|Balancing the Scales - Participants' Manual (Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development - Uganda, 1999, 100 p.)|
|6. The Policy Environment|
'All Persons Are Equal'
In advocating equality, the Constitution prohibits gender-based discrimination in all aspects of Uganda's social, economic and political life. In so doing, the Constitution fulfils the country's commitment under the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which requires that all signatory governments take the necessary actions to ensure that women enjoy this equality.
Equality between men and women is fostered through the use of 'gender-inclusive' language.
For the first time, the Constitution includes the term 'he/she' and refers to 'Chairperson' instead of 'Chairman'.
Within the section of principles concerned with the protection and promotion of fundamental and other human rights, there are two that relate directly to gender:
"The State shall ensure gender balance and fair representation of marginalised groups on all constitutional and other bodies."
"The State shall recognise the significant role that women play in society."
Protection of Fundamental Human Rights
The Chapter on Human Rights 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 or colour; where he/she comes from; his/her religion, status or political opinion.
Article 21 affirms equality and freedom from discrimination:
"All persons are equal before and under the law... a person shall not be discriminated against on the grounds of sex, race, colour, ethnic origin, tribe, birth, creed or religion, or social or economic standing, political opinion or disability."
The Constitution prohibits laws, customs and traditions that are against the dignity, welfare or interest of women or which undermine their status. Traditional cultures have historically been biased against women; the oppression and prejudice which women are trying to break free from is rooted in the customary and traditional belief that they are inferior to men. Women can rely on this provision in the Constitution as a powerful tool for their emancipation.
Article 32 assures affirmative action in favour of marginalised groups:
"Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, the State shall take affirmative action in favour of groups marginalised on the basis of gender, age, disability or any other reason created by history, tradition or custom, for the purpose of redressing imbalances which exist against them."
Article 33 deals specifically with the rights of women:
i Women shall be accorded full and equal dignity of the person with men.
ii The State shall provide the facilities and opportunities necessary to enhance the welfare of women to enable them to realise their full potential and advancement.
iii The State shall protect women and their rights, taking into account their unique status and natural maternal functions in society.
iv Women shall have the right to equal treatment with men and that right shall include equal opportunities in political, economic and social activities.
v Without prejudice to Article 32 of this Constitution, women shall have the right to affirmative action for the purpose of redressing the imbalances created by history, tradition or custom.
vi Laws, cultures, customs or traditions which are against the dignity, welfare or interest of women or which undermine their status, are prohibited by this Constitution.
The State is enjoined to 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 that protect women when they are pregnant or nursing children. A woman should not, for instance, be penalised 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.
Representation in Parliament
Article 78, which concerns the composition of Parliament, reserves a seat for one woman representative from every district.
Women can stand against men and fellow women in any constituency in Uganda. As an affirmative action, women are given additional representation in Parliament by making it compulsory for each district to have at least one woman representing it. This affirmative action is necessary because of uncertainty about the number of women who may be elected at ordinary constituency level.
Traditional culture and customs still play a big part in hindering women from fair political participation. Another hurdle is a general lack of finances to organise campaigns. These and other factors have contributed to a notable lack of women in the political arena in the past.
These provisions will be reviewed 10 years after the establishment of the Constitution, to assess whether they are still necessary or not.
After that, affirmative action will be reviewed every five years.
Representation in Local Government
Article 180 determines that one third of the membership of each local government council shall be reserved for women.
This provision is made to ensure that women achieve participation in decision-making from the grassroots. The modalities of reserving one third of the seats for women are worked out by Parliament.