Gender Blind Presidential Election in Uganda

On Thursday February 18, 2016 Ugandans cast their votes to elect a new president after several months of campaigns by eight presidential candidates who included one woman.  In this article, our partner organization FOKUS analyses the presidential campaigns from a gender perspective.

The Ugandan Constitution states that parliament shall be composed of one female representative from each district, which means 30 percent of the members of parliament. In 2014, women held 35 percent of the seats in the Ugandan parliament.

With support from UNESCO, FOKUS is conducting research on women’s political participation in Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya.

Two of FOKUS´ key partner organizations in Uganda, Isis – Women´s International Cross Cultural Exchange (Isis-WICCE) and Uganda Media Women Association (UMWA), do not think today’s election will cause changes for women or improve gender equality.

According to Helen Kezie-Nwoha, the current director of Isis-WICCE, none of the candidates offer any gender specific solutions. They tend to stay on issues like poor service delivery, corruption, constitutional amendments, governance and security, with no reference to gender.

Although, candidates anchor their campaign message on women’s health, education and economic empowerment, the issues of land and property rights are not mentioned, yet these issues are at the core of women’s productivity and economic livelihood, Kezie-Nwoha says.

In Uganda, more than 80 percent of women and 70 percent of men derive their livelihood from agriculture. Yet, the presidential candidates do not provide solutions to the current challenges women face in order to get land and property.

If the status quo does not change, the economic situation of the majority of rural women will remain the same, the Isis-WICCE director says.


Most of the electoral processes exclude women as candidates, voters and campaign agents. Kwzie- Nwoha thinks this has to do with the patriarchal nature of the society that marginalizes women causing persistent inequality between women and men in all spheres.

Research carried out by the Women’s Democracy group in Uganda indicates that women do not have time to listen to candidates due to chores connected to traditional gender roles. As a result, they miss out on critical information, especially from candidates who use campaign platforms to conduct voter education.

As candidates, women face negative attitudes, and they are judged based on their marital status. Most single women are perceived not qualified to take leadership positions.

Another issue is the quota system that reserve seats for women. It is generally believed that women should not stand on the open seats, but settle for the quota seats. Women who run for open seats are seen as intruders.

Expensive campaigns

According to Margaret Sentamu-Masagazi, the Executive Director at UMWA, this election will be the most expensive election in the history of Uganda, as Museveni, the current president, is using state money to pay for his campaign.

The incumbent continues to use state resources to traverse the country on the campaign trail.  Sometimes he is taking choppers, while the rest of the candidates have to use their own means, Sentamu-Masagazi says.

According to the UMWA director, the presidential candidacy of Maureen Kyalya is suffering from low campaign budgets.   She is sometimes using a hired motor bike to get from one point to another!

 Debating is high school activity

For the second time since 2006, there has been a presidential debate. Last time, the main contenders simply sent representatives. This year, however, only the contenders themselves were allowed onto the podium.  But only seven of the eight candidates appeared on the debate on January 15. Museveni, the incumbent, failed to show. He referred to the debate as a “high school activity”, so there was no reason for him to participate, Sentamu-Masagazi says.

Election related violence

As part of efforts towards peaceful elections, the women of Uganda have established a Women’s Situation Room (WSR). It is a platform for women to provide an early warning and rapid response mechanism against election related violence or conflict in African countries.

The Women’s Situation Room was first initiated in Liberia by the Angie Brooks International Centre (ABIC) during the Liberian Elections in October and November 2011. It started amid growing awareness that violence had become a norm of African elections and the need to ensure that women play key roles in ensuring peaceful elections. Since its adoption, it has been recognized as a best practice by the African Union and has been successfully replicated in Senegal, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Malawi and Nigeria. UMWA and Isis-WICCE are two of the organizations which have been working with the project.