To accelerate progress towards gender parity, Uganda will have to adopt or catalyse a number of policy measures
By Joan Kabayambi
The situation of women in Uganda and efforts to narrow the gender gap has progressed remarkably over the past 30 years. But, the situation of women and the gender gap in social, economic, health and political aspects remain dire and unacceptable.
Progress has, for instance, been made in the enrolment at primary, secondary and tertiary education levels. Considerable progress has also been made in women's participation in leadership and politics.
Up to 40% of Members of Parliament are women and to a less extent this is reflected at lower levels of leadership, in the private sector and in institutions. However, only a very modest progress has been made in economic emancipation.
Four main obstacles hinder rapid progress towards achieving gender parity in Uganda.
First, poor or non-existent maternal health services are causing high maternal morbidity and mortality.
Second, there is poor quality education with a high dropout rate of especially girls in primary schools.
Three, there are cultural impediments to land, asset and property ownership and security for women. And four, cultural attitudes and practices which have led to rampant gender-based violence.
On the global scene, Uganda stands fairly high in the effort to reduce the gender gap.
According to UN 2015 Gender Gap Report, which scored a combined index of economic, education, health and political aspects of gender gap-indicators, Uganda emerged number 58 out of 145 countries assessed.
The top most countries (with the narrowest gender gaps or with the highest gender parity) were Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Ireland and Rwanda. The bottom six countries were Yemen, Pakistan, Syria, Chad, Iran and Jordan.
Rwanda scored better than UK and USA, which are rich countries, respectively at 18 and 28. This indicates that it is policy and not necessarily economic prosperity that determines gender parity in a country.
To accelerate progress towards gender parity, Uganda will have to adopt or catalyse a number of policy measures. Women's participation in leadership and in politics at all levels but especially at higher levels must be strongly promoted.
Gender bias against women arising from cultural and religious attitudes needs to be tackled by gender-parity promoting policies and legislation.
Investment has to be made in women's health and in reducing domestic workload and risks. In particular, simple technologies need to be made available for increasing access to safe water and cooking-energy sources and to reduce the risks of "smoky" kitchens.
Efforts should be made to increase women's economic independence through income-generating projects and supportive legislation.
The recently mooted Uganda Women Entrepreneurship Fund with an initial annual funding of sh243b for women groups countrywide is a good initiative. Land and asset ownership and security should be guaranteed by legislation.
Policy and legislation should be made to ensure that women benefit from their labour, particularly in agriculture.
To achieve the above in addition, we better recognise women as an integral contribution to sustainable development, which is critical to ensure gender balance in decision-making at all levels, share roles and proceeds in agriculture, and ensure male involvement and active participation in agriculture.
Finally, strengthen women's asset security, visibility and influence on improving livelihoods. These efforts should open the way for rapid attainment of gender parity in Uganda.
The writer is a public health professional and women rights activist.