Are We Glimpsing Gender Equality in Uganda’s Recent Permanent Secretary Appointments?

By Peace Namayanja.

In July, President Museveni’s government unveiled the new list of permanent secretaries for the Republic of Uganda. The released list revealed 40% women more top leadership positions as Permanent Secretaries. With the current Parliament consisting of 34% females, 38% female ministers, 42% female state ministers and 40% of the newly appointed Permanent Secretaries being women, this offers hope for women’s interests to be advanced in the current presidential term. H.

The 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, article 32 clearly stipulates that woman have the right to affirmative action for the purpose of redressing the imbalances created by history, tradition or custom. In article 33, the supreme law of the land highlights that the State shall ensure gender balance and fair representation of marginalized groups on all constitutional and other bodies. (National Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, VI). By having a fair representation of women Permanent Secretaries, Uganda is making strides towards the fulfilment of the Maputo Protocol article 9 which is vocal on ensuring increased and effective representation and participation of women at all levels of decision-making. Additionally, this aligns well with Uganda’s commitment to the 30% minimum representation of women in top leadership as per the Beijing Platform of Action of having sustained laws on affirmative action for women in national politics, and deliberate efforts to promote women’s participation in Parliamentary business.

Over the years, the Uganda government has made positive strides in appointing women in top leadership and technical positions, although lack of sufficient data makes it hard to predict whether women’s overall situation has improved. Numerically, the proportion of women in top leadership positions has been improving over time. From the appointment of Joyce Mpanga in 1987 as the Minister for Women and Development to having two women ministers and three deputy cabinet ministers in 1989, women leaders continuously advocated for the government's intention to raise women's wages, increase women's credit, employment opportunities, and improve the lives of women.

Significantly, women’s appointments into Permanent Secretary roles over the last 2 regimes has consistently improved compared to the previous trends. With a 40% consistency in women appointments 2016-2020 and 2021-2026 this enhances women's voice, credibility, capacity to influence key decisions and also play an oversight role. To date, having 40% female permanent secretaries exhibits sensitivity to gender imbalance and a desire to address disparities in laws and policies; access to Health, and education. This is a golden opportunity for gender mainstreaming in government programs and policies including gender responsive public service delivery.

Whereas there is an increase in trend, women in leadership positions are still challenged by perceptions about their abilities to deliver as leaders. Also, the sexism attached to women in leadership obscures them from contributing to debatable policy making processes, hence diverting them from their agenda. These continuous negative perceptions targeted at women in leadership affects their capacity to access positions of influence.

According to a Country Analysis: Leadership in Advancing Women’s Rights in Public Decision-Making Processes in Uganda, these and more lead to women’s failure to conceptualize issues, leading to their inability to make linkages of women’s rights equality and equity with broader issues resulting into a failure to identify entry points and frameworks to work with. Significantly, limited efforts have also been paid to institutional machineries that can support gender mainstreaming in policies, programs and service delivery for the betterment of women. The Ministry of Gender Labor and Social Development, which is a national gender machinery still has inadequate technical and financial resources to address the enormous tasks in its mandate. Amongst other limitations are patriarchy, which is rooted in all leadership structures despite progressive laws; the continuous monetization of politics, that is, presidential candidate shs.20, 000,000, MPs Shs.3,000,000, Local Council IV Shs.200,000 local councils Shs.50,000 which makes it difficult for women to vie for direct seats to pave way for their fate in leadership. Cultural norms and practices that continue to keep women in the domestic arenas coupled with the burden on unpaid care work still play a critical role in keeping women on the sidelines of political leadership.

Having more women as permanent secretaries presents a grand opportunity for enhancing gender responsive public service delivery. There is therefore need to refocus on; strengthening institutional mechanisms to deliver gender equality in public administration and services delivery; strengthening the capacity of capable passionate women leaders and sensitizing decision makers; as well as identifying existing role model women leaders to empower and mentor women who are new entrants in leadership and decision-making spaces. The Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE) has contributed to this agenda by recognizing, identifying and positioning women as credible leaders in elective and higher positions of power hence promoting women’s leadership and accountability to their rights. We continuously ensure that women meaningfully participate in decision making processes in order to center women’s needs in debates, policies, laws and budgets.

Peace Namayanja is the Program Manager, Women and Leadership Program at FOWODE