The World

Uganda's Pro-Women Program Produces a Dissident

Monday, March 13, 2006

Ugandans voted last month for 69 special female members of parliament as part of the country's lauded gender affirmative-action program. But one prominent female politician says the 10-year-old system has failed to deliver legal gains for women.

Margaret Zziwa

KAMPALA, Uganda (WOMENSENEWS)--The day before Election Day in Uganda, special female Member of Parliament Margaret Zziwa was more than busy.

Several of her aides and co-workers were prodding her for meetings, while she was struggling to arrange a doctor's appointment for her teen daughter who had injured a leg. Gripping her cell phone, Zziwa rushed back and forth through the dark corridor on the fifth floor of the parliament building in central Kampala.

"Politics is generally seen as a game of the leaders, the affluent and the brave. And so it has never been the women's domain," said Zziwa, who belongs to the government party, the National Resistance Movement.

Zziwa was first elected to the Ugandan parliament in 1996, along with 38 other women on a special gender ticket, after the government enshrined a system for boosting female representation as part of an ambitious program of affirmative action for women in all spheres of national affairs.

Under this system, established in 1995, at least a third of all public offices should be staffed by women. In the parliament elected in 2001, a total of 73 of 304 seats were held by women. Of these 73 women, 56 were elected as special female members of parliament. As the numbers of districts have increased, the number of special seats for women in parliament has now risen to 69. Most of those seats were contested in the Feb. 23 election by several candidates from the ruling National Resistance Movement, the opposition parties and independents.

President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled the country since 1986, was re-elected with 59 percent of the vote, but the opposition, led by candidate Kizza Besigye, alleges the polls were marred by fraud. Uganda's first lady, Janet Museveni, was also elected to a regular parliament seat representing the Ruhama district.

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