February 18, 2017 marked one year since the 2016 general elections were held in Uganda.
Any party that forms government must be held accountable by citizens for its promises as integrated in its manifesto. Citizens pay taxes to ensure that government provides services.
The Uganda National Women’s Manifesto (2016-2021) stipulates five issues that were identified as priorities for Ugandan women prior to the 2016 elections. The issues are: women’s health, women and education, women’s land and property rights; women’s economic empowerment; and women, politics and decision-making. This article focuses on women’s education.
With regard to education, the women’s manifesto (2016-2021) demanded the following: Sexuality education and life skills development in schools to reduce vulnerability of girls to teenage pregnancies and unsafe abortions; ensure that the ministry of education and sports designs policy and program measures to mobilize and sensitize parents and communities for positive and progressive change in attitude and perception towards education, especially for the girl child; enhance investment in school infrastructure, changing rooms for girls as part of construction plans for toilets and access to clean water; develop policies and plans for retention of girls in school and ensure that they are enforced in all parts of Uganda; develop and enforce policies guaranteeing return to school of teenage girls who get pregnant; increase scholarships for girls and women, especially in science courses and; enhance affirmative action for female teachers.
The NRM manifesto promised to do the following with regard to women’s education: Work with women councils, community development officers (CDOs) and sub-county chiefs to sensitize parents on dangers of early marriage; require head teachers to report to police any girl who drops out of school as a result of early marriage or pregnancy and to enforce the laws of Uganda on defilement.
Reports are required from ministry of education and sports, ministry of gender, ministry of justice and non-state actors in the education sector to assess progress on this aspect since the 2016 elections.
The NRM pledged to continue implementing affirmative action strategies in accordance with constitutional and statutory provisions to enhance women’s empowerment. Affirmative action strategies for girls’ education must be reviewed.
Some advocates for girls’ education have argued that a blanket affirmative action of 1.5 points given to girls for admission to public institutions of higher learning should be revised to address the bias against rural schools.
NRM pledged to offer free sanitary pads to address dropout rates of girls in primary and secondary schools. This pledge has not been fulfilled inspite of the importance of menstrual hygiene to the dignity and wellbeing of girls.
Without finding feasible and sustainable solutions to the management of menstrual hygiene for school girls, bearing in mind the vulnerability of some families due to poverty, Uganda’s Vision 2040 and National Development Plan II will not be achieved because creation of skilled human capital through quality education is critical to attainment of these goals.
In the one year since the 2016 elections, specific demands of women in the women’s manifesto with regard to education have, to a large extent, not been met. Pledges on girls’ education, if prioritized, can improve the status of girls’ education, women’s health and women’s economic empowerment.
For instance, on NRM’s pledge to provide sanitary pads, there are women groups in districts like Nebbi, Luweero and Masaka making reusable sanitary pads.
Instead of dishonoring this pledge, government should identify these women groups, vet their production facilities for adherence to standards of hygiene and supply them with the materials that they need to produce and provide pads at a subsidized cost.
Investment in these groups can enhance economic empowerment of women. Emergency sanitary pads should be provided to schools with a budget drawn from UPE grants to each school. This is especially important for schools in rural areas where poverty at times limits capacity of parents to provide basic essentials for their children.
Ultimately, government should address corruption; strengthen its poverty reduction programs to enable every household in Uganda to be in a position to provide basic requirements for children to study, including sanitary pads for girls. Conduct civic awareness in communities to address misplaced priorities of some parents and negative attitudes towards girls’ education.
Citizens must also continue to use their voices to demand better service delivery from the taxes that they pay to government. Parents should assume part of their constitutional responsibility in education of their children.
“The best judge of whether or not a country is going to develop is how it treats its women”…Barack Obama.
The author is the executive director of Women’s Democracy Network-Uganda Chapter.