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It is so interesting how people distance themselves from feminism yet they are feminists. Today, I read an article in one of the daily  Uganda newspapers and the writer was explaining the fact that there is no distinct line between girls and mathematics; and the false  belief that mathematics and beautiful girls are like  oil and water- they do not mix. She further explained that she learnt from an early age that being a female wasn’t a disadvantage.  “I really get upset when opportunities are denied to one by a virtue of their gender, I hate stereotypes … I hate living in a box” she declared. And then she put a disclaimer, I don’t count myself a feminist, in fact I don’t quite understand what feminism is really about.

  In simple terms, Feminism is an ideology that believes in the social, political, and economic equality of women and men full stop. It challenges  and questions the power imbalance between men and women, discrimination, injustice and marginalization of women and girls in all spheres of life.

So why it is that many people feel uncomfortable with the word Feminism?

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In September 2015, I was privileged to participate in the third African School on Internet Governance(AfriSIG) that took place is Addis Ababa. The goal of AfriSIG is to give Africans from multiple sectors and stakeholder groups the opportunity to gain knowledge and confidence to enable them to participate effectively in internet governance processes and debates at national regional and global level.

The 2015 AfriSIG brought together  is a diverse and dynamic group of people with different, expertise, age and gender identities. Being at the AfriSIG was  a whole new experience to me and  made me realise how little I know about the internet and internet governance in particular despite that fact that I use it on a daily basis. One of the remarkable assignments at AfriSIG was the practicum where  students  were  grouped  into four stakeholder teams that  included the Business Community, Civil Society, Government and the Technical Community. Each team was tasked to develop a policy statement on the subject of Net Neutrality and Zero rating. 

Net neutrality is the principle that individuals should be free to access all content on the internet and applications equally, regardless of the source, without Internet service providers discriminating against specific online services or websites

On the other hand, a zero-rated service  refers to services that do not incur data costs and are exempt from data usage counts. This practice generally refers to mobile carriers offering free mobile data so that customers can access particular forms of online content and services at no additional cost to the carrier’s customers or without having associated data usage counted against the costumer’s usage allowance under the hired wireless service plan.

I was in a group that presented the interests of the civil society. Sincerely speaking, this assignment brought out the dynamics and complexities involved in public policy formulation process, the nature of stakeholders and their vested interests. Even within the individual interest groups, it was very difficult to reach at a consensus because the groups were composed of different categories of people from different institutions. The civil society group composed of the Academia, Charity NGO, Multinational Advocacy organisation, Non Commercial Internet user, Privacy advocacy, rights advocacy and a Youth group. All these people have different values and priorities and at time they contradict each other. I also believe that this was not any different from other  stakeholder groups.

Similarly, the nature of the policy issues were also confusing because  they seem to contradict each other. Net neutrality as mentioned above  is the principle that individuals should be free to access all content and applications on internet equally, regardless of the source, without Internet service providers discriminating against specific online services or websites. On the other hand, Zero rating refers to the provision of access to certain internet services by internet service providers in such a way that the bandwidth consumed is not charged to the customer. Although zero rating has been embraced as a solution to bridge the digital divide especially in Africa by increasing  internet access and affordability, it contradicts the principle of net neutrality. Therefore it was very challenging for stakeholders to come up with clear positions within a short period of time.

In actual sense, this discussion was a clear reflection of what happens in real policy negotiations and formulation processes between different stakeholders who have different interests especially the civil society organisation who are rarely given an opportunity to present their issues.

Thanks to  the faulty team of #AfriSIG for organising and facilitating this mock  exercise that  exposed us  to the  realities and complexities of  public policy making.

When one mentions gender, what comes into your mind? Well, I guess it might not be different from what Oxford dictionary provides as the fact of being male or female. Gender has become a concept that is used in contemporary development vocabulary and is literally  defined as  the social cultural roles  ascribed to women and men because of their biological differences.  It has also become fashionable that every intervention, policy or program will have a component called gender. Many times, I  hear people saying that we have gender in our institution, organization programme etc because we have both men and women  and   others ask, where is gender (meaning women and men) in all this.

I should say that before I attended a gender training recently, my outlook and understanding of gender was not very different from what I have described above. I also believe that could be the perception of many people except for a few or handful who have had an opportunity to interrogate the concept beyond the surface denotation.  In this piece of writing, I would like to shade more lights on the deeper understanding and appreciation of gender for the benefit of you reading this.

Although gender is defined as the social cultural construction of roles between men and women, there is need to interpret the meaning of the roles and attributes assigned to men and women.  By doing this, one can understand that gender is not  being female or male but  the hidden historical power differences, inequality and injustice between women and men and society at large.

Connell (2002) defines gender in contemporary world as the massive hierarchies of power which cannot be reduced to male /female difference. Therefore, gender is about questioning and challenging power indifference.

Connell further stresses that gender arrangements are reproduced socially and not biologically by the power structures to constrain individuals and the arrangements are always changing as and may differ from one cultural context to another.

In other words, gender is a social structure that go beyond individual interactions between men and women. At one point, someone asked, If gender is the relationship between women and men, how do we account for power relations between women only groups or men only groups? Therefore dealing with gender goes beyond dealing with an individual women or men but also power structures in our society.  Gender challenges the current and historical power relations in a family, community, religious institutions, schools, workplace, the media, corporations and the state. of the weaker group which might not necessarily be women only.  Therefore, gender analysis interrogates the rules/ practices (both formal and informal) and how they permit or limit different categories of people in terms of who does what, who gets what, and who can claim what.

So each time you to encounter or hear the word gender do not diminish it to mean women’s issues, men and women, sex etc.  It is bigger than that; it is about challenging historical and current  power relations, discrimination, exploitation and inequalities so as to achieve social justice and equality. Nothing short of that.

My next reflection will be on patriarchy and feminist theories. Watch the space.

On May 4, 2015, the president of the Republic of Uganda, H.E Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni addressed a high level thematic debate on strengthening cooperation between the United Nations and Regional sub-regional organizations in New York.

womens agencyAs the global women’s movement  mark 15 years of UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, the UN marks 70 years of existence. In his speech, Mr. Museveni   pointed out that at the time of UN formation; many of African countries did not exist as independent countries and therefore they were not represented just like the women who were absent.

Mr. Museveni acknowledges the fact that since 1945, there have been reforms at the UN  but most of the fundamental structures that were created after World War II by the victorious powers, such as the powers conferred upon the Permanent Five countries in the Security Council, remain unchanged. Although the UN provides for cooperation between the UN and Regional Organizations, the crucial decisions of international peace and security, within the Security Council, are mostly taken by the veto-wielding members.

If the Security Council members that took military action in Libya had listened to the voice of Africa, the present chaos in Libya, Nigeria, Mali, the people who are dying in the Mediterranean sea from the African shores trying to get to Europe, could have been avoided” said Mr. Museveni.

In light of gender, every day gender struggles between women and men are embedded  power difference  in terms of  who does what, who gets what and  who frames the agenda.

Mr. Museveni  emphasizes the UN should  reaffirm the Principle of Complementarity envisaged in Chapter VIII of the Charter as the basis for building and strengthening cooperation between the UN and regional and sub-regional organizations.  This means that the UN should respect processes that are undertaken by the regional organizations especially in areas of conflict resolution.

He calls for the establishment of the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC) which an African is owned initiative for rapid military intervention as and when the need arises, to quickly respond to crisis situations on the African continent. Mr. Museveni termed  the UN Peace Keeping Mission as a ‘sitting duck’ mission with no peace to keep because of the restrictions of the mission.

He concludes with a question of ideological disorientation such as religion, tribe, gender and race which leads to misdiagnosis of social, political or economic issues.

Click here to Read the Full Speech

budget2015The National Budget is a key instrument through which governments implement their policies. It is an annual plan of expenditures and income. It is also a plan of what monies the government expects to receive in forms of tax revenues against how much it expects to spend in a given financial year. The National budget is usually derived from projected domestic and external revenue and these are determined by several factors such as past trends, efficiency gains, growth in volume of imports, elasticity of taxes, real growth in the real monetary GDP and prices. Normally, prioritization of sectors in the National Budget is based on interventions with direct impact on growth and poverty   reductions in a given country. s guide sector prioritization. Budget consultations start from top to bottom entailing cabinet retreats, budget call circulars and Local Government Local Government (LG) workshops.

Last week, I attended a meeting by the Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG), to analyze the Uganda National Budget Framework Paper (BFP) for the financial year 2015/16. The National Budget Framework Paper (BFP) outlines Government interventions for Social and Economic Development in a given financial year and provides link between Government’s overall policies and the Annual Budget. It lays out the fiscal policy framework and strategy for the budget year and in the medium term setting out how the Government intends to achieve its policy objectives over the medium term through the budget. The national BFP has three sections: Part 1 sets out the Government’s Medium Term macroeconomic forecast, Medium Term Fiscal Framework and Forecast, Charter of Fiscal Responsibility, the Resource Envelope and Annual Budget for and Fiscal Risks; Part 2 sets out Government’s Policy measures and programmes for social and economic development, as well as the indicative expenditure framework in FY 2015/16 and the medium term; and Part 3 provides details of proposed sector plans and expenditures.

My focus  in the budget paper on financing for social development. Although  the country is struggling to spend  within its means by reducing the total budget from 15829.9bn in FY 2014/15 to 14472.05bn in FY 2015/16, the cut has affected more of the social sectors such as  agriculture, education and health. Therefore the government’s proposal to reduce health budget by 317.4bn (from 1281bn to 963.7bn), Education by 45.3 bn (from 2026.6bn to 1981bn), agriculture by 56.7 (from 473.3bn to 4170bn) to mention but a few and yet Public Administration budget has increased by 155.3bn (from 554.8bn to 710.1bn), interest payment 678.4bn (from 1082.9bn to 1761.3bn) should be revised.

Reducing money of sectors that have direct impact on Uganda’s population will affect the overall welfare of the people and at the same time, increase the general economic costs  of o taking  care of sick, illiterate and hungry citizens.

Activists marching through Busia to to raise awareness

Activists marching through Busia town  to raise awareness on SGBV

In december 2014 I was in Busia district, Eastern Uganda on a campaign to end Sexual and Gender based Violence (SGBV) organized by the Institute for Social Transformation (IST) and Isis-WICCE in Partnership with Busia Local Government.  The aim of the campaign was to mobilize communities in Busia district to discuss strategies to address the increasing SGBV cases.

According to Police files, on a daily basis at least three cases related to SGBV are reported and over 80 cases a month. These are only the reported cases and remember that so many cases remain unreported.

Over 2000 women, men, youth and local leaders from different sub counties in the district participated in the

discussions.

Dressed in their usual African dresses and non-traditional African attires in different styles, designs and colors with majority putting on head covers, the women listened attentively in the discussions and actively participated in different activities such as the march and group discussions.

Women during listening  to the facilitator during the discussion

Women  listening to the facilitator during the discussion

I kept observing  the crowds of women and then, I remembered that 20 years ago, the Beijing Conference took place and was a seen as major breakthrough in the history of gender struggles and women’s empowerment. The conference came out with what is known as the Beijing Platform for Action. The Platform established twelve Critical Areas of Concern that needed to be addressed in order to achieve political, social, economic, cultural, and environmental security among all people. These Areas are poverty; education; health; violence; armed conflict; the economy; power and decision-making; mechanisms for women’s advancement; women’s human rights; mass media; the environment; and, the girl child. For each critical area of concern, the problem was diagnosed and strategic objectives and concrete actions were e proposed for Governments and others stakeholders.

I asked myself, do these women know that there is Beijing Platform for Action and other human rights instruments that guarantee protection and promotion of women’s rights and gender equality?  As confirmed by Dr. Thelma Awori, the Executive Director of IST, women in Busia are afraid to stand up for their rights, afraid to take advantage of  the laws that are in place and have resigned to violence  that ‘what can I do, I just have to suffer’.

This state of hopelessness is what many women globally experience every day. Statistics from UN Women reports indicate that between 15 and 76 percent of women are targeted for physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime and most of this violence takes place within intimate relationships.

Therefore as the world reviews twenty years of Beijing Platforn for Action code named ‘Beijing+20’,many questions  remain unanswered.  Why aren’t these frameworks changing the lives of women? What can be done differently? Are there any hopes of breaking through patriarchy? Are women losing the struggle against gender equality?

On July 31, 2014, the elders of Ethur in Abim district, Northern Uganda imposed 6-months alcohol ban on women. This was agreed upon during their meeting that was convened to discuss matters affecting social lives of the Ethur and the major topic of discussion was reckless manner in which women behaved when drunk. Indeed, this is a good practice of ensuring that communities live together in peace and harmony. But  the concern here is why discuss the behavior of women only women? Don’t men also misbehave when they are drunk? This decision brings in mind many questions and unearths the cruel realities, violations and discrimination that women face in their daily lives. This is typical patriarchy at work and unfortunately, society has normalized it.

The Elders further stated that if one woman violates this ban, all the women will pay, because they failed to guide their member. And as part of the payment, woman will kill a bull for the elders, and each of the women will be required to brew a certain quantity of local beer (Kwete) for the elders. Really, this is selfishness of men   and unfair treatment of women

Why should women be judged differently from men? If they must ban alcohol it should be for everyone not for just women. Where is the Gender Equality that is inscribed in our constitution, policies and other international Human Rights Instruments. In any case do these people know that such instruments exist? So where is the missing link?