Has af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion hin­dered wom­en’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in pol­i­tics?

By: Jacky Kemigisa

In the cur­rent Par­lia­ment, women oc­cupy all key po­si­tions of power – the Speaker, Re­becca Kadaga, the Leader of Op­po­si­tion in Par­lia­ment, Win­nie Ki­iza; and the Gov­ern­ment Chief Whip, Ruth Nankabirwa.

The Gov­ern­ment Chief Whip is in-charge of the Cab­i­net (Ex­ec­u­tive), the Speaker leads the sec­ond arm of gov­ern­ment (Leg­isla­tive) and the Leader of Op­po­si­tion in Par­lia­ment heads the Op­po­si­tion MPs. So why is­n’t this power re­flected in the poli­cies and laws passed by the Par­lia­ment?

The 10th Par­lia­ment has Bills like the Mar­riage and Di­vorce Bill still col­lect­ing dust on the shelves. The Sex­ual Mi­nori­ties Bill still has­n’t been passed into law, and the Min­i­mum Wage Bill is not on the pri­or­ity list.

All these laws ad­dress key is­sues at the heart of the wom­en’s move­ment in Uganda – from the prob­lem of co­hab­it­ing women, who are not recog­nised to the ram­pant sex­ual ha­rass­ment, some of which we have even seen re­ported in the news.
Then there is the gen­der pay gap and the fact that women are em­ployed more in the in­for­mal sec­tor, which is not recog­nised in the Min­i­mum Wage Bill.

Don’t get me started on key min­istries headed by women that re­ceive a huge chunk of na­tional Bud­get.
Many peo­ple of­ten re­spond to the plight of women by high­light­ing the women at the “power” posts in Par­lia­ment. How could you – col­lec­tive “you” – be so pow­er­less and yet hold so much power? They also make ref­er­ence to the af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion and the ways in which it sup­pos­edly em­pow­ered women, the 51 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion.

Re­cently, Par­lia­ment Watch Uganda, a pro­gramme un­der the Cen­tre for Pol­icy Analy­sis pub­lished a re­port high­light­ing the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in Par­lia­ment. I found the re­sults dis­ap­point­ing. The House has 154 women and 295 men, 46 per cent of com­mit­tee chair­per­sons are women, 43 per cent of com­mit­tee vice chair­per­sons are women, 35 per cent full/​state min­is­ters are women, and 50 per cent are com­mis­sion­ers.

There has been an in­crease from the two women rep­re­sen­ta­tives we had in 1962 to the cur­rent 154 women. Part of this is due to the af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion pol­icy that makes sure for every dis­trict, there is a woman rep­re­sen­ta­tive. But could the stag­na­tion also be blamed on the same af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion pol­icy?

With the pol­icy, women in­ter­ested in run­ning for Par­lia­ment seats are re­minded that the main seat is for men and the “Woman MP” slot for them. We have then ex­tended this to as­sign gen­der to prob­lems so that when peo­ple are an­gry about the safety of women, the out­rage is di­rected at women rep­re­sen­ta­tives only.

We ask where the fe­male MPs are, and won­der at what they are do­ing to raise wom­en’s is­sues. I also started this by high­light­ing the power that can be ex­er­cised to, yes, pass leg­is­la­tion that would di­rectly af­fect women. But these are na­tional and hu­man is­sues that should not be left to the women MPs alone.

Af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion is not a bad pol­icy, and should not be done away with. With­out it, we would end up with com­mit­tees like the Ex­ec­u­tive of the Mak­erere Uni­ver­sity Aca­d­e­mic Staff As­so­ci­a­tion that has 16 men and no women. Be­cause we live in a sex­ist so­ci­ety in which misog­yny is the norm.

The pol­icy, how­ever, is not cast in stone. There is need to re­turn to the draw­ing board and look at what has worked so far and what has failed. Why are more women still run­ning for Woman MP seats when they are as­sumed to have enough mileage to run for the open seats at the county level?

We could find that a way for­ward would be to go for a Par­lia­ment with 50 per cent women and 50 per cent men.

(First Pub­lished in the Daily Mon­i­tor)