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What Explains the Unprecedented Increase in Number of Women Competing with Men on Direct Constituencies?

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A total of 134 women are contesting against men on direct constituency positions for the 2021 elections, which hitherto were perceived as exclusive spaces for men. What explains this paradigm shift?  

This number has increased by 30 up from 84 women in 2016. This growing appetite for direct seats by women is in part a result of awareness and sensitization among women to contest not only for affirmative seats but also open seats in Parliament to increase their stake and influence in politics.

According to Perry Aritua, the Executive Director of Women Democracy Network (WDN), the secret known is that women politicians have realized that open seats are easier to manage than affirmative seats. With an affirmative seat, the woman Member of Parliament has the entire district yet in the same district there may be two or three direct constituencies hence making them easier to manage.

It should be understood that a constituency Member of Parliament only campaigns within a constituency yet a district woman legislator is expected to campaign in the entire district. This mathematically makes direct seats cheaper in coverage compared to affirmative seats for district women representative.

Majority of female candidates competing with men on direct constituencies i.e., 80 out of 134, are independent. Only 44 of them are carrying political party flags. In 2016, out of the 84 candidates’ female candidates on direct constituencies, only 47 were independents. The secret known is that more women are gaining access to sources of campaign funds just like men do.

The National Resistance Movement (NRM) party having 26 female candidates has the highest number of women contesting for directly elected constituencies, followed by National Unity Platform (NUP) with 7 candidates, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) with 4 and Democratic Party (DP), 3. Accordingly, it’s a known secret that only NRM, the most resourced party can finance and support women candidates to compete with men in campaign spending for direct seats.      

Central region including Kampala, has the highest number of women at 56, followed by Busoga, 23. The least is Bukedi with only 1 followed by west Nile having 3 candidates. The regional disparities are as a result of level of civic awareness like in Central districts and Buganda region where majority of the voters are civically aware to make decisions not mainly based on money and patriarchy.

Of significant interest, is the observation that none of the women candidates eyeing the direct seats have been serving as women MPs. This furtheraugments the concern over the failure of the affirmative action of District Women Representative failing to achieve its intended purpose. Political analysts have argued that, women politicians in Parliament have failed the affirmative action by maintaining the status quo of always competing as incumbents on the ticket of District Women Representative.

All that said, the growing number of women contesting for direct seats is a good sign for our democracy especially in regard to women participation in electoral democracy. These numbers can significantly increase when electoral politics becomes less commercialized. Monetized politics to date is one of the leading barriers of women participation in electoral politics. Legislating on campaign financing is one of the many ways we can increase the numbers of women contesting in politics.

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