For years, Uganda has demonstrated commitment to gender equality through legal and constitutional means. This is in addition to various national policy and strategy documents. The most notable of these is the Women and Gender Development Policy of 2000[i]and the National Strategy for Gender Development of 2008[ii]. Additionally, the National Gender Policy of 1997 was revised in 2007. Other supportive provisions are contained in the 1995 constitution, the Equal Opportunities Act and recent national development plans. The commitment to promote gender equality is therefore evident.
Uganda has ratified key international and regional human rights instruments for empowerment of women and addressing gender parity, including the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action[iii], the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. Other supporting policies and laws in place include the Employment Act (2006), the Occupation Safety and Health Act, the Labour Union Act, 2006, the Workers’ Compensation Act and the attendant Regulations, the Sexual Harassment Regulations (2012), the Uganda Vision 2040, the National the Development Plan 11 (2010/11-2014/15
According to a New Vision Article, participation of women in the work industry sets a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication, inclusive economic growth and sustainable development.Government efforts towards providing a conducive policy and legal environment aimed at promoting women’s participation and empowerment in the changing world of work are highly recognised. [iv]
However, to reach the ultimate goal of women fully participating in the work industry, there is need to address some of the glaring gender parity issues.
Challenges such as limited ownership and access to production assets (land and capital), limited competitive skills for the job market, gender stereotypes and traditional beliefs that tend to prescribe certain kinds of jobs to women remain obstacles to their economic empowerment. For instance, biases still remain in families, schools, and workplace against female students in science and technology. Women are facing structural and cultural barriers, for instance, there is a cultural perception that STEM courses are difficult to study because of the Mathematics and Physics involved, which supposedlyis one of the reasons girls opt out.
Gender disparities are particularly seen in the informal sector where women take on high risk and low-income jobs. Here, the social as well as cultural norms and practices still deprive adolescent girls and young women from their full participation in labour market, thus rendering them poor and less empowered to effectively contribute to Uganda’s economy.
Let us also take a closer look at “career mothers” who continue to pursue their respective dreams alongside nursing their young ones. Many programs, fellowships and job opportunities will make it clear that “Nursing mothers are not advised to apply”.This is a limitation and a hindrance yet such opportunities won’t wait until the baby nursing period is done!
Moreover, many career mothers still struggle with balancing work and family because they are overburdened by the gender triple role of women in society (reproduction, production and community), which is a huge hindrance to their full participation in productive work. For instance, the period of maternity leave granted to mothers by several companies is less than legally laid out while others don’t even recognise it. Uganda Breweries Limited (UBL) on 6thJune 2019 became the first company in Uganda to officially give its female employees up to 6 months of fully paid maternity leave. This thrilling announcement brings about hope that other employing agencies can borrow a leaf from this.
This unfortunately means, once such policies that apply a gender lens are not factored in, women will either resign or quit their jobs to take care of their children/families. Otherwise, their children’s early childhood development, the time when they need their mothers most, will be affected as the mothers get busy and busier attending to their respective jobs.
Moreover, being young and female continues to pose a twin challenge for the current generation of young women seeking employment. Labour markets remain highly sex-segregated, which reflects an unequal distribution of men and women across sectors and occupation. Women continue to be segregated into particular types of occupations, often with inferior pay and poor working conditions.
I also have some personal experience to share on this matter that goes along with my argumentation. I remember when I was applying for the Youth4Policy (Y4P) fellowship organised by Konrad-Adenauer-stiftung – Uganda, I was so worried about my admission because my baby girl was barely a year. During the interview as they gave closing remarks, I was given a chance to raise any concern and my question was whether it was a residential program. I was admitted into the program and, for the first workshop, requested to commute from home so that I could be with my baby during the night (this was a total sacrifice as it meant waking up really early, use several “boda bodas” to make it in time as well as coming back home really late). After this workshop, I was asked to carry my baby along with nanny for all the next workshops. This was so relieving and fulfilling as I would simply move out during the breaks to attend to the baby and had no worries of how she is doing as I was always with her in the same locality. How much more can it be if all programs gave such exemptions to women? Women will be able to thrive and succeed all their pursuits in life benefiting their families, communities and nation at large.
More importantly, though, it is for the government to ‘walk the talk’ and implement the existing policies that seek to promote decent employment environments for all with special attention to the females. Finally, there is a need to break down the barriers, norms and practices that keep women from realizing their full potential and their rights for equal opportunity and treatment.
Written by Harriet Kamashanyu
Y4P Fellow 2019
[ii]National Strategy for Gender Development 2008
[iii]1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action
[iv]New Vision Article – https://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1448133/women-involved-industry