By Wandera Stephen Ouma
KABALAGALA – Women are yet to fully achieve the desired gender equality and empowerment, a recommendation of the Beijing Women Conference. The key outcomes of the conference are also domesticated in Uganda’ Constitution promulgated twenty five years ago, at the time of the women meeting.
Ms Jane Mpagi, the former director for gender and community development, Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development identifiessexual harassment especial in private, disasters like floods as a result climate change, negative social norms and practices as stabling blocks.
Uganda’s constitution mandates the State to ensure gender balance, accord women full and equal dignity with men and a right to equal treatment. It calls for equal opportunities in political, economic and social activities including affirmative action measures. This summaries what the Beijing Women Conference global platform for action requires all member states of the United Nations to do in order to empower women.
“To be honest, there is no country in the world has attained full gender equality. But this remains the goal that every country aspires to achieve. What is important is to acknowledge how far we have come from as a country,” she told Women’s Magazine 2020. Adding, “There is need to find solutions to these challenges. They are complex issues but we must to carry sensitization campaigns against sexual harassment, domestic violence, teenage pregnancy and rape. People should know that when you abuse someone child, it can also be done to your children. Issues related to climate change were not envisaged during the Women Conference that need quick attention because they drastically affect women and the girl child than men.”
Mpagi however said not all outcome of the Beijing Women Conference was lost.
She further explained, “Our country report in preparation for the Beijing Women Conference brought to the fore front the challenges women and girls were faced with in health, employment, education, poverty and decision making. It also highlighted the success in political participation as well as access to resources such as credit, agriculture extension services and legal services.”
She added, “There is tremendous progress in legal and policy reforms when it comes to addressing women issues in Uganda. What is encouraging, however, is that there has been tremendous progress in the lives of women since the Beijing conference in most of these areas that were of concern to the country and in the Beijing Platform during that time. For examples of progress has been registered in increased enrolment women and girl child in education, political participation and decision making, wealth creation, access to water, energy for lighting, voice self-esteem and confidence, improved health and recognition of the importance of gender equality in development of the country.”
However Ms Mpanga, a focal person in the ministry at the time of Beijing Conference, warns women to take the achievement for granted.
“These gains were not there before us. In the 1080s, a woman would even feel ashamed to mention her name in public. It has been a long protracted struggle by women that should be guarded jealously,” she warned. Quoting the former USA First Lady Ms Hillary Clinton, she said, “Despite where you are born in the world, life is harder for you if you are a girl.”
Mpanga advised women to change their strategy of work.
“Women should learn how to work smart and keep their dignity be it at home or in offices. The days of working hard are over,” she added.
Reflecting on memories at the Beijing Women Conference, Mpanga said, “Government had in place initiatives to empower women which were unique on the continent and some on the global arena. Therefore, throughout the preparatory process, all delegations were eager to listen to our innovations and experiences. For example, first and fore most there was high level political commitment. The President had personally led the way to promote women. At the political level, we had the affirmative action for women in parliament that stretched down to the Local Resistance Councils currently the Local Councils.”
She added, “Uganda was one of the very few countries with national machinery for women as a government ministry, our mainstreaming strategy of developing sector specific gender- oriented policies was also unique. We were the only country with a woman Vice President Dr Specioza Kazibwe on the whole continent of Africa.”
Mpanga hailed the National Resistance Movement government led by President Yoweri Museveni as role model for the achievement saying he deserves recognition.
She urged government to implement policies and laws that protect women so the gains are not eroded at one point.
“We have very good laws and policies but the practice is still far from the intention. Our leaders and the respective authorities should ensure that these laws are put to use,” said Mpanga. Adding, “Major legal reforms in favour of women have been evident since 2000 up to date. These include laws relating to property rights, elimination of violation against women and girls, and elimination of discrimination that call for implementation,” she added.