|Women and the 1995 Constitution of Uganda (Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development - Uganda - WIDDANDA, 1995, 22 p.)|
2.1. The new Constitution means a lot for the women of Uganda. It advocates for equality and protection under the law for every Ugandan; women, men, children, youth, the disabled and other members of the community.
2.2 In advocating for equality, the Constitution prohibits gender based discrimination in all aspects of social, economic and political life of the country. In this way the new Constitution fulfills the commitments of our country under UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Under the convention, the government, intergovernmental bodies, private institutions and all citizens, are required to take the necessary actions to ensure that women enjoy this equality.
Language of the Constitution
2.3 The new Constitution recognizes the importance of women in two ways, First, Women, are catered for in terms of equality by the use of gender inclusive language; secondly the Constitution has provisions that are of specific concern to women. For the first time, the Constitution uses gender inclusive language i.e. he/she, him/she, and Chairperson instead of Chairman. This is a very big step forward because the language of the Constitution acknowledges the existence of women in their own right as human beings and not tied to men. In the old Constitution the language was used in the masculine to describe both men and women. This, as in many other instances was bound to be interpreted to exclude the women.
National, objectives and directive principles of state policy
2.4 What is said under this section of the Constitution should guide the Government organs and agencies, as well as the citizens, organisations or other groups in interpreting the Constitution, making policies and taking actions which affect the welfare of Ugandans on matters contained in it.
It is a national manifesto which expresses the aspirations of all Ugandans and what government do to fulfil them.
Government cannot be taken to a court of law for not fulfilling these principles but the people of Uganda can decide not to vote for a Government which does not comply with the National Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy. The people can also freely and openly ask government for explanations as to why the principles are not being followed by government in different situations. Some of the provisions that are of specific relevance to women under this section include the following:
The state shall ensure gender balance and fair representation of marginalised groups on all Constitutional and other bodies controlled by the state.
Women being among the marginalised groups can rely on this provision to ensure that they are fairly represented on bodies such as the
· Electoral Commission,
· Equal Opportunities Commission,
· Human Rights Commission,
· National Planning Authority,
· Judicial Service Commission,
· Public Service Commission,
· Education Service Commission,
· Health Service Commission,
· Local Government Structures,
· Inspectorate of Government,
· Uganda Land Commission and other Commissions and Authorities.
It is provided that: The state Government and its organ, shall recognize the important role women play in society. For the first time women are being recognized as being important and their contribution to development is as important as that of men.
The National objectives also make provision for free and compulsory basic education. It is the intention of government that all citizens enjoy free basic education. If implemented this would reduce the currently large percentage of illiterate women. This provision will enable all girls to go to school and be educated. Usually when parents have little money they would rather pay fees for boys and leave girls at home. At times, even parents who are able, refuse to pay school fees for their daughters.
The family is to be protected by society and by the state. Protection of the family by the state means that laws will be passed and effective mechanisms established to enhance the importance of the family in society
2.5 Any person born in Uganda or outside Uganda will be a Ugandan citizen if his/her parents or grand parents were a member of the indigenous communities living in Uganda on 1st February 1926.
2.6 This Article in the Constitution provides that if a persons parents, grand parents or great grand parents were members of a tribe or tribes which lived in Uganda when the borders of Uganda became permanent on 1st February, 1926 - then that person will be a citizen so long as one of his/her parents, grand parents or great grand parents man or woman was a Uganda.
2.7 This provision is a breakthrough for the women in Uganda because according to custom and the Uganda Constitution of 1967, a person became a citizen through the father and not through the mother. The new Constitution gives a right of citizenship through a woman even if she is married to a foreign man. The child, if he/she wishes, has a right to Ugandan citizenship.
Protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms
Protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms
2.8 The Chapter on Human proclaims the equality of all persons, men and women, before and under the law. It states clearly that a person should not be treated differently because of his/her sex, race, colour, where he/she comes from, his/her religion, status or political opinion.
2.9. With this provision in place, it is against the law to discriminate against women because they are women. This will ensure that women have equal access to resources, equal pay for equal work done; Women will not be penalized on the basis of their specific maternal functions.
2.10 The Chapter, among other things, gives rights to both men and women of 18 years or above to get married. This provision clearly addresses the problem of child marriages which affect the future of many young girls in Uganda today.
2.11 Both men and women have equal rights in marriage, during marriage and at its end or dissolution. This means marriage is a vital partnership in which both parties should have mutual respect for one another and treat each other as grown up adults with different needs and perception.
2.12 The provision prohibiting the subjection of a person to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment must be used to protect women from violence in the home which endangers the lives of many women. In this there is a great need to teach the police and other law enforcement officers, the mental and physical harm that spring from domestic violence.
2.13 In the same Chapter it is stated:
Women shall be accorded full and equal dignity of the person with men.
This means society must realize and acknowledge that apart from the physical or anatomical difference, a woman is much a human being as a man and that the differences in each are complementary.
The state shall provide the facilities and opportunities necessary to enhance the welfare of women to enable them realize their full potential. In this regard Government is required to make special arrangements and pass necessary laws and regulations which enable women to advance to the best of their capabilities. A woman will be given opportunity for self fulfillment and self-realization
The state shall protect women and their rights, taking Into account their special and natural reproductive function in society. This means that the Government, while making sure that women are given equal opportunities for self-development with men, will also ensure that there are laws which protect women when they are pregnant or nursing children. A woman should not, for instance be penalized by denial of promotion or professional advancement because she is married, pregnant or nursing or because she has to go on maternity leave from time to time.
Women shall have the right to equal treatment with men and that right shall include equal opportunities in political, economic and social activities. This provision in the Constitution gives a woman the right to participate in politics both as a voter and as a candidate for an elective office.
In the economic sphere, the provision gives women and men equal access to resources and benefits. For instance, a woman can own land in her own right, i.e. in her own names and not in the names of her father or husband or brothers. It also means that women can inherit property equally as widows/widowers or as sisters and brothers or daughters/son.
The provision also implies the need for change in the socialization processes of different communities. The place of Women and girls should no longer be relegated to a second class position in society.
Women shall have a right to affirmative action for the purpose of redressing the imbalance created by history, tradition or customs.
This provision strengthens the case for emancipation of women through temporary positive discrimination. It is the duty of women to identify the areas in which affirmative action for them should be applied.
The constitution prohibits laws, cultures, customs and traditions which are against the dignity, welfare or interest of women or which undermine their status. Tradition, culture and customs have historically been biased against women and the yoke of oppression and prejudice which women are trying to break is rooted in the customary and traditional belief that they are inferior to men. Women can rely on this provision a powerful tool for their emancipation.
2.14 The Constitution provides that any person or organisation may bring an action against the violation of other persons or groups human rights.
2.15 This is a major departure from the previous practice whereby only a person or organisation directly affected could take action on a case involving the violation of the human rights of an individual or group. This provision is important to women because it makes it possible for an individual or organisation with the will and means to take action on their behalf. This means that individuals, non Governmental Organisations, Community Based Organisations or any other bodies concerned about the rights women and other disadvantaged groups can now seek justice on their behalf in our Courts of Law. Women or other disadvantaged groups may, because of social, economic, political, cultural or traditional reasons, be unable or unwilling to enforce their rights.
2.16 Political systems
The constitution prohibits a person from forming a political party for men or women only Art. 71 (d) directs that members of the national executive of a political party must be both men and women. This provision ensures a proper and fair representation of women in the executive of political parties.
2.17 The legislature
Parliament shall consist of:-
a) Members directly elected to represent Constituencies.
b) One woman representative for every District.
One woman representative for every District.
Women can stand against men and fellow women in any constituency in Uganda. As an affirmative action women are given an additional number in the Parliament by making each district have a woman to represent it. In this case only women compete at District level. This affirmative action is necessary because of the uncertainty about the number of women who may be elected at ordinary constituency level. Tradition, culture and customs still play a big part in hindering women from fair political participation Another hurdle is lack of finances to organize campaigns. These and other factors have contributed to lack of visibility of women in the political arena in the past.
Affirmative action will be reviewed after ten years to assess whether it is still necessary or not. After that affirmative action will be reviewed every five years.
2.18 The executive
Any citizen of Uganda man or woman can offer himself or herself as a candidate for the Presidency so long as he/she meets the requirement as to qualification i.e. citizenship, age, education and character. The requirement for fair representation of women in Government makes it necessary for the Cabinet to have a balance between women and men.
One third of the membership of each local government council shall be reserved for women
This provision is made to ensure that women participate in decision making right from the grass roots. The modalities of arriving at one third seats, which must be reserved for women, shall have to be worked out by Parliament, However, what is not clear is whether the third reserved for women is the only quantity women can aspire to fill. If the provision had been: At least one third of the membership of each local government council shall be reserved for women then the chances of other membership positions being taken by women would have been clear. It is up to Parliament to work out the law in such away that a third of the membership of local government council reserved for women is the minimum and not the maximum.