KAMPALA – Women in Uganda have called for the implementation of laws and policies to ensure gender equity and equality, women’s financial liberation, reproductive health rights, leadership, and ending violence against women.
They made the call on Tuesday during the 3rd annual Sisterhood Forum organized by the Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE).
Under the theme, “Staying on Course for A Stronger and Influential Women’s Movement”, these sought to reflect on the tailbacks straining the progress on advancement of the men’s agenda, building synergies for promoting a dynamic and inclusive women’s movement, but also to foster networking and cross-generational learning for a stronger and more unified women’s movement.
They say that while tremendous progress has been attained by the movement, much more effort is required towards unifying efforts for an equal future.
Patricia Munabi Babiiha – Executive Director, FOWODE, noted that through their Forum, they have achieved a lot including several laws and policies like the Domestic Violence Act, the anti-FGM Act, the prohibition of human trafficking, and the Public Finance and Management Act.
“…but one of the issues that we still continue to see is the actual implementation of these laws. Uganda is a country that is known for having very good laws and policies, but there is a problem with implementation.”
Through the Sisterhood Fora, Munabi noted that they seek to ensure that they have a women’s movement that is stronger, less fragmented, but also diverse and brings on board women in all their diversities.
“…this year, we come to gather again to talk about how we can stay on course and have a stronger, more influential women’s movement, especially in view of the backlash and the many issues that we can continue to contend with as the women’s movement.”
To achieve these, she called for continued advocacy, to ensure that the laws that are on paper are actually implemented. She tasked the Government to ensure that the different institutions that are responsible for the implementation of the laws are well funded.
According to her, COVID saw quite a bit of a setback in terms of the advancements that they had made. “During COVID, we saw an increase in the numbers of women that faced violence against women, children dropping out of school girl children, especially leading to early marriages and so on. We saw an increase in teenage pregnancy and in fact, the midterm review of our national development plan shows that there have been quite a lot of setbacks because of the COVID pandemic. So, as the women’s movement, it calls for us, to reignite the fire and continue to talk about these issues, but more importantly, to build a collective voice.”
In her keynote speech, Dr. Zahara Nampewo, the Deputy Principal at the School of Law at Makerere University revealed that 75% of women in Uganda live in rural areas and are affected with access to agricultural land.
“Right now, there’s only 32% of registered land in Uganda that is owned by women. So, women are the biggest cultivators of land and yet they don’t own the land.”
“We are at a record high for gender-based violence. During the COVID period, we saw high rates of teenage pregnancy. We saw women failing to access reproductive health services, obstetric fistula went up. So there are many issues, some affecting women in the rural areas, others affecting women in the urban areas,” she added.
Dr. Zahara noted that a large number of women are facing issues of sexual harassment in working spaces. “The media has run stories about sex for marks, at Makerere University, some of the stories may not be verified, but some are true.”
She underscored the need for different actions and efforts targeting all the different challenges. She also requested women to play their part in their different capacities and stop fighting each other.
“Why women fight each other is because what is available to the women is not enough for them. So what they have, they end up fighting others because the space for women has been confined.”
“So, I think we need an environment that starts from the ground. It’s an issue about the patronage system, we have a system that is not allowing all women to thrive. So the few that have made it are not able to allow other women or support them. They see them more as competitors.”
She also decried the legal environment which is not very friendly. “The Sexual Offences law has failed. We don’t have a legal aid Bill and yet we know that many women have issues, for example in accessing justice, and they would go a long way if there was a legal aid law in place.”
Helen Auma Wandela, Woman MP, Busia district blamed fellow women for being barriers to women’s empowerment and demoralizing fellow women.
“For example, I’ve witnessed this on the flow parliament. As a junior member of parliament, you can’t be like seniors – they have experience [but] whenever you make a mistake, it’s the fellow women members of parliament that throwback against you. So it’s really not a good thing.”
Auma says many Ugandan women are very creative and hardworking but lack support and capital, calling on the Government to aid them.
“For example, in my area, over 60% households are taken care of by women and single mothers.”