IF the recent claims from some sections of the political space are to be believed, Ugandaâ€™s women have been used by the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) and then, being of no further value, dumped unceremoniously and promptly forgotten.
IF the recent claims from some sections of the political space are to be believed, Ugandaâ€™s women have been used by the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) and then, being of no further value, dumped unceremoniously and promptly forgotten. The new favourites, the claims hold, are the youth who are allegedly the new majority and have therefore attracted the attention and focus of political parties, especially the NRM.
The general feeling among these quarters is that the NRM was never serious about the women's cause and only embraced it because women had the majority vote and having them vote as a block ensured that the NRM would win every plebiscite without too much trouble. This is tantamount to the Swahili saying, â€œasante ya punda ni tekeâ€ â€“ the donkey says thank you with a hard kick.
The apparent change in the demographics is what is supposed to have caused a focus shift from women to the youth; more or less the same way a man abandons his wife after spotting a new beauty. The other reason fronted is that women emancipation has been achieved to a significant degree and is therefore no longer such an exciting idea to buzz about on the campaign trail. I will come back to this later.
But first about women having been sidelined: nobody who has had a look at the NRM Manifesto 2011-2016 would ever entertain such a hypothesis.
The NRM realises and indeed knows that it is not yet uhuru for the Ugandan woman and is definitely committed to the cause of women. For starters, the emancipation of women is synonymous with the NRM; for until its advent to power in 1986, no other government in Uganda had ever thought of the concept. Previous governments were happy to do nothing to change the status of women.
Women's potential was suppressed and their contribution ignored. Little wonder, therefore, that when the NRM came to power with women emancipation high on its agenda, the women of Uganda fell in love with it and have not looked back.
The emancipation of women has always been handled not as an individual-focused agenda, but as a whole and huge institutional machinery that established systems and structures within which women would be helped to grow and fulfil their potential. No government would go to such lengths if all that was on the cards were mere votes.
Since 1986, the NRM has strengthened the legal, policy and institutional framework regarding women. On the legal side, specific laws tailored to suit womenâ€™s needs and aspirations have been initiated to protect women in the realm of domestic relations and advance them in terms of participation in decision making processes and access to political power.
On the whole, most women in Uganda now know their rights and recognise that they too can be as good as their male counterparts in almost every sphere of life. There are institutional mechanisms that ensure their advancement in an orderly fashion and a legal framework that has both punitive and deterrent measures to protect women from violations.
The affirmative action that allows girls to enjoy greater access to tertiary education has seen thousands of young ladies enter the graduate ranks and has built the confidence and enhanced the aspirations of those following in their footsteps.
And on the health side, apart from across-the-board initiatives from which women can benefit, there is deliberate effort to reduce maternal mortality and prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. For the next five years, the NRM Manifesto provides, the NRM government will continue along the path of enhancing gender equity and equality, and expanding programmes for elimination of gender-based violence.
In northern Uganda, a region still stigmatised by and recovering from decades of conflict, the NRM government will provide psycho-social support and other such services to women and girls, as part of its post-conflict management. Programmes to reduce maternal and child mortality will enjoy preferential treatment.
Regarding whether or not women emancipation has been achieved, the answer is that so much has been done, and much more remains to be done. However, the previous status of women, calibrated against their current position reveals a change too drastic to ignore or forget. Women themselves acknowledge this and know where their vote lies and they will make their sentiments categorically and unequivocally clear, come February 18, 2011.
The love affair, indeed the marriage, between NRM and the Ugandan woman continues unabated.
Love affair between NRM and Ugandan women hot as ever