Celebrating Women’s day on March 8th this year enabled us to look back and laud the women who gave in their all for Uganda to understand their place in the world in managing the pandemic. Perhaps we could have an everyday conversation on the place of women in society and were we want to be in the next, 5, 10 or even 50 years to come.
Women acknowledge the efforts of the men behind the scenes who make it possible for them to do their work, professionally and with a spirit of excellence. But are they many enough to guide more women out of their comfort zones or women are now aware enough to get themselves out of their shells?
It might have been a rough ride in some instances but none of us knew what tomorrow would bring from the time Uganda announced patient zero on March 22, 2020.
At the forefront of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic in Uganda, we depended on the leadership skills and expertise of women like Dr Monica Musenero (Presidential Advisor on Epidemics), Dr Jane Ruth Achieng (Minister of Health) and Dr Diana Atwine (Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health). Little was known about these women until they took on the mantle to manage a situation that had baffled the whole world. They learnt a lot on the job. This was a plus for women in managing a crisis. Their calmness in steering this shaky boat in the pandemic gives us hope for a better future.
Though a lot needs to be done to right the wrong in Covid management and the moneys involved, we still need to give credit for their untiring work at the beginning.
There are other names that will remain in the books of history as women who disrupted the status quo of many in leadership for the benefit of the people they serve. The women who took on tough roles; the Jennifer Musisi’s (Former KCCA Executive Director) or the Rebecca Kadaga’s (Former Speaker of Parliament) but the women in the health department had a unique situation, serving during a pandemic.
There are also many unsung heroes during these tough times; the mothers and caregivers who have stayed home with their children since schools closed a year and a half ago and had to deal with home schooling or balancing working from home and managing a family within the limited space or resources. These are heroes who may never make it to any media headline but they are raising the next generation of leaders, great or small.
Furthermore, Uganda may be absorbed in the ‘money fights’ but there are good women leaders out there who, given the opportunity can deliver quality services to this country, are doing their job well.
As much as we like to criticize women for mistakes made in their lives in leadership, there is a proven track record that women are better at not only managing crisis but bringing sanity to an unconventional environment surrounded by men.
So for us to develop, the women should be at that same decision making table to discuss and make sane decisions together with men.
Being deputies or secretaries are the low hanging fruits that women should not continue to subject themselves to even in low level leadership like the community saving groups. There is so much potential in women to lead that only a country open to women taking roles beyond the petty designated positions can tap into not only equity but meaningful development.
The struggle for a woman to enjoy their rights not just to vote but be voted into leadership positions in the past century is also shifting to women fighting for their rightful places in decision making in public life. We are proud of those women who have made it to the top or are on their way to the top. Gratitude to their support systems because we know that we all need somebody to mentor or guide us to reach somewhere. That is the spirit of women empowerment, when the men who support our cause are on board for a better equity equation.
Meanwhile, the one woman situation is not helping in competitive politics. Uganda has four women including Ms Evelyne Chebet (NRM) elected as Kapchorwa district Chairperson in all 146 districts in this country show that women need to wake up more and sit at the decision making table if they are to recognized for their roles in development.
This will be inked in the annals of history that in the 2021 general elections, only four women made it in such a position. Let’s not even talk about the mayors and directly elected legislators to represent us in the eleventh parliament that commences in May, 2021. The Betty Nambooze’s (MP Mukono Municipality) of this country will tell you that to be a woman and win a man in an election, you need enough guts and a thick skin to wade off societal stereotypes of where the position of a woman is to them.
An evaluation in the just concluded election which almost all political parties planned to undertake should act as a guide for future representative democratic elections in this country, an election where women are free to share their ideas to be chosen as leaders.
There is a need to understand the manner in which many women offered themselves for elective positions but did not do well. Some of the underlying issues were finance in a rather highly commercialized election cycle where a member of parliament requires at least Shs500 million to pull off campaigns in a district and as Mr. Kato Lubwama (Former Rubaga South MO) came out recently claiming he wasted Shs1 billion on an ungrateful electorate, should be revised.
As we economically empower women to afford other necessities of life, leadership should not be a cost too high for the ordinary women to bear. This trend must change if we are to achieve equity and fair representation of women in leadership post covid-19 that brought with it stresses and anxiety in the lives of many.
When the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women convened in March 2021, every woman’s pray was that, “Women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls,” as the theme read should be made actionable for all women.
We also celebrated International Women’s day a week after a woman took over the leadership of the World Trade Organisation as the Director General. Some would say thanks to the new Biden administration in America for we have not only the first African woman from Nigeria managing the World’s most powerful trade organanisation but the first woman at that level.
Africa Briefing Magazine reported in March that the new WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian economist and former government minister, donned a mask and doled out elbow bumps — Covid-19 oblige — as she took up the job at WTO headquarters on the banks of Lake Geneva. She brought with her woman-ness to the table right away at the first meeting, tackling a two-decade old fishing deal.
‘‘I am coming into one of the most important institutions in the world and we have a lot of work to do. I feel ready to go,’ said Okonjo-Iweala, 66.
The first timers among others in the high places like Uganda’s Winnie Byanyima, 62, an aeronautical engineer, politician, and diplomat and now UNAIDS Executive Director, give us hope that many more women can be the Ms Okonjo-Iweala’s of this world. The level of education notwithstanding!
However, something is peculiar about the women who rise to decision making in public life to hold positions of power and influence not just in Uganda but world over, their age. Most of these women are way above 60years of age. Does this mean the world can only trust older women with abounding power to lead?
Perhaps the able younger women would offer a different view of what their potentials are given the opportunity. Do we still say women do not have the required qualification and quality to leverage the service gap especially in ensuring equality for both girls and women?
Maybe we need to shift focus onto what we have and what the women in leadership have already achieved and use that to mentor and bring on board younger women leaders to salvage the dire coronavirus situation that has disrupted economies and livelihoods.
In this pandemic recovery path, our leaders need to brazenly deal with adolescent pregnancies in a situation where no meaningful education has happened for most girls since March 18, 2020 when schools were closed to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The figures at the community development or gender offices may be in hundreds or thousands but what are the individual life stories of these girls behind the figures. What guarantee can we as a country have of the future of our girl child in contributing to development twenty years from now if they are denied their right to education and knowing the world in a different way than taking care of children or giving birth to more, contributing to a cycle of poverty in not just this country but the world over. Would we expect these girls and women to become the best leaders in the next generation after these first timers have retired or gone to be with the Lord, an inevitable life cycle?