KAMPALA – Globally, March is an exciting month for women to collectively reflect on their feminist journey, re-energize and celebrate their strength, courage, resilience and sisterhood. The International Women’s Day is commemorated on 8th March annually and this year’s theme was, “Building on Women’s Strength for a Better Future in a COVID-19 World.”
Inspired by our vision of; a Ugandan society where women and men equally participate in, and benefit from decision making in public and private spaces, Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE) prides herself in having her foundation in the passing of Uganda’s 1995 Constitution that is hailed to have paved the way for women’s leadership in the public space. As we join the rest of the world to celebrate women’s month, we also take stock of women’s participation in leadership and particularly celebrate the women leaders who have broken the glass ceiling, paved the way for fellow women to venture into political leadership and chosen to challenge the status quo.
One of the women we celebrate this month is Ms. Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga. She is the first woman Speaker in the history of the Parliament of Uganda and holds the third-highest position in the national leadership of Uganda. Kadaga has earned the popularity of many citizens and women, in particular, owing to her tenacity, independence, efficiency and objectivity. She is perceived to have upheld the reputation of Parliament by defending national interests even during very controversial national debates, a factor that has endeared her to the majority of Ugandans, women and men alike.
Kadaga is hailed for having been the first woman to establish a law firm in Uganda, an act that inspired thousands of Ugandan women to study law, who are thriving as lawyers in Uganda and beyond. As a prized pioneer member of Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA Uganda), her tenure as FIDA President (1986 – 1989) birthed the first legal aid clinic in Uganda to support the unprivileged women and girls in Uganda.
As Speaker of Parliament, she has been instrumental in advancing the women’s agenda. In the 10th Parliament, she was at the forefront of ensuring that more women took up leadership of Parliamentary committees. Additionally, she has passionately driven the agenda to put in place several gender-sensitive laws including the Anti-Trafficking of Persons Act, the Domestic Violence Act, Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, 2010, among others.
Although the Marriage and Divorce Bill has not been passed to date, she has put up a spirited fight to ensure that the debate on the Bill is not lost.
Speaker Kadaga was instrumental in driving the agenda for the amendment of the Public Finance Management Act, 2015 which introduced a mandatory Certificate of Gender and Equity (CGE). Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government are now obliged to ensure equal opportunities for women, men, persons with disabilities and other marginalized groups in their plans and budgets before they can be approved by Parliament. Uganda is the first country in the world to have a gender and equity certificate in law. As the women’s movement, we don’t take these developments for granted.
Kadaga’s contribution to championing the rule of law, defending human rights and fighting corruption is widely celebrated and she has won several awards to this effect among which was one issued by the Uganda Law Society in December 2020.
Kadaga’s track record is unprecedented having reshaped the narrative on women’s leadership and practically deconstructed the negative gender stereotypes that continue to place women at the periphery of leadership in Uganda. She has stood out as a bold and transformative leader, making her the most objective choice for Speaker of Parliament in a highly divided house. Of course we say this conscious of the criticism leveled against Kadaga but we also are alive to the fact that all of us have fallen short of the glory of God and that our leaders, like all else around the world, are not perfect. There is room for improvement in many respects in all our lives. What is important though is that in Kadaga, there is more merit in consolidating the gains made by the women’s movement, of which she is a beacon of hope, than throwing the baby with the bathwater.
Patricia Munabi Babiiha is the Executive Director, Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE).