On Tuesday October 5th, 2010, Uganda women’s movement launched their agenda, ‘Equal by Right’ which sets out 11 pillars that will be the focus for Uganda’s women for the next five years. The launching, a glamorous event which was hosted by Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE); continues a tradition that is repeated by women activists every five years since 1996, to draw the attention of intending political candidates to women’s concerns. There was music, there was laughter, there were speeches and there was dancing but none of this could camouflage the truth that the only government dignitaries who attended were a civil servant from the Ministry of Health and a representative from the National Planning Authority who delivered a paper. No one from the President’s office, no one from the Prime minister’s office, No Cabinet minister or minister of state; and not a single representative from the Ministry handling the gender portfolio! Shame!
But that was not all. The Chief Guest, Miria Matembe lashed out at leaders of political parties who were invited but none other than Uganda Federal Alliance’s Beti Kamya, (perhaps because she is a woman)was officially represented. My brave attempt to defend FDC, saying I am a member of the National Executive, were met with scorn from those who knew that I was there in my personal capacity.
Nonetheless the content of our agenda is of significant value to all women and the first pillar on democracy and constitutionalism was of particular importance to me. I have had the distinct misfortune of finding myself at the frontlines of challenging the credibility of the electoral process in my own party. By so doing I have chosen (yet again) an unpopular path that pitches me against some very close and well respected party leaders. I risk isolation by standing stubbornly by principles that are held dear by many colleagues at a time when it is not convenient to do so. And in the process of expounding these principles the issue of gender has been raised in two ways.
The first is in the form of an accusation: You are being ‘emotional.’ Every woman leader knows that emotion is an effective tool used often against us. We must never wear our hearts on a sleeve. Now a man may rant and curse; he is only being assertive. A woman on the other hand is ‘emotional,’ weak and unhinged and therefore not to be trusted; if she does not conform to the expected norm within her community!
The second manner in which gender is used turns the first argument on its head and state: ‘These are strong women and the only time they plead gender is around elections.’ In other words these women are cowards who fear the ballot. Now this second argument has far reaching ramifications for my party and its commitment to being gender responsive. The argument demonstrates a clear failure to grasp the meaning of and reason for affirmative action. The reason we support and try our best to implement a 40% quota for women in all leadership positions in FDC is not to help ‘weak women’ to attain positions of leadership, but rather to mend a historical wrong resulting from a long tradition of patriarchy that shut women out of leadership positions. The party leadership must believe in the reason for implementing quotas and for supporting affirmative action and should not create positions for women as a favor to them otherwise we would have gone the way of tokenism which is what the NRM-O has done for the last 24 years.
The idea therefore should be to woo women, to encourage women and not to discourage women from taking up positions of leadership in all aspects of human endeavor which were unreachable. Our role as ‘strong women’ is to keep our parties honest and true to their promises to women. We do that by supporting each other within and across parties and resisting the temptation to pull each other down.