I am Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights
Press Statement on the occasion of International Women's Day, 8th March 2020
Mr. Antonio Guterres, the United Secretary General, has noted that achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world. This has never been truer or more urgent than it is right now, especially considering that several aspects of women’s rights are still a subject of extensive debate in Uganda in the 21st Century.
This year, Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum joins the rest of the world to commemorate the International Women’s Day under the theme 'I am Generation Equality: Realising women’s rights' and this year, the focus has inevitably shifted to the role that the different generations of women leaders, activists, human rights advocates and girls can do to contribute to achieving the lofty goal of global equality for women.
Despite years of work and even formal progress in terms of legal and policy change in favour of women, there has been little real progress achieved for the ordinary woman in terms of equality and respect for their dignity. Article 33(1) of the 1995 Constitution, a very pivotal provision for the realisation of the rights of women in Uganda, demands that women be accorded equal dignity and respect as men, and to this end, Uganda as a country can celebrate 25 years of a progressive constitutional regime that has provided the necessary framework for the gains thus far achieved for the protection of women in Uganda: in 2019, 43,625 female candidates sat for the Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education examinations, representing 41.8% or all enrolled candidates; maternal mortality has reduced from 452 to 316 per 100,000 live births; about a third of the members of the 10th parliament are female, with a female speaker, 27 out of 61 (44.2%) judges of the High Court are female, the Employment Act provides for mandatory maternity leave of 3 months, which all employers must adhere to, and women have become a force to be reckoned with in such fields as business, law, medicine, education, science, sports and many others. As such, in terms of sheer numbers, Uganda has made significant strides in empowering women through various social outreach initiatives and deliberate social engineering through legal and policy initiatives, and this is all most certainly worth celebrating.
However, it is also important to note that, despite all the progress, substantive equality and social justice for women has remained largely elusive, particularly for women on the margins. Violations of the rights of female sex workers continue every year, lesbian and transgender women remain highly marginalised and in many ways criminalised, maternal mortality in Uganda has remained one of the highest in the world at 316 per 100,000 live births, high rates of teenage pregnancies (nearly one in every 4 teenagers), and thousands cases of defilement and rape are recorded annually, and 1 in every 3 women continue to experience sexual and gender based violence in Uganda.
On this day therefore, HRAPF joins the rest of the world to reiterate the promise to achieve substantive access to justice for all women through the provision of free and quality legal aid services to vulnerable and marginalised women, and to continue the relentless efforts towards the reform of discriminatory laws and policies that further perpetuate violence and marginalisation of women in Uganda. HRAPF calls upon the state, law enforcers, policy makers in all government ministries, particularly the Ministries of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Health and Education to double efforts towards the meaningful inclusion of women in various sectors of social development and transformation, particularly the meaningful involvement of marginalised and vulnerable women.
We call upon our legislators to review, together with the Uganda Law Reform Commission, the criminal laws that have continued to restrict access to essential sexual and reproductive health services, particularly for marginalised women, as well as laws that continue to subject women, such as female sex workers, to physical and sexual abuse from both their clients and the law enforcers. We appeal to the law enforcers to work towards eliminating and addressing systemic violence against women and girls in the law enforcement systems, particularly as against the poorer women, in order to ensure effective protection and respect for the rights of all women as a critical first step towards achieving true gender equality. At HRAPF, we recognise and appreciate women in all their diversities, and urge the state in commemoration of the International Women’s Day to do the same, and actively plan for all the women in Uganda to enable them realize their full potential.