This is the 3rd part of our Millennium Development
Goals series. RICHARD M. KAVUMA asks if
Uganda is scoring Goal Three, which is about women empowerment.
When Christine Acan was growing up in the 1970s, men were
the rulers and women the subjects in her village of Anai,
near Lira town.
The idea of a woman in leadership, she says, was unimaginable.
Today, as chairperson of Ipito Aweno Local Council in Lira
Municipality, Acan, 41, carries herself with the confidence
of a woman comfortable with authority.
“It is good that we women now have a voice even if
it is not very strong,” says Acan, who bakes doughnuts
for a living. “Some men say I am just a mere woman.
But the majority respect me and they are pushing me to be
their councillor at the municipality.”
|TOPS: Women, like deputy head
of the Civil Service Hilda Musubira, are getting into
| GIRL POWER: Newly elected
MPs Susan Nakawuki (Busiro East) and Beti Kamya (Rubaga
North) can now defeat men at elections
As chairperson, Acan says, she has no problem chairing
village meetings and solving disputes.
“Men too report cases to me; one can report that another
has refused to pay his money,” she says expressionlessly.
“I then sit down with them and we normally solve the
Women like Acan excite Zoe Bakoko Bakoru, the Minister
for Gender, Labour and Social Development. Bakoko says that
whenever she tours her Ayivu constituency in Arua, she is
amazed at the nmber of women LC-I chairpersons and leaders
of local organisations. It shows, she says, that even at
the grassroots level, women are getting empowered.
Uganda has won accolades for promoting gender equity and
women empowerment. Much of this credit stemmed from the
appointment in 1994 of Dr. Speciosa Wandira Kazibwe as vice
president, making her Africa’s first woman to hold
that position; the creation of women’s positions on
local government committees and in Parliament, and initiating
affirmative action to get more girls into university.
Hence by the time world leaders agreed on Millennium Development
Goal 3 – to promote gender equality and women empowerment
– Uganda was already pursuing it vigorously. With
international consensus that education and economic opportunities
are key to the advancement of marginalised groups, it is
not surprising that the key target under Goal 3 is to eliminate
gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2005
and at all levels by 2015.
As Bakoko says, Uganda has
done well in getting women involved in the political process.
For instance, in 1993, women constituted 18 percent of Parliament,
a figure that has since risen to 25 percent. Women also
occupy key positions, such as ministers (5 out of 24), and
deputy ministers (11 out of 44), head of the Uganda Human
Rights Commission, the Inspector General of Government,
the Deputy Speaker of Parliament and the deputy heads of
the Judiciary, Civil Service and Electoral Commission.
But the main focus for the millennium campaign is education.
And here, the performance is mixed.
One of the major successes of Universal Primary Education
(UPE) has been to increase the access of girls to education.
Initially, when UPE was introduced, it catered for four
children per family – two boys and two girls. This
greatly increased the ratio of girls in primary school because
the traditional practice was to send boys to school and
to marry off the girls.
Ministry of Education figures show that the number of girls
is equal to that of boys up to Primary Five (P5), although
girls were fewer in all classes before the introduction
On average, the boys are 51 percent and girls 49 percent
for all primary school classes. But the higher one goes,
the smaller the ratio of girls to boys. Girls, for instance,
are reported to be 47 percent of P6 pupils and 43 percent
of P7 pupils. But a May 2004 UPE Stakeholders’ handbook
says that this is still an improvement from 1992 when girls
were 41% of P6 and 38% of P7 pupils.
girls than boys proceed to university and tertiary level
The challenge for the sector is to duplicate success in
lower primary at secondary and tertiary levels.
“[School] dropout affects girls more because there
are several factors at play as girls grow up, like the facilities,”
Minister Bakoko said. “This is the time when girls
are getting their first periods… the boys tease the
girls when they spot blood on their clothes and that actually
intimidates the girls and makes them leave school.”
Besides, parents and guardians are inclined to pull a girl
– rather than a boy – out of school to attend
to a sick relative or if they lack enough money for school
requirements such as uniform and books.
“To sustain gender parity in primary education, it
is important to maintain enrolment of children through the
improvement of school sanitation facilities, i.e. building
of latrines segregated by sex and paying special attention
to location and school-specific gender differences particularly
on how girls are treated,” says a July 2005 government
report on MDGs.
Bakoko says government is now emphasising better sanitation
facilities for girls, separate from those for boys.
The situation gets worse for girls in secondary schools,
according to Albert Byamugisha, Assistant Commissioner for
Statistics in the ministry of Education. About 55 percent
of students are boys and only 45 percent girls. Over 90
percent of students enrolled in business, technical and
vocational educational institutions are boys.
However, the situation might improve as President Museveni
promised free secondary education in his manifesto.
The number of girls attaining university education has
risen tremendously but is still small compared to that of
In 1990, Makerere University started affirmative action,
giving 1.5 bonus points to female applicants. The proportion
of female students has since risen from about 20% to 35%
in 1998 and to 42% in 2004.
The university is however studying how the scheme can benefit
the more critically marginalised. One problem is that some
of the beneficiaries do not actually need the 1.5 points
to join public universities, as they attend good schools
where they are well placed to compete with boys. Meanwhile,
many girls from disadvantaged backgrounds who struggle against
all odds in upcountry schools do not even get to compete
for the places at the university.
The share of women in wage employment outside agriculture
is another measure of gender equality. Although this is
difficult to measure because of limited data, statistics
from Uganda Bureau of Statistics show that of the economically
active population, there are more women who are either self-employed
or unpaid family workers. Of the estimated 4 percent of
the population employed by the private sector, 39 percent
The ratio of women in wage employment is still low, which
according to Bakoko, is a reflection of unequal access to
“That is to be expected if women are not getting
educated and if in the university there are more boys than
girls,” Bakoko says. “The example is just having
two halls for girls against seven halls for boys [at Makerere
University]. That is evidence that the girl child is still
being left out.
If their numbers are fewer, they cannot compete at the
same level for jobs.” The minister however takes pride
in the fact that 25 percent of MPs are women and that “at
the lower level of local government, women occupy 45% of
the positions”. Bakoko attributes this to the political
commitment to empower women but also on good government
One of them is the functional literacy programme, for which
women have shown greater enthusiasm, making up 70 percent
of the beneficiaries. The beneficiaries determine learning
needs, for instance family planning, nutrition and immunisable
diseases, and then agree on how to implement agreed interventions.
The programme is facilitated by community-based and community
development organisations. Bakoko argues that such programmes
have helped grassroots women to realise their potential.
But many leading women activists are not swayed by a few
women in political office. In fact, in the words of Makerere
University law lecturer Sylvia Tamale, such positions are
quantitative but do not improve the quality of women’s
participation in public life. Tamale told The Weekly Observer
that the state lacked the political will to achieve full
rights for women and hence many obstacles remain.
Article 32 (2) of the 1995 Constitution commits Parliament
to make laws for the establishment of an Equal Opportunities
Commission, as a key vehicle for implementing affirmative
action to empower women. But 10 years later, that commission
has never been formed. This has left political representation
as the face of gender-equality and women empowerment, which
does not address deep-seated societal imbalances.
“Women are in positions of power without power,”
says Tamale. “The Domestic Relations Bill tried to
address some of these challenges but it was thrown out.”
Grace Bantebya-Kyomuhendo, associate professor in the
Department of Women and Gender Studies at Makerere University
agrees, giving an example of domestic violence, which is
on the rise globally and remains a key obstacle for Ugandan
“The [Domestic Relations Bill] stalled and yet it
was supposed to solve a number of critical issues. The issue
of property rights is still very contentious in families,”
Using the percentage of women amongst the top national
decision makers, Kyomuhendo argues that a lot remains to
be done. Women constitute less than 30 percent of ministers,
permanent secretaries, under secretaries, department heads
and managers of development programmes.
At Makerere, for instance, the Gender Mainstreaming Division
says that there is one female Ph.D student to every 10 males;
women make up only 20 percent of students in science disciplines
while women in key decision-making positions such as deans,
directors and top managers are barely 10%.
Therefore, while women in Uganda have come a long way,
key challenges remain, not least economic empowerment and
improved sexual and reproductive health.
Christine Acan, a P.7 graduate whose daughter is training
to be a teacher, says the majority of women are still not
empowered partly because their men want to keep them that
“It needs to sit down with the men and convince them,”
she says. “But women also need to work and earn some
money. At least each woman needs to make Shs 5,000 a day”
But, says minister Bakoko, the biggest challenge is “to
make society appreciate the importance of education for
the girl-child, not just primary education but at all levels.”
Unless that happens fast, Uganda will not eliminate gender-imbalances
at all levels of education in the next nine years.
Only in The Weekly Observer Next Thursday: Uganda’s
performance on child health