THE UNFINISHED STORY OF WOMEN PARTICIPATION IN 2021 ELECTIONS
The unfinished story of women participation in 2021 elections
The discourse on gender inequality in politics has largely focused on the social structural factors as barriers to women’s participation in electoral politics. The male dominance of the political and public space has largely been entrenched in the socialization of women and the patriarchal systems.
These patriarchal systems reflect the manner in which politics is structured, men having predominant roles in political leadership, moral authority, social privilege, and control over property and access to resources, including power over most decisions in life.
Women participation in 2021 elections, qualified the above narrative as the underlying driver of women exclusion in participating in electoral processes. In Uganda, women constitute 22.46 million (50.7%) of the population according to the population statistics of both the World Bank and UBOS,2019 report.
Electoral Commission statistics indicate that the number of registered voters for 2021 elections was 17.6 million of which 9.2 million are female (52.2%), and 8.4 million male (47.7%). This numerical advantage never reflected in their participation, especially as candidates.
In the 10th Parliament out of the 459 seats in Parliament, women occupied only 160 seats which constitute 34.9%. The newly constituted 11th Parliament has 167 women out of the 499 (33.5%) direct and affirmative positions. This excludes positions for special interest groups in Parliament.
During the Focus Group Discussion organized by ACFIM, women candidates singled out the three most outstanding barriers contributing to their exclusion from electoral politics. The first barrier mainly affecting women who contested on direct seats was the social construct evident among voters that direct seats are for men.
The misconception is that women through the affirmative seat have already been considered. As such women candidates on direct seats labored to explain and campaign among fellow women that direct seats were open for every gender to contest. Male candidates instead of deconstructing this misleading social narrative only took advantage of it by de-campaigning women on direct seats.
The second barrier was the commercialized electoral politics that disadvantaged women against men. Female candidates interviewed agreed with the narrative by Shauna Shames in her paper on “Barriers and Solutions to Increasing Women’s Political Power”, 2015 that the choices women make whether to contest in an electoral race are strongly affected by the costs and benefits they anticipate from a candidacy. Because most women don’t have access to resources, mobilizing campaign resources proved difficult for many.
The third and last barrier was the internal party politics within political parties that entrench institutionalized patriarchy. Women candidates interviewed by ACFIM bemoaned the process of being a flag bearer in a political party in Uganda as highly subjective.
They confessed how male patrons within the party exchanged endorsement and party approval for sexual favors. Sextortion was singled out as one of the biggest barriers to women participation within political parties. Powerful men within political parties were found to have the final say on who gets nominated and financed to contest.
As we start the new political term, discussions of moving away from gender equality to gender parity (50–50) continue to take shape. Experiences of women participating in 2021 elections already indicate that the barriers still exist and disadvantage women in participating in politics.
To achieve political parity, this will require intentioned reforms backed by actions both within policy and administrative framework to see the numbers of women participation increase. Among the many reforms, leveling the ground for women to compete is necessary, which can be better achieved through de-commercializing electoral politics.