By Brian Mutebi
At the launch of the Gender Equality Reports at Makerere University on Wednesday April 10, Members of Parliament (MPs) made statements that are worrying for anyone who loves Uganda.
The reports launched by the deputy Chief Justice of Uganda Hon. Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo, are very significant in the governance of our country.
One of the three reports was “A matrix and analysis of gender equality laws and policies in Uganda” that identified gaps in the existing legal and policy frameworks and provided recommendations on necessary improvements.
The reports’ principal investigator was Associate Professor Sarah N. Ssali, the highly regarded Dean of the School of Women and Gender Studies at Makerere University.
It was here that the MPs, invited as key stakeholders in human rights and governance process of our country, made regrettable statements.
Particularly two MPs, one from a constituency in Kabale and another from Bugiri said they only legislate with the next election in mind and for that matter will never legislate on or pass a bill that works against their political interests.
The peoples’ representatives stated that they will never pass a bill that will not win them the next election.
“If you want me to deceive you, I will, but the truth is we legislate to keep ourselves in power,” the MP from Kabale stated.
“The problem with you (women’s rights campaigners) is you mix up things; you mix up gender and land issues.
Do you want me to legislate myself out of parliament?” The MP’s remarks were received with approval from his colleagues numbering about five.
As true and honest as the MP wanted us to believe, the statements were unfortunate.
It is telling for a national leader to say in public that all they do is legislate to keep themselves in power.
But that aside, the MP suggested that land, gender and women’s rights issues are unelectable issues, or politically risky; that tackling them works against their mission to stay in power so should be separated and relegated into obscurity.
But in country where women, girls, men and boys have been left in the cold as result of unscrupulous land grabbers; in a country where women undress to protect all they have got – a piece of land – how can you separate land from the governance question?
Undressing is a women’s last weapon of defence. When all the tools she has got to protect her livelihood have been exploited, undressing is all she’s left with to pull out in her defence box. This is what the MPs think legislating over is politically unrewarding!
There were other assertions that are not entirely true that the MPs made. “I have not seen any gender group come to (lobby) parliament,” one claimed.
This MP however, ought to be reminded that among several groups, Girls Not Brides Uganda National Partnership has been to parliament several times urging MPs to legislate and pass laws that would protect girls from harmful cultural practices such as child marriages.
More recently the Uganda Women’s Network was in parliament expressing their displeasure about women being branded as tourism products.
On many occasions, gender and women’s right advocacy groups have engaged Uganda Women Parliament Association (UWOPA).
Indeed, UWOPA’s current Strategic Plan was greatly contributed to by members of Civil Society.
So, there is evidence to that effect that we have been engaging parliament on issues that matter to Ugandans; it might that the honourable member misses our on the several activities of parliament.
And while it’s okay for MPs to expect us to come to parliament and engage with them, and indeed we do, women’s rights issues are not entirely in parliament but in the communities where MPs supposedly go and consult their constituencies on pertinent issues affecting their communities.
MPs do not have to wait for women advocacy groups to come to parliament to understand that women need not to die from preventable causes such as maternal death or domestic violence.
Do they first need one of us to come to parliament to let them know that for some women, marriage is license to death and therefore we need a law to save lives?
It is important to understand that raising such issues on the floor of parliament is not legislating themselves out of power but rather that’s true representation.
Women’s rights issues are electable issues, for these are issues that affect their mothers, daughters and sisters.
When did issues affecting mothers, daughters and sisters become politically risky? Our leaders need to rise up and give us true representation.
We need transformational leaders who address the real issues affecting society.
The writer is gender and women’s rights campaigner and Executive Director of Education and Development Opportunity – Uganda.