On May 3, the Electoral Commission (EC) embarked on a one-month nationwide voter registration exercise hoping to register 3.5 million voters who have attained 18 years and above but who had never registered with the EC, the majority of whom are women. This was preceded by the reorganisation of polling stations that took place early this year.
The move was expected to increase in the number of polling stations to 21,000 from 19,788, the number estimated to adequately serve the projected 13 million voters up from about 10.4 million voters.
However, there has been a public outcry over the limited voter education by the EC as well as the short time slated for this exercise. Just last week, opposition legislators demanded for an extension of the deadline for the national voters registration exercise citing flaws, which among others, included the poor quality of cameras which slows the process. Some people say they do not know the designated places where the registration exercise is conducted.
It is doubtful whether the EC will register the intended 3.5 million voters given what is happening. As the EC carries out voters education, it should take cognisance of the fact that women are less accessible just like they have less access to information given their low literacy levels compared to men.
In rural areas, many women do not understand most of the written voting instructions. Besides, they have limited or no access to radios or TVs even within their households; very few of them can afford to buy newspapers , and many more are bound by domestic chores and responsibilities in their homes or places of workplace. All these factors hamper women's effective participation in the democratic processes such as the current voter registration exercise.
Voter education should focus on sensitising women about their rights as voters so that they could recognise the value of their participation in the electoral process. When this is done, the number of women participating in the electoral process will have to increase. The EC should apply various awareness-raising approaches to promote the participation and involvement of women in the forthcoming general elections. For example, the EC should identify agents who regularly interface with women in markets, village meetings, churches, hospital, and associations at community level that are frequently used by women.
Furthermore, voter registration procedures should be accessible, transparent, safe, and inclusive and should not disadvantage women. Ahead of the 2011 elections, the status of women who constitute more than half of the estimated 31 million Ugandans should be a central concern. This is because a few Ugandan women are aware of their political rights. They also do not know that their votes could make a difference in the upcoming elections.
The EC should use the remaining time before elections to mobilise the hard-to-reach population including women so as to support them register and be able to vote come 2011.
In view of the many challenges, there is need to give voters registration exercise ample time in order to guarantee that a clean voters register is developed. Sensitise the public especially the women to enable them exercise their right as provide for by the Constitution