Published by Patra K on

Stagnation in numbers of women on direct seats

The 9th parliament holding the first ever national women's parliament occupied by mostly women. (Photo courtesy of Mon pi mon)

In the just-concluded 2021 general elections, 134 women contested on the direct constituency seat out of which only 21 won. This figure is way below the 638 female contestants that vied for the affirmative seat out of which 157 won from 146 districts and 11 cities.

This variance clearly indicates that more women prefer to contest on the affirmative seat than the direct constituency seat. This was the background to last week’s episode of ACFIM Talks that interrogated the low numbers of women contesting on direct seats.

22-year-old Bashira Nantongo a former candidate for Busiro North in Wakiso district and current Guild president, IUIU female’s campus admitted that standing against five men for the direct constituency was strenuous, she however didn’t let their intimidation affect her campaign.

Ms. Nantongo who was featured on the show revealed that Ugandan politics is nowadays characterized by rich popular businessmen who join elective politics with no prior leadership grooming and simply join to make money. The SecretKnown here is that many young capable women just like Bashira are eliminated because they do not have the resources and find it difficult to compete against men that traditionally have access to resources.

Hon. Lamwaka Margaret, who is the current woman MP Kitgum district and MP-elect, Chua East Kitgum district is one of the few women that have actualized what the proponents of affirmative action envisioned by crossing over from the affirmative seat to direct constituency seat. 

Hon. Lamawaka who graced the show last week mentioned that after losing the district woman MP primaries last year, she was motivated to take on the direct seat even though she didn’t have money. Given her background as an educationist, the teachers in the district contributed money to finance her campaign. She, later on, came as an independent for the direct seat, in Chua east taking over from current MP, Okello Oryem Henry who doubles as the minister of foreign affairs.

She added that since few women have access to resources, many of them fear joining elective politics, let alone contest against men.  Hon. Lamwaka revealed how expensive the NRM primaries are in addition to spending in the general election. Even though the party gives its flag bearers money, those funds alone are not enough to finance the entire campaign. This is difficult because as a woman MP, you receive the same salary and yet have to cover a wider geographical scope.

Just like Ms. Nantongo, Hon. Lamwaka also contested against 5 men who ganged up against her and constantly talked ill about her to de-campaign her. Ms. Nantongo, a novice emphasized that as a woman contesting on the direct seat, you have to be able to deal with negativity and rejection because many Ugandans still assume that this position is only for men.

Due to the predominant patriarchal traditions which play a big role in deterring women from taking on the direct seats, many women who attempt to take on the direct seat are accused of trying to encroach on men’s territory.

Having contested for woman MP before, Hon. Lamwaka pointed out that campaigns for the direct seat are ideally cheaper than the Woman MP campaigns because campaigns are confined within a constituency, whereas those on affirmative action are required to traverse an entire district which is expensive.

Hon. Lamwaka however made it clear that the direct seat campaign becomes equally expensive because one has to make rounds and campaign in circles to counter unsolicited, derogatory remarks uttered by male candidates who usually de-campaign women that attempt to contest against them accusing them of being disrespectful.  

Also, since the men usually have more resources, they gift voters which may, in turn, influence the voters’ opinion. A woman in the race has to go back and counter all these to win the voters back.

In order for women to navigate these challenges, there is a need for awareness campaigns for people at the grassroots to understand affirmative action. Voters need to be educated based on one’s ability to articulate and represent on the floor of parliament rather than focus on gender. Hon. Lamwaka also recommended that a policy be put in place for women to have at least two terms so that they leave room for other women.

Ms, Nantongo conclusively suggested that women in affirmative seats need to groom and nurture younger women rather than clinging onto these positions for too long.

If you missed this episode, you can still watch it using the link below:

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