We have Mexico to thank for the existence of a Ministry whose job (in part) is to prioritise women’s issues in the country. While there were always fora like the Uganda Council of Women and the Young Christian Women’s Association pre-Mexico, women’s issues could not be filed under “Community Development” after the very first global meeting on the status of women. This was in Mexico, 1975. And while the global conversation has now moved to “HeForShe” and men engagement, it is mostly celebrity men speaking on women’s issues. Not men being appointed as Ministers of Gender.
And so, we must enter this in the story- and then play the wait-and-see game.
So what’s the story?
Under colonialism, “women’s affairs were lodged within departments of community development.” [Tripp et al, African Women’s Movements (2009)] The department’s focus ranged from childcare and nutrition to handicrafts and cultural activities. We don’t for sure know that when Pumla Kisosonkole was at a table with Rebecca Mulira, they discussed ‘handicrafts’, but we suspect that was not the case. All other activities- outside of departments of community development- would continue in other spaces, informally and unsupported by the colonial government.
At independence in 1962, the first leader would be Florence Lubega. Her post: Parliamentary Secretary for Community Development. Under Obote I’s government, this was the equivalent of Ministers of State.
In the 1975 Declaration of Mexico on the Equality of Women and their Contribution to Development and Peace, States were asked to make the necessary changes to make space for women in development. And thus, Uganda- along with over 120 other states– had her very first national machinery for women.
It has not come without its upheavals. In 1978 under Idi Amin, a decree was passed against all independent women’s organisations. He formed the National Council of Women that was under the Prime Minister’s Office. It was not until 1988, that a Ministry was formed.
The Ministry of Women in Development.
The theme for International Women’s Day celebrations that year was “To mark the Creation of the Ministry of State for Women in Development as the National Machinery to Spearhead Empowerment of Women” at Kampala International Conference Center. This Ministry was under a Minister of State (Joyce Mpanga) and housed in the Office of the President. [Kwesiga, Joy. “The National Machinery for Gender Equality in Uganda: institutionalised gesture politics?” 2000] Then in 1992, the Ministry of Women in Development, Culture and Youth was formed. Specioza Wandira Kazibwe, later to become first woman to be Vice President, was Minister.
From 1996-2001, the Ministry changed in structure, and got its current name, Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development. Janat Balunzi Mukwaya was in charge. For her first two years in office, she was the Minister of “Gender and Community Development” and after 1998, she was Minister of “Gender, Labour and Social Development.”
In 1999, what had been the work and administration of “Women in Development” as it was known at its start was downsided to a department. The Department of Gender, Culture and Community Development. This department falls under the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development.
So you see, the gender unit is just a department. At the end of 2004, Grace Bantebya-Kyomuhendo wrote that the staff with a gender mandate had reduced from 30 to 10. And writing in African Women’s Movements (2009), Tripp et al record that “as of 2003, the gender unit was receiving only 10 percent of the budget of the entire ministry.”
What does it matter then that the Minister be a man? The Ministry seems to have found other non-woman-specific departments to busy their desks.
He is not the first man at the head of the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, either. There was that controversial appointment of Kabwegyere Tarsis in the 2012 reshuffle that had Syda Namirembe Bbumba (Minister from 2006-2012) dropped from cabinet. His appointment was rejected by Parliament over age (he was 71), but the appointment was finally approved on September 2012, after a phone call. And then in October 2012, John Nasasira was sworn in as Minister of Gender!
It should have been a sign. That more men shall come to be in charge of the ministry department, and they would not come with PhDs in Gender Studies and five sisters.
Editorial Note: There is a lot of information in this piece. We have tried to cross-reference it with as many credible sources as we can. If you have information contrary to this, please inform us in a comment along with your sources. Thank you.
Editorial Note-25 Jan, 2016 : This post originally stated that Muruli Mukasa was the second man to lead the Ministry. We have found this to be wrong, as Gabriel Opio was Minister (Feb, 2009- May 2011) which makes Hon. Mukasa the third. Changes have been made.