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For an update on how far women have come, don’t listen to female leaders, listen to Museveni

The Vice President HE Jessica Alupo arrives for women's day celebrations at Kololo a few minutes ago
The Vice President HE Jessica Alupo arrives for women's day celebrations at Kololo a few minutes ago

Women earn less than their male counterparts, with younger women in particular earning 25% less than their male counterparts. Before March 20, 2020, median monthly nominal wages for male wage employees on their main job was Shs250,000, while the corresponding number for their female counterparts was Shs140,000.

President Museveni can be brutally honest. Speaking during the Women’s Day celebrations at Kololo Independence Grounds on Tuesday, he said his appointment of Vice President Jessica Alupo was merely symbolic, an ‘outward sign’ to women and girls that they can achieve anything.

Museveni’s comment came after previous speakers had made a lot out of the fact that women account for 44% of the current cabinet. Vice President Alupo had spoken immediately before the president, and before her, Gender and Social Development Minister Betty Amongi had, at the conclusion of her own speech, delivered an assurance to the president from Prime Minister and Leader of Government Business Robinah Nabbanja, that the team Museveni appointed to steer the country is up to the task.

Nabbanja, who was also present at the function, did not speak because, Amongi said, they were time-barred. Amongi read out the names of all the 36 women that are currently serving as ministers and state ministers, and they each stood up for recognition.

Susan Ngongi Namondo, the United Nations country representative for Uganda, had spoken before the politicians, and emphasised that despite some strides that Ugandan women have registered over the years, they still do “less well” in virtually all sectors.

To graphically present how “less well” women are doing in politics, Museveni latched on elections for MPs for an example. He asked around for the total number of women who competed for constituencies with men and won. Only 26, he was told.

That is, women could only win 26 parliamentary seats out of the 353 available. The percentage of women MPs in the current parliament if the elections were exclusively based on open competition, therefore, would be 7.3%, not the 35% that we have. The women take all the 146 seats for woman representatives, and also get some members in the special categories – army, youths, workers, older persons, and persons living with disabilities.

Museveni hailed his government’s policy of affirmative action as a masterstroke in ensuring the participation of women in the country’s politics. But it is a policy that some people have blamed for stifling the competitiveness of women in the political space.

It is needless to point out that there are many factors that stand in the way of women competing favourably with men in politics. Women generally have less financial resources than men, and Ugandan voters have been raised to require a lot of money from those who want to get elected. That is a big inhibiting factor for many women who would otherwise compete for elective office.

And the beliefs that many Ugandans harbour about women in general, and women leaders in particular, also matter a lot. Afrobarometer recently conducted a survey and asked Ugandans to pick one of two statements.  Statement one: “Men make better political leaders than women and should be elected rather than women.” Statement two: “Women should have the same chance of being elected to political office as men”.

Almost one out of five (19.2%) of the women who participated in the survey picked statement one, saying that men make better leaders and should be elected other than women. A quarter of the men who participated in the study shared that view.

Afrobarometer has been conducting public attitude surveys on democracy, governance, the economy and society in dozens of African countries since the year 2000. The data for this survey was collected in December 2020 and January 2021.

Those responses show that a significant proportion of even women will choose a male candidate over a female just by basing on the consideration of the sex of the candidate. That is a big head start for any man competing with a woman.

And it is not just in politics.  The World Bank’s “Uganda economic update”, released in December last year and entitled “Putting women at the centre of Uganda’s economic revival”, notes: “When asked if female children have the right to inherit family land, 54% of the women responded that either female children have less right to inherit than male children (49.4%) or no right to inherit at all (4.5%). Among men, 3.7% responded that female children have no right and 56% that they have less than their male counterparts.”

The report notes that because women don’t have as much money to buy land, they acquire most of the land they own more through inheritance (37%), although men also dominate the acquisition of land through this avenue (63%).

Basing on this, critics of the affirmative action ticket in particular hate its permanent nature. One person who is often pointed out to illustrate this is former Speaker of Parliament and now Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for East African Affairs Rebecca Kadaga, who has held the Kamuli District woman seat since 1989. Vice President Alupo, also first elected in 2001 as the woman MP for Katakwi District, still holds on to that seat. Gender Minister Amongi is another, having been a woman MP since 2001. One can cite a number of others.

Should there be a limit to the number of times one can be elected on an affirmative action ticket, so that they may then move on and compete for the open seats? The argument for this thinking is that those empowered women may then proceed to push the envelope and compete with men in an attempt to narrow the gender gap.

Sticking with Alupo, Museveni spoke condescendingly of his deputy at Kololo, safe in the knowledge that her appointment as vice president surprised many, and she does not have enough power to make her a formidable vice president. And that is the tokenism that has often attended Museveni’s appointments, perhaps more so of females, to powerful positions.

There is still a steep gap to be bridged if women are to truly arrive at the table.

 Highlights from the World Bank report (Putting women at the centre of Uganda’s economic revival)

  • Women comprise 40% of all business owners in the country, making Uganda rank among the top seven countries globally with the highest percentage of female business owners
  • In 2019/20, 49% of all women in Uganda had access to some form of financial service, compared to 57% of Ugandan men
  • In contrast to the consistent rise in women’s workforce participation between 1992 and 2012, the share of working-age women – those aged 14-64 – has fallen since, from 82% in 2012 to 76% in 2016 and then 73% in 2019/2020. The gender gap in participation increased from five to seven percentage points during the same period, with men’s participation rate remaining above 80%.
  • Women are more vulnerable at work than their male counterparts, and the Covid-19 pandemic pushed a disproportionate share of women out of work altogether, or into subsistence agriculture, with the proportion of women who were engaged in subsistence agriculture increasing from 47% in 2016/2017 to 55% in 2019/2020.
  • Considering all forms of work, nearly a quarter of working women reported a stoppage of work in June 2020, compared to 16% of working men who suffered the same problem.
  • Women are almost 50% more likely than men to want employment and not get it. In 2019/20, the share of women aged 14-64 years old who were not in employment but had expressed an interest but were unable to get it – what economists call potential workforce – was just over 31%, and the corresponding number for men was just over 21%.
  • Men dominate as paid employees in sectors associated with higher skills, higher pay, and the transition to industrialisation. Prior to the lockdown in 2020, these sectors, according to the World Bank report, included transport, construction, professional activities and industry. Women on the other hand, tend to be predominant in all forms of agriculture, personal services and buying and selling.
  • Women earn less than their male counterparts, with younger women in particular earning 25% less than their male counterparts. Before March 20, 2020, median monthly nominal wages for male wage employees on their main job was Shs250,000, while the corresponding number for their female counterparts was Shs140,000.
  • Only 66% of Ugandan women aged 18 and above are literate, yet the corresponding figure for men is 80%. It is worse in rural areas, where only 60% of the women are literate, compared to 77% of their male counterparts who are literate.
  • The World Bank report shows that more girls than boys enroll in both secondary and secondary schools, but more boys eventually achieve more educational attainment. School completion rates for girls ages 15 and above stands at 12% compared to 14% for boys, and it is much lower for secondary school (7%) while 10% of the boys complete secondary school. Only 6% of the girls eventually attain post-secondary education and above, while 10% of the boys achieve the same feat.
  • Women tend to be more held back from seeking paying employment by family responsibilities than men, with 27% of them giving that as the reason for not seeking work, as opposed to 9% of males who reported being kept away from looking for paying jobs in 2019/2020.
  • Agriculture is one of the least paying occupations, the reasons it attracts more women than men. Some 73% of all working women were employed in agriculture in 2019/2020, as opposed to 63% of all working men. But even then, the World Bank estimates that agriculture land tilled by women is 20-30% less productive than that under the care of men. The reasons for this, the World Bank report reasons, are that women spend a disproportionately large portion of their time on childcare responsibilities and face greater constraints on transport, which limits access to input and output markets. The other reasons given are lower use of and returns to pesticides and improved seeds, and a lower uptake of cash crops, which fetch more money.
  • In 2019/2020, only 17% of Ugandan women were estimated to have any type of land ownership rights, as opposed to nearly 33% of men who had the same rights. Studies also found that even for the women who had land ownership rights, their portions were significantly smaller, with the women who have ownership of any type on land commanding a mean of 1.17 hectares compared to their male counterparts whose mean land holdings size is 1.6 hectares. More, the studies found, men are more likely to hold multiple land parcels than women.
  • Because men have more access to money than women do, they acquire land more through purchasing it (68%0, while only 32% of the women who have land holdings acquire them through the same means.
  • To further underscore the informal nature of women’s participation in the economy, the World Bank report shows that as much as Ugandan women are more financially included than ever, only 5% of them have formal bank accounts either with commercial banks or microfinance institutions, compared to 11% who enjoy such services.
  • The report shows that women more often have memberships in informal groups, such as Village Savings and Loan Associations or use financial services from individuals. This avenue, the report says, services 20% of women compared to 16% of men.

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