(Woman) Minister

Uganda might boast several female legislators and female ministers, but women are still marginalized in the country. That Youth Minister Kibuule in his Kajara speech said women deserved to be raped signals the position of women and girls in the country; especially because it was dismissed as a personal opinion. That the Gender Ministry, headed by a woman, has still said nothing makes one wonder if more should be asked of female politicians. Is it fair to use gender to ask more of them, to use different measures from what we would use for a male contemporary?

I cannot fail to remember my reaction when I first saw that picture of Hon. Mary Karooro Okurut crying in September. She was with Nisha Nambi’s father. Nisha, the nine-year-old, whose story of defilement and murder broke many Ugandans’ hearts.

It is the kind of reaction that stays with you. Emotionality in a politician can be a good thing. It means she is deeply disturbed and we all want a Minister that is deeply disturbed because that means that they will prioritise this in their meetings. It means that they will spearhead change and legislation that will counter such things.

Emotionality can be gendered, but at that moment, all that mattered was a minister who was moved. Moved to tears, even.

But feelings are nothing when one doesn’t use their power to effect change. Hon. Karooro Okurut has been moved to tears again over other atrocities since. She has appeared in newspapers distressed and on TV, and my reaction has not been as favorable.

Because well, we all cry. When Kibuule went on record saying that Police should ask rape victims about their dress code and release the perpetrators, several Ugandan were moved too. I, personally, was furious. And then when it looked like he was going to get off scot-free, despite breaking law, I curled up in bed and cried for hours.

I wondered if there was any point in having women in positions of power, if they will not use their experience as a woman in society to effect change.

Are they just female ministers or are they woman ministers?

With women as ministers in most of the important ministries (Education, Energy, Finance, Trade, Tourism and until the May reshuffle, Health), this is an issue. More women are getting into parliament, thanks to reserved seats and an increase in districts. When they are ministers however, how much do we limit to their gender?

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After the 2013/2014 Budget was read this year, female legislators launched what I felt was an attack against Finance Maria Kiwanuka. They called the Budget gender-insensitive and said that with the increased taxes on water and kerosene, the women will be marginalized. “We must do all it takes to advocate for women equality,” Winfred Kiiza, Kasese Woman MP, was quoted in Daily Monitor of June 17.

Harriet Ntabaazi, Bundibugyo Woman MP was quoted at a UWOPA-organised workshop, “Where are these women ministers? We must put them to task to explain what their roles are in the gender-sensitive ministers if they cannot defend the women.” [Daily Monitor, June 28] That meeting was reported to have been targeting Energy Minister Irene Muloni, Finance Minister Maria Kiwanuka and former Health Minister Christine Ondoa, accusing them of having failed their roles.

But UWOPA (Uganda Women Parliamentarians Association) is also problematic and does not necessarily navigate the divide between woman and legislator as easily. UWOPA went on record “condemning” the rape and murder of Nisha. I felt that they completely missed the point as the attack was channeled towards narcotics. Nisha’s story was used just as a tag for a different fight. A better title for the piece could have been “UWOPA condemns drug use” and not “UWOPA condemns rape, death of Nambi Hanisha”. It was a disappointing piece that offered drug abuse as the reason for rape and defilement in the country. Gender-insensitive and failing in the fight for women’s equality that they have used as a measure for each other.

We don’t ask male politicians to keep their gender in mind as they go about the business of policy making. (We should.) The burden is laid at the door of the woman. They are women and they ought to know what the condition of the woman is, we think. But these women are not just ministers of a select population, they are responsible for everyone in their respective ministries. Is it fair, for me and you, to genderise their decisions? What should be the divide between “minister that just happens to be female” and “a woman minister”?

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