On October 9, 2017, Uganda celebrated 55 years of independence. As the Union Jack was lowered in 1962, there was a lot of hope for the years to come; for the fresh start, especially for women, who had to a great extent, remained in the private sphere for so long.
55 years later, Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE) held a national dialogue themed, ‘connecting women’s voices for enhanced gender equality and women’s empowerment’. The objectives were to reflect on the socio-economic and political women’s journey since independence and envision the Uganda that women want and need moving forward.
Approximately 80 guests, made up of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) representatives, district representatives, government officials and media personnel gathered at Hotel Africana on October 6, 2017 to share their perspectives of the women’s journey as well as participate in shaping the desirable future for women in Uganda.
FOWODE Board Chairperson Joyce Tamale, kick-started the dialogue by recognizing “all the men and women who had contributed to the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment” in Uganda. She made an appeal to all stakeholders to continuously play their role in the quest for gender equality as a key ingredient in sustainable development.
Thereafter, a panel discussion led by Ms. Jane Mpagi from Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development, Ms. Rita Aciro, the Executive Director of Uganda Women’s Network and Ms. Flavia Kalule from FOWODE and Youth African Leaders Initiative (YALI) ensued. They shared their views on women’s gains since 1962 from the perspectives of the government, CSOs and young activists respectively.
Ms. Mpagi noted that, “gender equality will only be attained when every woman can make choices, decisions and influence those around them without seeking permission”. She pointed out a number of achievements but also noted that “no country in the world has achieved gender equality and women’s empowerment”. What was important, she continued, was the commitment which the Ugandan Government had already demonstrated through creating an enabling environment.
During her talk, Ms. Aciro spoke about how important CSOs have been to the women’s movement because they have mobilized women and empowered them. According to Ms. Aciro, “women’s CSOs bring women from private to public spheres” and “women at the grassroots levels claim that they are empowered because of women’s organizations”. She challenged the government to commit to the implementation of the various gender equality commitments in order to make this dream a reality.
Speaking from a young woman leaders’ perspective, Ms. Kalule emphasized the need for male involvement and noted that, “gender sensitive trainings have changed men’s perspectives and this is critical given that they are the gate keepers to culture and power because of patriarchy”. She urged women to “challenge oppressive laws and attitudes, re-write our own narrative and change history”. Ms. Kalule concluded by saying that, “as young women, the future of Africa depends on us”.
While the panelists were sharing their ideas from different perspectives, they all agreed that there are many gains for women since independence as a result of hard work and dedication from women’s rights advocates. Some of the gains for women that the panelists highlighted included: affirmative action, increased political participation and the ability to challenge discriminatory laws such as the law on divorce.
In a bid to connect voices, the afternoon ushered in the grassroots actors on a panel comprised of Busia District Councilor Mr. Stanley Mugeni, Ms. Patricia Mandera from Youth Equality Center, Ms. Proscovia Abalo from Gulu Women’s Economic Development and Globalization and Honorable Katy Akol from Amuria District. They spoke about what it takes to become a male champion for gender equality, involving the youth, the challenges of localizing the women’s agenda and what the women of Amuria District have achieved in the last 55 years respectively.
One of the key recommendations was the need to build a cadre of male champions, “they must understand gender, equality and equity and sensitize other men”. Secondly, the youth that don’t have access to technology should not be left out of the fight for women’s rights. It was noted that Amuria district has achieved a lot in the last 55 years given that women now have seats in council and equality programs have been set up to give women a platform.
As part of envisioning a Uganda that women want and need, the last activity of the day required guests to draw what they believe Uganda would be like in the future. Most of the pictures were optimistic with one drawing of a woman becoming president and men cheering her on while another was of women and men working together to improve Uganda. These pictures were collected and they will be consolidated for review and tracking progress at the next dialogue.
Recommendations emerged throughout the dialogue some of which are; the need to mainstream women’s economic empowerment to quicken the journey to gender equality, enhance capacities of women leaders to ensure that the numbers translate into quality women’s leadership and; emphasis was drawn to the need to create and nurture spaces for strategic engagement on gender equality. These recommendations were moved and seconded. They will be discussed during next year’s dialogue to determine what more women have gained as a result of the recommendations.
While closing this successful and highly interactive event, Ms. Sylvia Ntambi, the Chairperson of Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) reminded the audience that “there is still room for improvement but if we fight social injustices, more women and men would join the movement and gender equality can be achieved”. Given the Commission’s oversight role in ensuring compliance of Government ministries, departments and agencies to gender equality, she pledged to ensure that the recommendations made reached the relevant institutions and that the EOC would be dedicated to monitoring their implementation.