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By Patricia Munabi
The history of Uganda has been one of turmoil, mass struggle and re-construction at many levels. Alongside a national struggle for control over a post-colonial state, women were fighting a battle to be recognized as equal and valuable participants in this space. In a rapidly changing post-Independence era, women wanted an organization that would steer collective voice and action among women in all their diversities to influence issues regarding public opinion and government policies that affected them.
Eseza Makumbi, Sarah Ntiro, Irene Emulu, Rebecca Muliira, Joyce Mpanga and Rhoda Kalema’s names became synonymous with advocacy for women and girls to have a voice in the public sphere. On the shoulders of these giants, the women’s movement was birthed as a platform to launch campaigns that challenged unequal power structures that marginalized women and girls. Collectively, these women who later came to be known as the Uganda Council of Women and Uganda Association of University Women (UAUW) won a series of landmark provisions on critical issues such as bride price, property inheritance, rights to succession, employment rights among others.
Building onto the achievements of these great women, FOWODE grew out of the women’s caucus of the 1994-1995 Constituent Assembly (C.A) that debated and passed the first ever gender responsive Constitution of 1995. FOWODE was born to pursue a vision of a Ugandan society where, in all spheres, public and private, women and men share equally in decision making.
We are proud to be part of a history that paved the way for women to have a voice in the public arena. Furthermore, we pioneered gender responsive budgeting in Uganda in 1998 and today we are proud to be associated with the passage of the certificate of gender and equity in the public finance law. Uganda is the first country in the world to have such a requirement in law and we are proud to have championed this process. Over the last 28 years, we have also been a key player in galvanizing collective power that has driven national action on women’s empowerment and gender equality.
As we celebrate the mileage on the 61-year journey of independence for women, this year marks another milestone where Uganda celebrates growth in education, health, infrastructure, agriculture, technology and the significant increase in GDP up to USD 52.39 Bn from USD 10.21Bn in 1960. Celebrated under theme “Sustaining a united and progressive nation, Taking charge of our future as a free nation.” This year’s Independence anniversary serves as a call to reflect upon the journey, recognize the enormous victories and acknowledge that it is not yet ‘uhuru’ for many Ugandans who still grapple with biting levels of poverty, restrictions on internet freedom, substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, overly restrictive laws and dwindling resources that constrain the operations of civil society organizations among others.
Worse still, women are invariably more marginalized than men due to gender disparities in access and control over productive resources like land; limited share of women in wage employment in non-agricultural sectors; limited participation in household, community and national decision-making, gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, teenage pregnancy, child and forced marriage, among others which disempower them and perpetuate gender inequality.
Looking to the future, Uganda’s development journey should be guided by deliberate and well-planned efforts to transform it from a peasant to a modern, industrial, and prosperous society. According to the 2021 SDG Global Index, Uganda’s achievement is average, with moderate performance on SDGs 3, 8, 9, 13 and 15 which address good health and wellbeing; decent work and economic growth; industry, innovation and infrastructure and climate action. SDGs 2, 5 and 6 which promote quality education, gender equality and clean water and sanitation have stagnated and the country is off-track in achieving SDGs 1, 11, and 16 which focus on eliminating poverty; building sustainable cities and communities; peace, justice and strong institutions.
The scope and ambition of the SDGs indicate that governments alone cannot achieve this agenda. Women comprise more than 51% of the population and without them, sustainable development cannot be achieved. Inevitably therefore, women have a pivotal role to play in ensuring the achievement of Vision 2030. At FOWODE, we are providing an opportunity for women and girls to position themselves as key actors in influencing the prioritization of their issues in the various implementation phases of the goals.
Through the Uganda Gender Consortium on the SDGs (UGCS), we are determined to steer strong and strategic engagement with various stakeholders to ensure that the gender targets in the SDGs are met and that the goals speak to the majority of women of Uganda who have been left behind. FOWODE believes that sustained focus and engagement on national, regional and international gender equality commitments including those contained in the SDGs by the government, civil society, private sector and the citizenry will enhance accountability by the government and culminate into the transformation of the lives of women and girls.
On this 61st Independence anniversary, we reaffirm our commitment to strengthening women’s leadership; movement building and enhancing women’s financial resilience as critical cornerstones for the advancement of women’s rights while advocating for equitable distribution of public resources for the benefit of all.
The author is the Executive Director at the Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE)