In 2017, the School of Women and Gender Studies, Makerere University in collaboration with the Embassy of Sweden in Uganda launched the Gender Identity Week as part of the activities to celebrate the International Women’s Day.
The major objective of the Gender Identity Week is to facilitate dialogue among University staff, students, development partners, practitioners, the media and other stakeholders on topical issues related to gender and development. Past discussions have focused to topics such as positive femininities and masculinities, social-economic transformation, gender and the commoditization of the female body, empowering cultural aspects of Ugandan/African gender relations, the University’s role in promoting gender and equity in society and the women’s journey (2000-2017) –achievements, opportunities and challenges.
As part of the activities to mark the 2020 Gender Identity Week, the School of Women and Gender Studies with support from the Embassy of Sweden organized dialogues to deliberate on the progress registered in the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The week-long dialogues were aligned to the theme of the International Women’s Day celebrations; “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights”. They were officially launched by the Namasole of Buganda (Mother of the King) Margaret Nagawa Siwoza Muyanja on 2nd March. Participants included cultural enthusiasts from Buganda Kingdom, representatives from the Embassy of Sweden as well as staff and students of Makerere University.
Topics discussed included, “Different Shades of Empowerment in Uganda: The role of Traditional Ugandan Femininities in Empowering Women” – Empowering Women through a cultural approach, and Empowering Women from a Religions perspective; Women in Leadership in Higher Institutions of Learning; Strategies of Ending Sexual Harassment in Institutions of Higher Learning; Students’ Experiences of University Environment: Femininities and Masculinities; and Feminist Spaces.
The launch ceremony featured discussions on the role of culture and religion in empowering women.
Addressing participants, the Namasole emphasized the importance of culture in empowering women noting that communities that are engraved in their cultures are largely successful in all spheres of life. “Although culture is seen as a constraint to empowerment, it can be used positively to empower women. We all know that culture is not static; it changes—so as it changes, people’s behaviours and way of thinking also change. It is therefore important that we explore the positive aspects in the changing cultures to empower women,” she said. Commenting on the initiatives being undertaken by the Buganda Kingdom to address challenges of inequality, the Namasole said ideologies like ‘Obuntubulamu’ that emphasize a number of cultural values such as responsibility, self-reliance, morality, proactive leadership, transparency, selflessness, integrity, honesty and civic engagement are crucial for personal development.
According to Mrs. Elizabeth Lwanga, the Nnabagereka Development Foundation, with support from the United Nations Development Programme, elaborated a programme with Obuntubulamu as a tool for development. “This programme, which acknowledges the tremendous changes that continue to take place in the Ugandan society at personal, community and national levels, aims to promote the restoration of cultural values as a means to the revival of ethics and values. The programme targets women and men, children, the young and old, promoting core values of obuntubulamu. Obuntubulamu values have been aligned to the National Development Plan as well as the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” she informed participants. Mrs. Lwanga is a Member of the Board of the Nnabagereka Development Foundation.
In her presentation Mrs. Lwanga highlighted some of the initiatives being undertaken by Buganda Kingdom to empower women. These include, the establishment of the office of the Nabagereka and the Namasole; the appointment of female ministers on the Buganda Lukiiko; a special ministry, the ministry of Social Services under which women’s issues are addressed; the appointment of female county chiefs; a structure of women leaders from the county to village levels, the Kabaka Education Fund bursaries; the Ekisaakaate Kya Nnabagereka; and the Nnabagereka Development Foundation.
In the same vein, legendary artiste Joanita Kawalya briefed participants on the importance of music in promoting women’s empowerment. She explained that through music, men and women can be sensitized to act responsibly. “The purpose of my music for example is to educate men how to treat women. “Through my songs like Jim nze Wuwo, men get to learn that power is about love not violence,” she said.
Discussing the role of religion in empowering women, Ms. Rose Ssegujja, from the Catholic Women League said through the social services and economic development department— Caritas Uganda, the Catholic Church has given vulnerable women economic and advocacy support and this has acted as an eye opener in the fight against gender inequality.“Through mass sensitization, we have been able to inform communities that women have rights thus helping them to get empowered. A woman who is empowered will be able to defend her rights and can swiftly take up leadership positions,” she explained.
Narrating her experience as a child who suffered discrimination on basis on her gender, Mrs. Tugulwa from the Moslem Women League called for equal mentorship and opportunities for both boys and girls in the struggle for empowerment. She urged women to support each other and stand firm for what they want.
Sharing her experiences, Ms. Despina Jane Namwembe from the Orthodox Women’s League appealed for equal leadership opportunities. “Many times women are not given the opportunity to serve in leadership positions, and if a woman is elected to any of the leadership positions, her views are under-looked. “There is need to promote tolerance and respect of each and everybody’s views,” she said.
Ms Beatrice Nakizito briefed participants on the strategies being undertaken by the Seventh Day Adventist Church to empower women. The Adventist Church follows Christ’s example by reaching out to women all over the world and offering love, support and enrichment. Adventists minister to women by establishing a support system for creating a forum to address topics and issues that affect women in and out of the church. The church also promotes programmes to mentor young women and support their academic achievements through a scholarship programme. The six primary areas of concern that guide the church’s outreach to women are health, abuse, poverty, women’s workloads, lack of leadership training, education and illiteracy.
In her remarks, the representative of the Ambassador of Sweden to Uganda informed participants that in 2014, the Swedish government took the unique step to adopt a Feminist Foreign Policy with the aim of achieving gender equality and ensuring that women and girls enjoy equal rights, representation and resources. “Sweden’s feminist Government is serious about gender equality and women’s rights. As long as gender inequality remains a global problem, we will continue to pursue our feminist foreign policy,” she noted, adding that Gender equality is an important aspect of the Swedish Government support and cooperation. “I am happy to note that the coordination office of our research support, the Directorate of Research and Graduate Training, is making sure that all projects are aligned with Makerere’s gender policies, that gender analysis is integrated in the research projects, and that gender responsive methodologies are applied at the University. The aim is to make sure that at least 30% of the University researchers and students that benefit directly from our support are female,” she said.
In other Gender Identity Week engagements, participants discussed strategies for increasing women in leadership and ending sexual harassment in higher institutions of learning. Students from different universities reflected on power relations and how they live their femininities and masculinities on a daily basis. There was also an engagement on Wikipedia and Women that focused on building capacity to increase the number of women profiles and writers on the platform.
In her closing remarks, Dr Consolata Kabonesa called for each and everybody’s participation in the struggle to promote gender equality. Dr Kabonesa is the Principal Investigator, Makerere- Sweden Bilateral Research Programme on Gender Mainstreaming and Coordinator of the Gender Identity Week activities.
Please follow the links below for details about the other Gender Identity Week activities.