Women's Engagement with Political Parties in Contemporary Africa: Reflections on Uganda's Experience

Friday, January 1, 2010
J. Ahikire, Centre for Policy Studies, South Africa
Eastern Africa

This paper reviews and reflects on the experience of women's political engagement in contemporary Uganda after the introduction of multiparty competitive elections in 2006. While the paper explores the recent political changes in Uganda and the experiences of women, it places this in a comparative context, by reflecting briefly on the experiences of other selected countries on the continent. It points out that while women's representation in politics appears to have improved in Uganda, the concrete reality – particularly in relation to their location within the political parties – still leaves a lot to be desired.

The brief highlights the following:

  • While the presence of women in Ugandan politics has improved significantly as a result of the formal quota system, it has nevertheless had the effect of constructing and entrenching the position of women in society as secondary citizens
  • Party leadership has remained male-dominated. Apart from the one case of the Uganda people's congress where a woman was elected as chair of the party after her husband's death, all parties clearly demonstrate lack of inclusiveness
  • Out of the 808 candidates in the 2006 parliamentary race for the mainstream seats, only 33 were women, constituting only 4.1 percent of the electoral contest.
  • The majority of women politicians in Uganda, including other prominent women, tend to belong to the dominant party. Therefore women stand a much better chance of success in terms of mobilising for gender equality, not only within the ruling party but also in terms of government public policies.

This paper offers a number of recommendations and conclusions, including:

  • As Uganda prepares for the general elections in 2011, the experiences of other countries in the continent will provide vital lessons to draw from, in terms of genuine women's representation in politics and government.
  • Multiparty politics is crucial to achieving substantial women's political participation; women must be part of political parties and internal processes to drive change from within
  • A specific space for women within the parties is necessary, so long as it is used by women themselves to act strategically rather than for top-down manipulation and patronisation.
  • Proportional representation electoral systems increase prospects for a fairer representation of women in politics and government, through political parties, especially in the absence of constitutionally mandated representation quotas. However, a strong women's movement is necessary for setting standards, norms and accountability
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Women\'s Engagement Political Parties Africa Uganda, Ahikire, 2010