So apparently we haven’t always got March 8th as a public holiday. In fact, if my Speeches’ binge from Uganda People’s Congress’ Women in Uganda section is right, this year will be the 30th anniversary of the IWD celebrations in Uganda.
The day was possibly began in 1911 in other countries, but who cares about them? We were fighting for Independence at the time… and when we weren’t, we were fighting over who gets to collaborate. But when it suited us, we joined and have since travelled through the districts celebrating March 8th with speeches, events and recognition of women’s issues in Uganda.
Mon has been trying to look back this month. We are reading old books, celebrating woman firsts, asking who Pumla Kisosonkole was, listening to Obangaina and sharing lots of Ugandan woman groundbreakers on our Facebook page. Like, share and contribute.
And, in the spirit of herstory, here is the speech by Miria Obote, then First Lady of Uganda, on the first IWD national celebration in Uganda at State House Entebbe. (It was first accessed from the archives of UPC here).
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY
8 March, 1984
Your Excellency, The President of the Republic of Uganda
The Hon. Madam, Chairperson, National Council of Women
My fellow Women
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to this most important occasion. I am particularly happy that for the first time in the history of this country, Uganda has joined hands with the International Community in observing this occasion.
This is also the most representative gathering of women in this country, since liberation and, indeed, in the history of Uganda. As a woman, I share the same concerns and problems that any woman faces in this country and the world over.
As you are aware, today we are here to celebrate the International Women’s Day. Some of you may well ask what is the International Women’s Day? It is therefore fitting to remind us that the IWD is a day born of the struggles by women to be taken as equal partners in all aspects of development. It started in 1907 by the International Congress, which took place at Stuttgart in Germany acknowledging that women had not been given a fair deal and therefore urged each country which participated in the Congress to intensify their work to support women’s struggle for Socio-economic, Socio-Cultural, and political equality. In 1910 North American Countries recognized Women’s Day. In 1911 Germany and Austria recognized March 11th as International Women’s Day. Since then many Countries around the world have recognized IWD.
In 1913 International Women’s day was fixed for March 8th but for several years many countries celebrated Women’s Day on different dates. In 1975, the United Nations, of which Uganda is a very active member, declared the International Women’s Year. The UN further declared 1975-1985 to be a Decade for women. It was also recognized that March 8th be a day on which all the member nations should recognize and honour women. Beyond this, it is also a day on which people all over the world stop to reflect on how far society has tapped the potential of woman in development.
Before today, Uganda had not done anything to recognize and honour woman on this day, because of the recent historical problems of this country. We are therefore grateful that IWD is today given that recognition. Under the circumstances it is fitting that the first celebration of International Women’s Day, in Uganda, should begin at the State House.
While it is appreciated that the women of Uganda did not have to struggle to vote and to get equal pay for equal work, it is also a fact that there is still a lot Ugandan women have to achieve. It is statistically acknowledged that there are more women in Uganda than men. The question then is why is it that women are not adequately represented at various government levels and other bodies?
There is no negative aspect of the History of our country, which has not touched women intimately. The women of this country supported their men in the struggle for Independence. During the reign of terror, it was the women who were the comfort and backbone of the homes when men were imprisoned and murdered. Many women lost their husbands, sons, brothers and relatives. Some even lost their lives. Ugandan women participated at various levels in the Liberation of our Country from the murderous regime of the seventies.
The Ugandan rural woman plays a most significant part in the economy of Uganda. She is the major producer of both food and cash crops. She is a food processor; she is a wife, mother, nurse, and comforter. She works more than fifteen hours each day. Yet if she wanted to improve her farm or business, she would have no access to a bank loan. This is because she is uneducated; and the land she farms belongs to the husband. Yet the bank insists on some form of Security before it can give her a loan. She is often not recognized by the field-worker as a vital recipient of modern farming methods. If the field officer meets her at all, in most cases he or she will talk to her about home economics only.
Let it be understood that the demand for more attention being given to women’s issues is not out of selfishness on our part but rather out of an urgent need to achieve equality that our Country can leap ahead in development with two healthy legs rather than limp with one good male leg and one bad female leg. We believe that no meaningful development can be achieved without recognition, encouragement, and participation of more than half of the population.
One does not require many examples to show what we are trying to point out. There are no women in the Cabinet. There is only one woman Member of Parliament. The number of women on Boards of various parastatal and other bodies in minimal. There are no women judges. At Makerere University, there is only one woman professor. There is only one woman Permanent Secretary and three Under Secretaries. It is no wonder that the women of Uganda feel they have not been appreciated or taken seriously enough. The Ugandan Community should try to address itself specifically to women as an important part of the population, especially during this time of rehabilitation and reconstruction of the country.
The women of this country recognize and appreciate the efforts Government is putting in trying to raise the status of women through the Ministry of Culture and Community Development. We recommend the work the Ministry is doing through the National Council of Women. This working relationship has enabled the National Council of Women to set up a number of development projects particularly for rural areas. Good as it is, and although much has been achieved in this way, it may be in order for me to say that there are bottlenecks still slowing down the efforts of the society in trying to exploit more fully the potentials of women of this country. May I therefore say here that the consensus opinion of the womenfolk is that Government creates a separate Ministry to deal exclusively with women’s affairs. The experience of Zimbabwe, a sister African country and many others, is a case in point.
This would initiate improved and more realistic focus on women’s activities with an assured budget to enable implementation of programs and adequate liaison with women organizations and groups. It would create a national Machinery that would reach even the remotest rural woman who is not normally represented on National Planning Boards and whose economic contribution remains unacknowledged.
We are happy to note that the Government has always provided equal opportunities for both boys and girls in the field of education. However, we are disappointed by the high rate of school dropouts among girls. This is due to the cultural attitudes, which force parents to withdraw girls from school when there is no money for fees. In the rural areas, a father would sell a bull to get a boy back to school but would rarely do so for a girl. We suggest that to remedy the situation, plans should commence towards the introduction of free primary school education for all. We recommend the establishment of village polytechnics and other vocational training Institutions. We also support the revival of an all out adult literacy campaign by the Ministry of Culture and Community Development to stamp out illiteracy of which the majority of victims are women, particularly in the rural areas.
We welcome the immunization program that the Government has introduced with International assistance. However, we know that many people still die from lack of medical facilities. Mothers die in childbirth due to lack of proper care. There is need for maternity hospitals, and the upgrading of the nursing profession to ensure greater efficiency. Better working conditions and higher pay would revive the morale of the nursing personnel and reduce incidences of negligence and unprofessional behaviour.
My fellow women, I would like us to address our minds to the family as a central unit in any society. There is no doubt that there has been a weakening in the ties that used to bind families together. There is a moral degeneration in our society, which has culminated into “Bayayeism” and loose morals which have pervaded every fibre of our nation. The holding of the family together is a joint responsibility of both parents – the man and the woman. To abscond from that responsibility is to contribute to the degeneration of our society. We all know, “Charity begins at home”. Children are the responsibility of both parents and the family is the most important unit in the life of a child. It is up to the parents to bring up their children in an atmosphere of love and emotional security and this requires love, integrity, honesty and the presence of both parents if they are alive. It is said that:
If there is righteousness in the heart; there will be beauty in character;
If there is beauty in character; there will be harmony in the family home;
If there is harmony in the home; there will be order in the Nation;
When there is order in the Nation, there will be peace in the World.
Every parent is aware of how difficult it is to bring up children in these turbulent times, but we must neither despair nor be complacent, because at all times we must have hope and think of the future generations.
The step taken by Government to assist widows and orphans is greatly appreciated. However, there is still need for Government, for religious institutions and other bodies to mount a campaign to protect even further the widows and orphans of this country. We know of incidents where relatives have turned widows out of their homes and on occasions deprived them access to their children. We know that there is a law of succession, which entitles a widow to stay in her house after her husband’s death, but this law is either not known or not complied with.
The following four points among others also require serious attention and action by Government:
Firstly, establishment of Day Care Centres at places of Work is vital. Families, especially those of the working class, are experiencing problems in catering for the care of children of pre-nursery going age, and this has resulted into accidents in the home and improper up-bringing of our children. While there is positive action on the part of the NCW to establish Day Care Centres in every urban setting, this effort however is limited by lack of funds.
Secondly, while we are aware that maternity leave arrangements is extended to all women public employees, we are informed that in the teaching profession, unmarried women teachers are still denied this arrangement. We consider this rather unfortunate policy which calls for redress. Further more, women would appreciate longer maternity leave than the paid 45 days. Women are aware that maternity leave arrangement is made based on the consideration that the mother requires sufficient rest and also that the child at this delicate stage requires total care.
Thirdly, on the political field, we call upon all able-bodied women to opt for leadership position in politics and even to opt for candidature at general Election. Here we would like to call upon political Parties to sponsor women candidates so that in this way we tap more women contributions in decision-making circles and at other levels.
Fourthly, the World Conference on Women is designed to mark the end of the Women Decade in 1985. It is during this Conference that meaningful stock-taking and in particular, resolutions and programming that will lead to total elimination of all discriminations against women will take place. Women of Uganda therefore should send a big contingent of delegates to attend the Conference to accord them the opportunity of sharing ideas and experiences with their counterparts in other countries.
As we recognize the efforts of all the women of the world in the struggle for social justice and equality, we must resolve that this day in Uganda be a day on which the Uganda women’s solidarity is born. Let us go out of here with a determination to have a united voice to articulate our aspirations for the good of our country regardless of our political, tribal or religious beliefs.
We resolve henceforth to be a part of the International Women’s Movement.
We need to put Uganda securely on the map of the World.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the National Council of Women’s Caretaker Committee for the commendable work they are doing to foster the cause of women in this country. My special gratitude also goes to the Organizing Committee of the Council, which worked tirelessly to make this day a success.
We would like the Government to declare this day a National Day to be celebrated the same way that Youth Day and Labour Day are celebrated in Uganda.
Last but not least we would like to thank His Excellency the President and all the men who have joined us today plus those who are not able to be with us for their support. We therefore request the men to continue supporting us, and to regard us as true partners in development, not only to day, but tomorrow and day after tomorrow and next week, next month, next year and the years to come.
I say all this for God and my Country.
P.S National celebrations this year will be presided over by President Museveni, in Kumi district.