Three generations: Batswana. This photograph was taken by Jane Nannono.
Yesterday, 8th March, was International Women’s day. It got me thinking about the progress that women have made in the development of our country. Looking around I can see them almost everywhere: they are mothers, government ministers, permanent secretaries, heads of corporations, universities and are in many jobs previously considered as men’s . It started in the early sixties when more girls were encouraged to access quality education. It increased their options in life by allowing them to take on jobs along their male peers. They found themselves having to work harder in our patriarchal society. Power and authority still belonged to the men. The period of rapid change in Uganda came after the July 1985 United Nations End of the Women Decade conference in Nairobi , Kenya. Those who had attended the conference lobbied the then government to adopt policies and programmes that would promote equal access to education, equal access to employment and equal access to adequate health care services.
By 1987,Uganda had a Ministry of Gender and Social Affairs and a woman in parliament representing each of the 39 districts in the country. By 1990, an affirmative action scheme that awarded female students an extra 1.5 points to increase female enrollment at the national Makerere University was in place. Makerere University established the School of Women and Gender Studies in 1991. Free universal primary education was established in January 1997 followed by free Universal secondary education in 2007.All these schemes are ongoing and are being regularly monitored, evaluated and improved. A few other locally appropriate ones have been added to ensure that the girl child stays in school for as long as it is possible. It will increase her options in life. I thank the government for all these local efforts for promoting gender equality.
It always seems to be running reasonably well until I travel to my own village to visit some relatives. Like any other developing country, 70-80% of the population live in the rural areas and still follow the traditional cultural roles: men lead and women follow. The women are the primary caregivers; looking after their husbands, children, the sick and the elderly. They attach great value to this role and find themselves consumed by it. They hardly get time to take care of themselves.
After the government has put in place what it can to advance and empower women and girls, we the women have to exploit this to the maximum. Any woman who has benefitted from the strategies of the last thirty years has to take the responsibility to lift up the emerging ones. It is our responsibility to teach these women their basic rights, human rights, legal rights and to be made aware of their needs and how to get them met. The women themselves and their children have to be healthy to participate fully in development. Their voices should be heard from their local villages to parliament. They have to be brought into the main stream of things.
You know as well as I do that the struggle to advance the women’s status is an ongoing process; the women of the United Kingdom won their right to vote in 1928, their representation in both public and private sector senior positions peaked in the 1990s and is now 32% far from the desired 50/50 split!
In a few Tennis tournaments, the female players still earn less than their male peers. Serena Williams, the global tennis legend is working hard to change this unequal pay.
Fellow women, we have to live the old adage: All for one and one for all while at the same time recruiting as many men as possible as associate members if we are to get where we want to be in our time.
The struggle continues.
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