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International Women’s Day (IWD) celebrated every 8th march may have passed, but the opinions of listeners on one of the local radio stations I tuned in on that morning still linger on my mind. For over 50% of the listeners to believe that the day is “not relevant” anymore but just another “public holiday” got me really perplexed, more baffling and saddening were the female voices who also thought so. It is then that I realized that even with the so much information we have at our exposure and disposal, many people do not read and research; otherwise the genesis but more so the relevance of this day would not be questioned.

Recognized as a global day on which the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future are celebrated; in Uganda it was made a national holiday 21 years ago. National celebrations often take place in a district carefully chosen by the government during which the general population is invited. It’s during this celebration that aside from the music presentations and drama/skits that characterize the day, many look back to examine milestones reached, challenges still faced and the gaps still existent regarding attaining gender equality and equity including the empowerment women. The theme this year of “connecting girls, inspiring futures” was thus timely in an era when girls strive to assert themselves in positions formerly classified as forbidden to them.

While we commemorated IWD which came at a time when Uganda as a country marked 50 years of independence, I took time to weigh the “pains” the Ugandan woman still has to endure and the “gains” that have been made thus far as the government endeavors to create a gender equal and equity society/country.

 The country has registered commendable progress in the area of political participation in decision making. The constitution of Uganda guarantees gender balance and fair representation of marginalized groups. Article 33 of the Uganda constitution guarantees women the right to affirmative action which action and policy extends to leadership of opportunities for women. In the current parliament, women make up 35% and women ministers also make up 35%. As a multi party democracy, a number of women are also actively involved in politics at party level and local councils from local council one to five in all districts of the country.

 Education is a basic human right and key to the empowerment of women. Achieving gender equality in education in Uganda has been regarded as a human right. Benefits of education include; income growth, higher wages and social benefits which include reducing gender based violence, healthier and better educated families. The government of Uganda to this effect has enacted policies and actions to correct imbalances created by cultural and historical biases which disadvantaged women through:-affirmative action for girls, introduction of Universal Primary and Secondary education which have increased the enrollment of the girls in school and significantly reduced the gender parity gap in the education sector. A national strategy for girls education was also formulated which addresses gender issues especially those which cause girls to drop out of school.

 Specific legislations have also been enacted to offer an enabling environment for the girl child and women to live free of violence and non discrimination. For example laws on labour that promote women’s rights at work place, including prohibition of sexual harassment; the succession act which allows for widows and widowers to inherit property of their deceased spouses and to enjoy parental rights over their children, the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2010 which bans the practice of FGM, the Marriage and Divorce bill 2009 yet to be passed but currently re-tabled in parliament as cases in point.

 Great success has been made in reducing HIV/AIDS transmission at childbirth under the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme.

 Under expanding social protection, the ministry of Gender, Labour and Social development is currently providing direct income support inform of the senior citizens grant and a vulnerable family support grant to poor and vulnerable households. Majority of the beneficiaries of this grant are older women without any other form of income security. The grant also supports these women to empower their granddaughters to access good quality health, education and sanitation services. These services are vital to their reproductive health and rights, human capital development, economic wellbeing and dignity thereby inspiring the girl child to effectively participate in and benefit from Uganda’s socio economic transformation.

 In a bid to enhance women equality and development at the regional and global level, Uganda endorsed the protocol on the rights of women and the African Union solemn declaration on gender and equality. The country is also signatory to the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

 Employment of women in all key sectors of the economy has also greatly increased. Since independence, women have made breakthroughs in fields long considered outside their traditional roles as wives, mothers and caretakers. They are now in the fast lane of politics, business, media, academia, law, entertainment, sports among other areas.

Pains the Ugandan woman still has to endure:-
 Maternal Health Issues. Uganda is still one of those countries in which pregnant mothers are unsafe. Every day an average of 16 women die in childbirth which is approximately 5,800 deaths each year from causes like hemorrhage,infections,aneamia,high blood pressure leading to seizures and prolonged labour (UDHS). Loosing 16 women per day puts Uganda way off the millennium development goal five of reducing maternal mortality to atleast 130 by 2015.

 Gender based violence. The Ugandan woman is still widely abused, molested, oppressed, exploited and marginalized in diverse ways.

 Female genital mutilation. As a cultural practice it is an unnecessary cruel and inhuman treatment that young girls are coerced into leading to death through bleeding, infection of diseases and difficulty during child birth. The practice continues to exist even with existing laws that criminalize the practice. Hopefully it will be completely wiped out with the current policies and actions being undertaken.

 High drop out rate of the girl child from school. The enrollment through universal primary and secondary education may be high; unfortunately not all of them complete their secondary education.

 Child mothers due to cultural practices that marry off girls at very tender age for instance 12 years in some regions. This is the worst form of abuse because those expected to protect them- parents) do not.

 Health service delivery. The eve of IWD here in Uganda saw women activists tie themselves with sisal ropes on trees for thirty minutes in solidarity with the mothers of children suffering from the nodding disease syndrome. However, in a way they were also protesting government’s failure to handle and manage the disease which has so far killed over 200 children from northern Uganda and yet its root cause remains uncertain. The tying of the ropes symbolized what the parents have to go through as they tie their own children to trees in order to have them in one place to stop them from falling and hurting and injuring themselves each time they fall. This gesture shows a gap in health service delivery by government whose mandate is to ensure peoples right to good health and access to medical attention

 The rural woman still bears the brunt of domestic chores single handedly. Sadly, inspite of doing so much, her contribution is not recognized, honored and is not assisted by their husband. They also rarely access same resources like their urban counterparts.

To those who thought 8th march was just like any other day and felt the day wasn’t worth celebrating and of no relevance, I ask you to look around. You will be dazed by what they see and hear.

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