KAMPALA – The month of June is an important one for many of our legislators and the country generally as the 11th parliament, after 529 members of Parliament were sworn in, Speaker and Deputy Speaker elected, officially starts business. We congratulate the MPs that sailed through and wish the Speaker and his Deputy, the best of luck as they steer the biggest Parliament in Uganda’s history for the next five years. In the same spirit, we salute the outgoing Speaker, Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga for her stellar performance and inspirational leadership for the decade she steered the august house and wish her the best in her role in the executive arm of government.
At the Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE), the goings on in parliament are close to our hearts for we recognise the integral role that governance plays in the lives of the everyday citizen and the fact that parliament is at the center of governance.
Even more, despite some apathetic attitudes by sections of society about Parliament, we hold the considered view that Parliament is an important pillar of our growing democracy and its function in our country’s governance ought to be improved for a better Parliament is good for all of us.
In the same vein, we are sympathetic with the precarious situation that the new Parliament finds itself in; the country is experiencing a harrowing surge in COVID-19 infections and the nation is going through a stressful episode of the pandemic as coronavirus turns the world upside down. This gloomy reality is the more reason we as citizens look up to our elected leaders for leadership and we pray that the 11th Parliament stands out. We at FOWODE invite our legislators to reflect on and critically examine the gender-unique aspects of the pandemic and the attendant consequences it poses to the women and girls of Uganda.
Quite obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the gap between women and men, while also making it more challenging for governments around the world to devise strategies of addressing the challenges faced by the female gender that were caused by this crisis.
If our country is to ensure that the productivity, livelihoods and quality of life of our women is to the required standard, our MPs have to think outside the box and be deliberate about gender-specific interventions. Think teenage pregnancies, think child marriages, think women failing to access critical sexual and reproductive healthcare, think maternity challenges as government enforces standard operating procedures. The situation is dire. The girls and women of Uganda cannot breathe. This is the opportune time for leaders to stand up and be counted.
Unfortunately, we have already witnessed events in Parliament that have been particularly troubling to the women’s agenda in Uganda. We have taken note of the cutting of the allocation to the Health Sector by 9.3 per cent (from Shs2.781 trillion in 2020/2021 to Shs2.523 trillion in 2021/2022). We have also noted the sad development of reduced budgetary allocations to the sectors of Education, Social Development, WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) and the JLOS (Justice, Law and Order Sector). These are sectors that have a direct bearing on the livelihoods of women and reducing allocation to them is a slap in the face of gender-sensitive budgeting, threatening to erode the gains we have been making towards ensuring our budgets are as gender-sensitive as possible.
Funding to the health sector in a COVID-19 era is particularly pertinent because the impacts of the pandemic have widened the existing inequalities that girls were already experiencing due to their gender around access to education and health care, particularly menstrual hygiene management. These fears were backed by a study by Plan International that had Uganda among its sampled countries.
That study discovered that rates of violence against women and girls (VAWG) are increasing while Gender Based Violence (GBV) is rising and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services are becoming harder to access, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Therefore, given the challenges that we face today, it cannot be business as usual for the 11th Parliament and yet, as celebrated journalist Shaka Ssali would say, “be better, not bitter and keep hope alive.”
Patricia Munabi Babiiha is the Executive Director, Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE).