ACFIM TALKS: THE COST OF BEING A FEMALE POLITICIAN IN UGANDA

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THE ACFIM TALKS: Cost Of Being A Female Politician In Uganda

In Uganda, women constitute 35% of the parliament and 45% at local government level. Out of the 146 districts in Uganda, there are only 19 women on direct seats in parliament out of the 459 positions. Even though women comprise 52% of the Ugandan population, there are only 3 female district chairpersons out of the 146 districts. Uganda still has a very insignificant percentage of women participation in politics.

It was revealed on the ninth episode of ACFIM Talks last week that the number of women contesting in Uganda for the 2021 elections has seen a decline from 2016 elections. Flavia Nabgage Kalule, Woman MP Candidate for Kassanda district who was a guest speaker on the show shared her views on why participation of women in politics has consistently remained low.

Flavia who also doubles as the chairperson Women’s league for the National Unity Platform (NUP) mentioned that politics is expensive which closes spaces for women.  The cost of contesting for the Woman MP seat requires far much more money because they have to cover an entire district compared to those on the direct seat that only cover a constituency.

It is estimated that on average, a candidate for member of parliament spends a minimum of $135,135 in campaigns which is expensive for women. The secret known here is that the low representation of women in parliament and local government positions is largely because of limited access women have to resources as well as deeply rooted patriarchy in societies.

Society construct with patriarchal settings renders men affirmed leaders. Right from the onset, many women fear and think they can’t be leaders since they are brought up to be wives, nurturers and caretakers of homes but not to lead yet boys are encouraged to be leaders, provide for their families, provide solutions for problems.

Flavia acknowledged that civil society has played a critical role in equipping women with leadership and civic skills to enable them contest. The reality is while we have an increased number of women in leadership in comparison to before for instance in Uganda’s 1995 parliament, there were about 40 women only. Because of this, the affirmative action framework was provided for to increase the numbers of women in parliament by creating positions ring fenced only for women.

On whether affirmative action has been effective, she responded by recognizing that patriarchy is deeply embedded in communities and though women become credible leaders they still face backlash when they attempt to compete for the direct seat with most of them told to return to the woman MP seat.  This is because many believe that the position is only for men. Many women who have shared experiences admit that they can easily be accepted on the female seat other than direct seat.

She admitted that sexualization of women is a reality that has been existent and faced even by powerful women. She stated that some of the factors that facilitate sexualization of women is the limited, insensitive and sexist coverage by the media which has an effect on women participation in politics.  

Flavia criticized the media which usually portrays women politicians in a bad light with standing the little coverage allocated to women. The media barely covers women’s manifestos but choose controversial issues like marriage, children instead. Reducing women to sexual objects or entertainment in newspapers diminishes their branding and outreach. Media plays a huge role and they need to cover women with solidity and more visibility.

Flavia stated that unfortunately, women are not looked at for what they can offer, their capabilities, experience but are looked at sexually. She gave her experience of some areas where men make sexual connotations and questions on why she isn’t married yet. Some men even demand hugs and touch women’s bodies inappropriately in exchange of a vote.

Flavia confessed that fundraising had been extremely difficult but friends, family, workmates, organizations and entities she is affiliated to had been really helpful. She highlighted that political parties should ideally assist candidates fund campaigns but fundraising has mostly been individually with NUP being a new party, it didn’t benefit from political party financing by the government. Fundraising is a continuous process and the diaspora has contributed a lot to the party as well as Ugandans here which funds offered a little to candidate’s nomination fees.

Flavia suggested ways on how to navigate barriers affecting female participation emphasizing the need to continuously educate communities on the position of Direct seat MP and woman MP because many people are still unaware that women can choose to stand on direct seats.

She concluded by stating that as long as we have fewer women in decision-making positions, women will not have their issues represented, will remain poorly represented which is a far cry from achieving gender equality.

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