Over the years, the numbers of women in political leadership has increased. Despite their population figures and the slight increase of women in political leadership in Uganda, on the whole, women’s representation remains decimal and way behind their male counterparts’ representation. During the 2016 General Election, 428 Members of Parliament were elected into the 10th parliament out of whom 139 are women. Though the number of women MPs who competed with men rose from 11 in 2011 to 19 in 2016, ironically out of the then 112 District Chairpersons only 3 are women (Kumi, Kole and Kanungu Districts).
This plunges in the question of what limits women’s representation and so to put, active engagement in the politics, leadership and democratic processes of their country. Challenges such as structural constraints, cultural, attitudinal barriers and negative social perceptions limit women’s active participation in public life. What’s more is that such marginalization starts from households and community spaces where women engage on a daily basis. High incidence of electoral violence, election malpractices, intimidation, lack of voter knowledge and illiteracy on the whole continue to bar women’s aspirations for leadership and active engagement.
In order to solicit solutions to these existing challenges, ACFODE in partnership with Konrad Adenauer Stiftung –Uganda and South Sudan and with funding from the UN Women Uganda, carried out a three days residential workshop of selected participants from the local government, like minded civil society organizations at the grassroots as well as members of the project team at National level; to discuss and learn on civic education skills for creating awareness on gender and women’s leadership.
Organized as part of the activities slated for the project: Enhancing public awareness and support for women’s political participation and gender equality in five districts of Uganda, the workshop aimed at increasing participants’ knowledge and facilitation skills in conducting civic education on concepts of democracy, leadership, governance, human rights, women’s rights and gender equality.
The workshop was held at Esella Hotel in Wakiso district. It attracted 23 participants (13 women and 10 men), drawn from the project target districts of Pallisa, Kamuli, Gulu, Moroto and Kampala. Back home, the participants serve in positions such as youth councilors, District Community Development Officers (DCDOs), team leads of Community Based Organizations (CBOs), Fasi Fas! TV show producers and hosts. These would later transfer the knowledge given to identified community leaders who would then act as civic educators at the grassroots.
As in the words of the Ms Regina Bafaki, the Executive Director ACFODE, who gave the opening remarks, “by coming together under this program, we can solve some of the challenges especially attitudinal biases and stereotypes against women.”
Her remarks were followed by a presentation about Gender and Women’s Leadership, by Ms Perry Aritua, the Executive Director -Women’s Democracy Network. Her facilitation provided participants with a deep conceptualization of gender, gender roles, gender equality and equity and how these correlate with women’s leadership. She pointed out the need to create awareness among the citizens on these different concepts, arguing that this would create an awoken citizenry, informed of their rights, roles and responsibilities in the development process. In the same regard she urged participants to put at the fore front women and girls’ rights, particularly, women and girls’ right to leadership and political participation.
Ms Aritua illustrated how gender has formed and shaped perceptions of society, to the disadvantage of women’s active participation in public life and the development of the country. She argued that gender stereotypes such as women should not speak in public, have kept women in troubled silences and in the end vilified their abilities to improve their lives and those of the people and environment around them. Moreover, international instruments such as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women and the Uganda Constitution, provide for the rights of women to participate in the discourse of all matters affecting them, through speech, associate, economic engagement, culture and political will.
Ms Aritua underscored the need for the participants to start the gender equality campaign right from their homes for only then, can they influence their communities. From the discussions, it emerged that women’s active participation can be increased through engaging them from their already existing structures such as Women’s Development groups, Village Savings and Loan Associations, church groups, cultural fellowships etc.
In regards to human rights, democracy and good governance, Mr. James Nkuubi, from the Human Rights Network Uganda-HURINET, stressed that human rights are integral in the promotion of good governance, arguing that they give restriction of the arbitrary exercise of power – by subordinating it to well-defined and established laws. In this regard, he implored the trainers to inform their communities of their fundamental rights for this knowledge would evoke them [communities] to demand for accountability and good leadership from their leaders.
Through role plays and discussion sessions, participants were challenged to analyze contexts of engaging citizens, what it required for a successful interface with communities, which leadership qualities and abilities sound most to the citizens in addition to helping them realize their individual duties to the communities. Participants observed that beyond elections, they had the role of getting involved in community projects, self-help groups or charity initiatives, communal activities designed to support public programmes, get membership in religious groups and churches, sports clubs, traditional associations, organize community meetings and consultations, dialogues and debates with elected leaders, public Barazas as well as create friendships, links or register for membership in political parties.
What struck most participants during this session was the role of political parties in promoting democracy and good leadership. Mr. Nkuubi pointed out for the trainers that political parties were key in shaping future leaders and as such were a crucial space to encourage women’s leadership.
It was further discussed that though very vital, political parties in Uganda crumble as a result of lack of internal democracy, limited resources, being donor dependent, sabotage from government thus limiting their civic engagement, and mediocrity of the nature of politics for most members lack information on issues of importance. It was also underlined that sometimes political parties limit women’s leadership to low ranking political positions, women are still not yet considered to be flag bearers for party presidency, presidential seats in addition to open seats such as the district member of parliament, inadequate resources are allocated to women’s campaigns, thus narrowing their chances of winning the hearts of the electorate. It was then noted that there are no deliberate programs to empower women for political participation under the multiparty systems.
Participants were glad to suggest remedies to these issues and some of their suggestions were; engaging parties in internal party trainings so as to promote positive attitude towards women’s leadership, requiring equal representation of men and women in party leadership structures in order to capture the voice and interests of men and women in all policies, programs and activities, encouraging the principle of gender equality when nominating candidates to contest for political positions, advising party heads on the advantages of involving both men and women in all political party activities and functions such as; conferences, public debates and community meetings, in addition to providing women with voluntary services such as campaign managers and agents, coupled with moral, physical and financial support.
These discussions were followed by a lively conversation on ‘Adult Education’ and ‘Adult Education Facilitation Skills’. This session, was facilitated by Yusuf Kiranda, the Makerere University deputy secretary.
He encouraged the Trainers of Trainers to strive at understanding the nature of an adult leaner, who he said is; goal and purpose driven, has experience and knowledge on the subject, is demand driven and has duties and responsibilities, as opposed to the young learners who is very active, has less to worry about, is a blank slate and awaits knowledge from an authority. For this reason, he argued that young people are simply taught while adult learners are facilitated. Mr. Kiranda highlighted the fishbowl method, brain storming, group discussions, buzz groups, role plays, project based activities as well as games as good facilitation methods to keep adults’ learning interests high.
Mr Kiranda emphasized that trainers needed to appreciate and understand communities before engagement. This encompassed recognizing divergent views and attitudes , local stereotypes in the area, time and seasons i.e.; planting season, the cultural norms and practices of the people as well as what controversies existed in the society.
“None of you can articulate the challenges of the communities much more than the locals,” he said.
Other guidelines included: being accommodative through negotiation and bargain rather than force, appreciating systems, opening channels for everyone to participate, being mindful of the kind of examples used to further illustrate messages, simplicity, building confidence in the participants on top of one’s excellent public speaking and presentation skills.
“Think deeper about what and how your action is presented. Does it take on the exact needs of your community,” he delved.
Speaking on behalf of the UN Women Uganda country representative-Ms Anna Mutavati, Ms Agripinner Nandhego, a program specialist working with UN Women Uganda encouraged the trainers to work hand in hand with men as allies in the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment.
She urged trainers to mainstream gender in all their activities adding that changing perceptions was not a one day’s effort and as such required continuous input and unwavering efforts. Before finally closing the workshop, she thanked ACFODE and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung-Uganda and South Sudan, for the fruitful workshop.