Uganda: Why the women’s parliament mattered

(Above: WFD supported the first ever women’s parliament to take place in Uganda in July 2015)

“Their trend of advocacy is different, their trend of passion is different” said former MP, Olivia Kabaale about women’s role in politics, “for example, in our parliament when the budget is being passed the women look at the health sector, or education of the girl child.”

Olivia Kabaale participated in the first ever women’s parliament to take place in Uganda organised by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy in July 2015. At the time, she was a sitting MP in charge of the women’s desk in the Ugandan Parliament. in the Ugandan Women’s Parliamentary Association (UWOPA) who were instrumental in ensuring the buy in for the first ever women’s parliament to take place in East Africa.

Almost two years later and despite losing her seat in the February 2016 elections, Olivia is convinced that the women’s parliament brought real benefits to the women of Uganda. “We are very grateful that the women’s parliament took place” Olivia said, “if it could be an annual thing that would be very good, as we [Olivia remains an associate member of UWOPA] are looking at bringing together women in a united front for advocacy, for lobbying and to ensure that they are really entrenched in a democratic system of governance.”

The opportunity the women’s parliament provided for rural women, grassroots activists and members or parliament to connect and discuss issues that are truly important for Ugandan women, Olivia described as “a real milestone” in Uganda’s 52 years since independence.

“The challenges that rural women face were articulated, in fact the women were given good time [to talk] as we debated for the whole day and captured several things” Olivia explained. From healthcare to land rights, education of the girl child to domestic violence, the women’s parliament provided an opportunity to hear real testaments from women who had suffered and attempts to get these issues discussed at the national level. “Local women who come from the village articulated their issues and they felt involved, they felt considered and they felt they belonged in the country, so that was great” Olivia added.

(Above: Women from civil society participate at the Women’s Parliament alongside women MPs)

UWOPA played a key role delivering next steps; ensuring the debate was captured in an official record by the UWOPA Secretariat and encouraging members to table a report on the issues to the Gender Committee , through a motion tabled in the tenth parliament. The report covered “domestic violence, gender based violence and they also articulated about child abuse” Olivia explained, adding that “successfully two months after the women’s parliament the children’s act was amended .”

The benefits of the women’s parliament, however, were not only about getting issues that are important to women on the national political agenda. “They became leaders of sub-counties, so we feel happy that the first women’s parliament, organised to empower women, organised to make women gain that confidence, was a success” Olivia said. Inspiring and empowering women from different backgrounds in Uganda to get involved in politics was a fundamental goal.

Especially given that in any election period the number of women MPs can change , “we have around four women who made it” Olivia explained; “they contested, they went back after that empowerment and became members of parliament.” But, as Olivia found out when she unfortunately lost her seat it is not always that easy.

Despite this personal set back, Olivia remains committed to empowering other women parliamentarians in Uganda. “We give them support, as much as some of us are out [of parliament] we still encourage them” she said, explaining how she had provided training on the legislative process to new women MPs. “I passed on the skills and when they call on me I always come and assist” Olivia shared proudly, adding that her top tip was to focus on issues where you can really make a difference, like the education of the girl child.

Despite the success of the women’s parliament, there is still a long way to go in Uganda and around the world to achieve equality for women. “We need more women chairpersons of districts and we need more women leaders in various categories” Olivia added, “we feel that if we encourage the leaders, we sensitise the leaders then domestic violence can be reduced.”

WFD’s EU funded programme has ended but we remain committed to supporting women, youth and other marginalised groups in Uganda to engage fully in a democratic system that works for them.

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