A number of women activists in Uganda have been calling for 50/50 women representation in public service. But will they get what they want? Zakaria Tiberindwa explores the possibilities
Time check, it is 8:00am here in Entusi Resort and Retreat Centre, an island on a Lake Bunyonyi in Kabale District. In 30 minutes time we shall be live streaming the launch of the Women in Public Service Project Institute Uganda. The theme is Leadership for Transparent and Accountable Leadership.
We have been told that the Women in Public Service Project (WPSP) was founded by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2011 in partnership with the Department of State and seven sister colleges. To date, WPSP has grown to include over 80 collaborating academic institutions and government entities globally.
WPSP seeks to empower women worldwide in a move to increase women representation in public service: To achieve a 50/50 representation by 2050.
I must confess that I am not a gender enthusiast but I have to listen in because my job description for the day demands that I should pay attention, listen to every speaker and live report the event. Not that I am an antagonist of those that advance the woman’s cause. It’s just that my passions lie elsewhere.
In essence I am the typical modern man who won’t proudly confess to not being sexist but who harbors a certain mentality that makes him assume that he is superior to women.
Dr. Thelma Awori the Chair Emeritus and Co-founder of the Board of the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund calls it social-cultural conditioning. Whereas the conditioning is advantageous to men, Dr. Thelma believes it disadvantages women.
It is the kind of conditioning that demands women to be good in all circumstances and yet gives the men an inherent right not to be so conformist and not get punished for it. In many of our cultures, the women must must play lesser than or second to men without lifting a finger to protest.
“We have to fight this conditioning, the conditioning to be a good woman,” Awori asserts.
She says women must fight the conditioning because this generation has “fought very hard to ensure that women don’t have to take this kind of minimizing.”
“We have put the laws in place.” she says “Please don’t let us down by succumbing to that kind of pressure.”
The Former Minister for Agriculture and Founder of Speakers Forum, Victoria Sekitoleko is of the view that this kind of conditioning is what has prevented many women from progressing beyond the kitchen role that the society has restricted them to.
“The problem arises when we start asking about paid labour. When we want to stop being very patriotic, and go into the work place and be paid, leave the bed room and go into the board room and chair in the board room,” she adds.
Sekitoleko believes that ultimately women should play a much bigger role in public service placements because women bear the biggest brunt of public policy.
“It is we the women who use the maternity services, it is we the women who form 80% of Agriculture, and unfortunately we are the ones at the bottom where there is production, where we need extension services.”
She notes that it is the women who form the bulk of nursery school and Primary 1 teachers.
“When it gets to P.3, the men appear. By the time you get to senior 6 the tables are so skewed towards men. This is really unfortunate because in Uganda when you don’t get to Senior 6 you cannot become a Member of Parliament. When you don’t get to university you can’t get a job in public service,” Ssekitole laments.
Sekitoleko is concerned that if this trend continues, the children will assume that when you are a woman teacher you can only teach primary and nursery school.
“If you aspire to be a big person then do something else but don’t become a teacher.”
The graph here below illustrates the percentage of teachers across the different levels of education
Ssekitoleko is also concerned that the police and the army are more or less in charge of Uganda but the number of women in the armed forces is meager.
Are women shooting themselves in the foot?
Over the years women have been pointing fingers at the men and accusing. However, now some women seem to have realized that men may just be part of the problem, not the entire problem. Though, for the women to understand where the problem really lies, there may be need for more evidence of the extend of disparities between men and women.
Violet Akurut a commissioner with the Uganda Human Rights Commission acknowledges this shortcoming in research and says we need Gender disaggregated Data about women, women in decision making positions, how many CEOs and related statistics to show how much women are disadvantaged in terms of position in public service.
But she’s also quick to note that it’s not just about having the numbers.
“The numbers should translate into something. Calling for 50/50 by 2050, that’s just having the numbers but what is the impact of the numbers.”
For example she questions the essence of creating more elective positions for women. “Has it translated into better laws for women?” Akurut says women including those elected under affirmative active (district women MPs) lose their voice and stop advocating for issues that concern women when they get into Parliament.
“Before we get there as women, we are very enthusiastic, we want to move things, we want to change things but when we get there it is the view of the caucus. It is this and that.”
Besides, Akurut believes there should be term limits for the Women affirmative action seats. “Because they have been open, some women have been there forever. There should be term limits for these seats so that we have as many women benefiting from the policy as possible. I assume those who will have been there will have acquired the capacity to compete with the men for the general constituency seats,” she says
Should the men get involved?
Dr. Masibo Lumala, a Communications Consultant and Lecturer in the Department of Communication at Moi University says for a very long time women have reduced gender to being a women affair. Dr. Masibo thinks it’s time we redefined the whole concept of gender so that men can see themselves as being part of the gender process.
“Gender equity is a good thing, 50/50 is a good thing but it will not be achieved if it is one sided,” Lumala argues
Speaking at the Lake Bunyonyi conference, Masibo said there is no way you expect men to support a cause for which they do not feel a part of.
“The men cannot do everything alone, and the women cannot do everything alone,” he asserts
Akurut agrees with Masibo and cautions that as long as the women continue to treat the men as outsiders in their advocacy efforts for equality, women may not succeed.
“We need these men because they are our brothers, they are our husbands. So, we need them to support the initiatives we have,” she says.
For now, women must continue to contend with the unfavourable statistics showing a dismal presence in especially top public service positions in Uganda. To get the statistics on the percentage of women in public service in Uganda visualized in this graph, play around with the cursor as creatively as you can