By John Masaba
WOMEN in Uganda today have become more visible than ever before.
At Kampala Capital City Authority, the positions at the pinnacle of hierarchy — the executive director and the deputy — are occupied by women, Jennifer Musisi Semakula and Judith Tumusiime respectively.
The story is the same at Uganda Revenue Authority, where the topmost position is occupied by a woman, Allen Kagina.
At least over 131 Members of Parliament out of the 382 are women. Out of the 29 permanent secretaries in the country, seven are women.
In the education sector, the representation is beginning to get noticed as more headmistresses are coming up. At least 24% of the 16,000 head teachers are women.
State minister for gender, Rukia Nakadama, credits the development to a number of pro-women policies that have been put in place by the Government.
Thanks to the affirmative action, she says, completion rates of girls in schools have improved, meaning more women joining employment every year.
The future looks brighter for women. “Women now make decisions in their homes. If I can afford to take my children to a good school, I go ahead and do it because I can afford it,” she says, adding that as more women are getting employment, more are being empowered.
But as the minister paints a rosy a picture of women in Uganda, it is emerging that more women continue to earn less for their labour.
According to a survey released in the UK last year, the gap between the earnings of men and women is widening.
The report, released in December last year by the Office of National Statistics indicated that in Britain today, women still earn 15% less than men, the report said.
The report blamed this on occupational segregation – where women continued to be shockingly under-represented in better paid industries such as science and technology.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the world average gender pay gap is 18%, with Europe, Oceania and Latin America showing more positive results than Asia and Africa, for which the data is not readily available.
ILO says the situation emanates from the fact that countries have been slow to address gender discrimination and occupational segregation in the workplace.
There is also a greater likelihood for women to take career breaks due to child and family care.
Raising children has a large impact on women’s average wages, ILO says. “In some countries, women withdraw from the labour market when marrying or giving birth, and only return after a couple of years.
“A re-entry mostly means getting a lower paying job than the woman had before her career break, with an allocation into a part time or dead-end job,” ILO says on its website.
What is happening in Uganda?
Rukia Nakadama, the gender minister, says Uganda is the exception to what is happening elsewhere.
“I have not heard any woman who is paid less in government. In the Police, Judiciary and anywhere in public service, men and women at the same rank get the same pay,” she says.
She explains that the Public Service salary structure is based on the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. It owes to the fact that jobs considered to be of equal value are grouped together on the same salary scale for equal pay.
According to the Employment Act, 2006, every employer shall pay male and female equal remuneration for work of equal value.
Nakadama’s sentiments are echoed by the East African Development Bank’s head of human resource, Gloria Tumwine. Tumwine, who has worked in different sectors, says women in Uganda have made great strides up the payment scale in most work places.
“Unlike in the past, many women are now taking on more challenging and well-paying professions in fields like finance and law, which were dominated by men,” she says.
Tumwine adds that as more women go up the ladder, the fear factor for some careers women considered too hard and a preserve of men, has disappeared. This has helped to bridge the gap between men and women.
However, the former executive director of Uganda Investments Authority, Maggie Kigozi, disagrees. Although she acknowledges that more women are getting employed, she says it will be some time before they get to the enviable level, where men are today.
“With the exception of Sweden, women are still playing catch up. The gender pay gap is not a problem of Uganda alone,” she explains.
A study by the gender department of Makerere University, released in 2007, revealed that the difference in wages between men and women averaged around 39%, with men at the higher end of the scale.
This is backed by another survey by the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, conducted in 2009.
The study established that there is a female disadvantage in the Ugandan labour market. It revealed that the average monthly wage of women was about 30% less than the average wage of men.
Although the report revealed that the gap had narrowed from 39% in 2007, to 30% in 2009, a lot still had to be done to increase girls’ education to reduce the glaring gender pay gap.
Kigozi says some women have found it easier to break into jobs in the public sector, but the proportion of women in gainful employment in the private sector is low.
She attributes the situation to the government policy that requires that 30% of positions in government be filled up by women, which is not the case in the private sector.
“I sit on boards of many companies, but the representation of women is low. In some companies, it is less than 1%,” she says.
Kigozi adds that even the few women who have made a breakthrough in some workplaces in the private sector remain at the bottom of the pay scale.
“There are about 23 commercial banks in Uganda, but only one has a female chief executive officer,” she says.
Edigold Monday, is the head of Bank of Africa.
Kigozi’s assertion is corroborated by another survey done in 2000 by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a UN agency. Titled Gender Strengthening Programme for Eastern and Southern Africa, the report reveals payment inequalities among rural women employed in the informal sector.
The study found that among the household income-generating activities, men were taking the lion’s share of the income.
“In Apac district, there was evidence in traditional ‘men’s crops’ (such as tobacco and cotton) and ‘women’s crops’ (such as fruits and vegetables),” the report said.
While cash crops fetched more, women’s crops such as fruits and vegetables fetched less. As a result, the women ended up earning less.
In Kibaale and Hoima districts, the study found that the price of robusta coffee was so low that men neglected the crop and left harvesting to women.
“However, where crops are not eaten, but are produced exclusively for sale (such as tobacco and cotton), men control their marketing and income,” the report added.