EALA MPs, civil society push for regional law on gender equality

By Henry Sekanjako

"What has been lacking is a common law which will help to harmonise all these policies into a regional law."

Members of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) in partnership with the civil society are pushing for the enactment of a regional law to harmonies nation laws of the East African Community (EAC) member states, for protection and promotion of gender equality and women's human rights.

The EAC gender equality and development Bill, which has since been tabled for the first reading before the assembly in Arusha, aims at promoting non-discrimination and gender equality in the process of governance for strengthened regional integration and sustainable development of the community.

Unpacking the Bill, which is at consultative level around the five partner states of the EAC, Uganda's representative at regional parliament, Margaret Zziwa said  if passed into law, the Bill will help advance gender equality and equity among EAC partner states ,through development and implementation of gender responsive legislation .

"All partner states have tried to formulate policies and established institutions that protect women rights, but what has been lacking is a common law which will help to harmonise all these policies into a regional law," Zziwa said yesterday, during a sensitization meeting for stakeholders in Kampala.

According to Dr. Christine Mbonyingingo, the chairperson board of directors for the East African Sub Regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women (EASSI), despite the ratification of various regional and international instruments on gender equality, such laws don't fully protect women's rights.

She noted that EAC partner states need to implement instruments, legislation and policies by allocating sufficient funds and taking affirmative action to be able to address gender inequalities and women's rights and, mitigate barriers to the advancement of women.

"This time round we are not just pushing for a mere law to be passed on paper, but we have all intentions of measuring government's progress and performance in implementing their commitments towards gender  equality and development," Mbonyingingo said.

They noted that currently, there is no legal frame work that provides authoritative information or data that can be used to hold partner states accountable on their gender commitments.

The MPs are optimistic that the law will promote equal participation of women and men in regional trade by entrenching enabling policies and macro-economic frame works that are gender sensitive and responsive.

"We appeal to EALA to pass this Bill because it gives us the mandate to question EAC governments on issues of gender parity," Monic Emiru, the executive director National Association of Women's organization in Uganda (NAWOU) noted.

Former EALA MP Sheila Kawamara also member of the Uganda women's movement, said despite several policies by partner states, many women are still being discriminated against and had their rights abused, adding that with a regional policy such cases will be minimized.

She noted that the  EAC gender Policy will be a key advocacy tool which will provide a synthesized measure of women's rights and gender equality  that is both easy to understand and  to communicate .