluded elections, a total of 636 women were nominated to contest for the District Woman MP seat for the 146 districts. 86 contested for direct seats, 14 of whom were successful and of the 34 women who contested for the Special Interest groups seat, 13 were successful.
The Movement says women’s participation in political processes has greatly increased has greatly increased over the years and this is because of the enabling laws and politics that support women’s participation.
However, 173 (32.89%) women were elected to the 11th Parliament out of a total of 529 MPs, 14 of whom were elected for direct seats registering a decline from the 10th Parliament which had 20 women elected to direct seat.
Other Women’s demands
The government must make deliberate efforts to increase investment to critical social security and protection sectors. During national planning and budgeting, there should be critical examination of the underlying issues and how each population strata is targeted by investments in the health, education, water and sanitation sectors. There must be deliberate inclusion of women to ensure constructive participation in decision-making processes that enhance the possibility of having women’s practical and strategic needs considered.
There is an urgent need for policy review, formulation and enforcement to expand social security coverage and benefits. The women of Uganda call upon Parliament to expedite the passing of the National Health Insurance Bill, the Pensions Bill, the Minimum Wage Bill and the Legal Aid Bill. There is a need to revise the National Social Protection Policy to expand provisions to informal sector categories.
We call upon the government to adequately investigate and prosecute the accused gross human rights violators during the recently concluded election period.
The government should endeavor to include representation from organizations of persons with disabilities (PWDs) on all its emergency taskforces to ensure that the needs and rights of PWDs are met and included in government planning and execution.