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PRESIDENT Yoweri Museveni was the chief guest at this year’s celebrations to mark the the International Women’s Day, held at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds. Below is the speech in full.
PRESIDENT Yoweri Museveni was the chief guest at this year’s celebrations to mark the the International Women’s Day, held at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds. Below is the speech in full.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. I salute all the women of Uganda upon this International Women’s Day. I, particularly, wish to congratulate the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development upon the successful hosting of the Commonwealth Eighth Women’s Affairs Ministers’ Meeting (8WAMM) in June, 2007, which was largely viewed as a precursor for the CHOGM meeting. It was, in fact, a test as to whether we could successfully host the main CHOGM event. Our women were, therefore, the vanguard of our effort to host CHOGM and publicise Uganda.

The theme for this year’s International Women Day Celebrations is “The Role of Women in Transforming Societies to Achieve Political, Economic and Social Development.” It seeks to consolidate the involvement of women in development. Before the National Resistance Movement (NRM) came into power, the majority of women had struggled, with immense difficulty, to transition from being second class citizens to becoming empowered and attaining gender equality. The NRM government has endeavoured to reverse this trend.

Women emancipation by the NRM Government

Not only is the African woman the child bearer; she cooks, farms, grinds grain, fetches water and firewood, teaches her children, nurses the sick, provides quality companionship to the husband, etc. It is only in a few African societies where this formula of burden sharing is reversed – men doing more work than women.

In order to enhance their role in the transformation process, the NRM government has liberated women through the following:
  • Providing safe water, with coverage increasing from 10% to 63% in rural areas and from 17% to 65% in urban areas between 1986 and 2006;

  • Introducing Universal Secondary Education; and

  • Improving literacy from 50% to 70% between 1986 to-date. Additionally, 80% of learners in the government-led Functional Adult Literacy Programmes are women.

  • Intervention in reducing HIV prevalence from 18% to 6%;

  • Ensuring that all children are fully immunised, and;

  • Increasing access to health units within the radius of 5 kilometres from 30% to 70%.

  • Women play a central role in society, right from the domestic to the international scene. Collectively and individually, they have the highest concentrations of human, economic and cultural resources necessary to occupy an enviable position in the global economy. However, the challenge is that only a few women are empowered; the majority still continues to be trapped in the low income category with unacceptable levels of political, economic, social and human development.

    Gender based violence

    The liberation and empowering of women, therefore, is a means of solving many socio-economic and political problems; especially for Africa. Among the major challenges faced by women globally is Gender-Based Violence, as is evidenced by almost daily media reports of resultant murder and child neglect. It should be noted that 78% of women experience some form of domestic violence such as sexual assault, physical violence, economic, verbal and emotional. (Ug. Law Ref. Com.2006)

    Gender-Based violence has the following dire socio-economic and political consequences:
  • It hampers women from using their skills in development activities;

  • It prevents women from claiming their socio-economic rights e.g. property rights and inheritance;

  • It leads to loss of human resource through death and maiming;

  • It leads to increased rates of school drop-outs and teenage pregnancies;

  • It aggravates social stigma, rejection and family breakdown which lead to negative forms of behaviours like prostitution and abuse of drugs.

  • In order to curb these negative socio-economic effects of Gender-Based Violence, there is need for legislation, awareness-raising on causes and consequences, increased resource allocation; and involvement of all stake holders in a holistic framework. The Domestic Relations Bill is currently on agenda for presentation to Parliament. We should expedite the passing of the legislation on domestic violence.

    Political empowerment

    Decision making is one of the main indicators of women empowerment. Today, women’s prospects for formal participation in politics have greatly improved, in spite of the many challenges they are faced with. The NRM government has put in place conducive mechanisms which have enabled women to contribute to political transformation. We now have increased numbers in the political arena. The proportion of women in Local Councils rose from 6% in early 1990s to 44% in 2003; while in parliament it rose from 18% in 1996 to 30.4% to-date, which is the internationally recommended quota.

    Government also established in 1988 what is now called Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development which, among others, caters for Women Affairs; it is headed by a Cabinet Minister. These milestones have promoted women’s visibility and voice in decision making processes at all levels, which is a key tenet of democratic governance.


    The NRM Government regards Education as key in the liberation and emancipation of women. I am happy to note that since the introduction of UPE, in 1997, enrollment has increased from 2.5 million to 7.7 million in 2006 with a 50:50 female/male ratio. Likewise, affirmative action at Makerere University increased enrollment of females from 23.9% in the academic year 1989/1990 to 48.2% in 2005/06. While education has a positive effect on the earning capacity of both men and women, it is stronger for women. Similarly, households with such women are likely to have quality life in terms of education, health, nutrition, access to safe water and sanitation facilities etc.

    As we work towards industrialisation in a bid to transform our society, I call upon parents to encourage and support the girl-child to study sciences. Young women who have attained other qualifications should go for further studies in order take up science courses.


    Productivity as a function of economic growth and development heavily depends on the health status of a population. Countries with higher levels of economic growth and higher indicators of the quality of life have a corresponding high investment in health research and health infrastructure. The result is reduced morbidity and mortality, long life expectancy, improved child survival and high human development index. Other advantages include less expenditure on health. On the contrary, countries with the highest disease burden tend to invest less in health and health research, culminating into low productivity. There is, therefore, a clear relationship between health status of a population and its productivity.

    Women in Uganda continue to experience high maternal mortality rate which still stands at 435 per 100,000 per annum and is among the highest in the world. The total fertility rate is at 6.7 children per woman. Sixteen percent (16%) of women are married by age 15 and 53% by age 18, according to the Uganda Health and Demographic Survey of 2006. Evidence from the Uganda Demographic Health Survey 2006 shows that infant mortality has come down to 76 deaths per 1,000 births; and under 5 mortality is 137 per 1,000 births. The high fertility rate at 6.9 has a bearing on the provisioning of health services for women. Those are too many children per woman. A lower figure would be better for the sake of her health as well as for family economics.

    Gender equality

    Gender equality and women’s empowerment are vital to the transformation of societies for political, economic and human development. There is clear evidence that gender equality reduces poverty (World Bank 2007, UNFPA 2007) and is a cause and consequence of economic growth.

    A number of women still experience discriminatory gender biases and prejudices which inhibit their potential. There are still high school drop-out rates, particularly for girls. Similarly, most women lack ownership of productive resources, particularly land.

    Through the transformative leadership of the NRM Government a number of women have changed their behavioural dispositions and attitude towards work. They now engage in hitherto male-dominated work such as road construction and maintenance. I continue to encourage women to aggressively embrace the world of entrepreneurship. Women have cultivated a culture of saving and investment. To-date, 55% of micro-finance institutions (MFI) borrowers are female, while 16% of the registered land in Uganda is owned by women.


    Social transformation, however, cannot be a reality when households and individuals do not have adequate incomes. In this regard, as I have already said, Government’s efforts in the modernisation of agriculture are yielding good results.
    The Government has been implementing the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) since 2001 to improve farmers’ access to advisory services and enable them to adopt profitable technologies and management practices. While there were some problems in the implementation of NAADS, there were also some visible successes. For instance, to-date government has been able to cover 346 sub-counties in 49 districts.

    There is evidence of increased productivity and household incomes in areas where NAADS is functional when compared to areas where the programme is yet to be implemented; for example, in Manibe sub-county in Arua district, farmers have realised a five-fold increase in yield as a result of planting improved groundnut varieties-Serenut 2 and 3. In Mukono, over one hundred farmers have gone into production of upland rice after a huge harvest of 2000 kg per acre in one season.

    Government plans to roll out the NAADS programme to the rest of the country over the coming years. Through the Bonna Bagaggawale scheme, we shall be able to advise farmers to maximise returns from their small bibanja, using the production models like those of Mrs. Kizza of Masaka. This is the ability to use small pieces of land to earn high incomes. The women, I am well informed, have been key players in the NAADS programme and have been more pro-active in forming farmer groups than the men and youth. I encourage you to continue.

    Market Access

    One major impediment to the realisation of economic growth and development in most developing countries is the failure to access big markets. Until recently, the North American and European markets have been closed to most African countries. We, however, salute the gesture of America and Europe opening markets to some of our products through African Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) and Everything But Arms (EBA), respectively.


    In order for us to competitively access market for our produce, it is imperative that we work towards the industrialisation of our economy. While most of our population remains rural-based and using rudimentary methods of production, our transformation process will be very slow.

    As we work towards industrialisation, we shall move towards the urbanisation of our society. Too big a population in the rural areas is a factor of under development and this greatly affects women more than men, because of their functional roles in society. urbanisation increases girls' access to education and promotes cultural acceptance of their right to education.

    With the establishment of the ministry of Information, Communication and Technology, women have a greater chance of accessing ICTs, thereby enhancing their competitiveness and participation in the global economy. Government will make all efforts to narrow the gender digital divide.
    Peace in Northern Uganda
    The peace prospects that started to prevail in Northern Uganda have created opportunities for resumption of social and economic activities in the region. This has made it possible for the internally-displaced people to return to their areas of origin.

    At the same time, local governments and development agencies have intensified the emergency and development interventions that have led to improvements in people’s lives. All these efforts must be sustained and supported so as to increase outreach. The role of women in this process cannot be under-rated; it ranges from shouldering all household responsibility, since their husbands, brothers or sons were either butchered, taken as captives or engaged in armed conflict; as well as participating in the peace process as key negotiators.

    To this end, government has prioritised the implementation of the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan for Northern Uganda (PRDP) as a way of deepening service delivery and spurning development in Northern Uganda and the neighbouring districts. The Prime Minister should ensure that women play a visible role in this programme.

    Corruption and fraud impede economic, political and human development. This is manifested in the lowering of tax revenue; inflated cost of public service and distortions in allocation of resources. I would like on this note to commend the women who hold key positions in Uganda’s economy.

    I wish to once again congratulate all the women and men of Uganda on this auspicious occasion. I re-affirm government’s commitment towards the attainment of gender equality and women’s empowerment in Uganda. I thank you.

    The writer is the President of the Republic of Uganda