THE COST OF WOMEN PARTICIPATION IN POLITICS

Published by Patra K on

The cost of women participation in politics

Nancy Kalembe, the only female presidential candidate during one of her campaign trails late last year. (Photo courtesy of the Independent)

Being a politician generally is an uphill task, but being a female politician is a different bargain. Women in politics have to bear the challenges that not only come with being a politician but also with being a woman. 

SecretsKnown in an earlier edition revealed that a total of 134 women contested against men on direct constituency positions for the 2021 general elections. Out of the 134 women, majority of whom were NRM party flag bearers, only 21 went on to win. This is an increase by 2 from the previous 19 in 2016 election. Still disturbingly low you will agree, however, pintsize progress is still progress.

Wondering why these numbers remain low? In an interview with Ms. Lillian Babirye (Executive Director, Network of Women in Politics-NOWIP), she admitted to SecretsKnown that female candidates face hostilities in trying to access campaign funds especially in the context of the commercialized political environment. 

The financial setback is ultimately the primary reason Uganda is still witnessing low participation of women in active politics. This can be attributed to patriarchy which is engrained in our cultural and traditional architecture. 

Due to this, women do not have access to resources. Even though society is gradually shifting away from these traditional norms, patriarchy is undeniably still prevalent. Assets like land, housing, are passed on to men leaving women to depend entirely on their husbands for monetary support. 

The dominant narrative is that elective positions are for men, women must concentrate on affirmative positions only. Women are regarded as home caretakers, hence are denied the opportunity to pursue political careers or even becoming an entrepreneur. They have been conditioned to rely on husbands for financial help.

It is almost impossible for them to join politics because they cannot self-sufficiently support the inevitable costs that come with campaigns. A report by ACFIM estimated that on average, a candidate for member of parliament spends a minimum of 500 million UGX ($135,135) in campaigns which is rather expensive for women. 

In addition to this, women cover a wider geographical scope because they are tasked with covering an entire district in comparison to their male counterparts that only cover a constituency. This involves more fuel, and campaign administration costs. 

Some women in the just concluded election gave away their assets as collateral to get loans to finance their campaigns. Many of them are now in debt and have since sold off most of their property since they lost the election.

SecretsKnown has further learned that sexual harassment is one of the biggest challenges women that aspire to take political positions face. The so-called godfathers of political parties understandably demand for sex in exchange for the party flag. These godfathers are “vultures” who view young women coming to the political arena for the first time, as prey. Thus, they demand sex in exchange for providing access to the political party platform/ticket.

Flavia Kalule – a young female politician who is the newly elected Woman Member of Parliament for Kassanda district, confirmed that sexualization of women is indeed a reality where no woman is spared.

Kalule decried the situation where women are not looked at for what they can offer, their capabilities, experience but are looked at sexually. In her experience, women are not only harassed by party officials but also by voters. In some of the areas she campaigned, male voters made sexual connotations and questions on why she isn’t married being a younger candidate. Some men even demand hugs and touch women’s bodies inappropriately in exchange for a vote.

An unfortunate incident happened in Kassanda district when one of the female local council contestants who was riding a motorbike got an accident that killed her instantly. This is just one of the cases of women that get injured because they are forced to use public transportation which may not be convenient in accessing hard-to-reach areas whereas most of their male colleagues can afford convenient private vehicles.

“The hurdles female politicians face is definitely not for the faint-hearted” Lillian stated. She went on to expose that most men become inferior when women rise up to take on leadership offices resulting into gender-based violence. This is because their title changes from housewife to honorable, men, therefore, sabotage the women’s efforts by confiscating their property with intentions of frustrating their efforts.

If not for Affirmative action that allows special representation for women giving them 146 seats, parliament would only have 25 women. This provision however needs to be reviewed because women that have for long stood under the affirmative seats have blocked out many young zealous newcomers. They have amerced power and wealth and consequently have an advantage point over the younger women. 

Putting all these factors into consideration, it is therefore not surprising that Uganda still has a very insignificant percentage of women participation in politics despite the fact that women comprise 52% of the Ugandan population.

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