Initiatives to break down barriers that keep the disadvantaged from participating in and benefiting from development have not been successful in some parts of the world. In some places, these barriers are only getting worse.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban prohibited women from attending universities. Earlier restrictions prevented them from going to secondary or high school.
According to the United Nations, in 2018, about 90,000 women (less than 5% of the total female population) were enrolled in higher education.
A World Bank study in 2018 found the cost of not educating girls through high school is between $15 trillion and $30 trillion in lost life-time productivity and earnings.
However, the Taliban laws are meant to ensure that adolescent girls don’t become formally educated women.
Why are some parts of the globe lagging behind on affirmative action while others have reached a point where affirmative action is no longer necessary?
In some countries, including Uganda, the debate is whether affirmative action is still necessary after over three decades of successful implementation of affirmative action and subsequent transformation as a result.
Affirmative action is a deliberate policy to support individuals belonging to groups discriminated against.The term was first used in the United States in Executive Order No. 10925, signed by President John F. Kennedy on March 6, 1961. This policy was then used to prevent employers from discriminating against members of disadvantaged groups on the basis of their race, origin or colour.
In Uganda, affirmative action was established when the National Resistance Movement (NRM) assumed power in 1986. The policy is provided for in Article 32 of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda in favour of the marginalized groups basing on gender or other reasons created by history to ensure the rectification of imbalances against them.
The 1995 Constitution and its subsequent amendment of 2018 stipulates that all persons are equal before and under the law in all spheres of political, economic, social and cultural life.
People shall not be discriminated against on grounds of sex, race, colour, ethnic origin, tribe, birth, creed or religion, social or economic standing, political opinion or disability.
Thirty-seven (37) years since affirmative action was introduced in Uganda, the question now is whether it has served the purpose and whether we should review it.
In 1986, the NRM Government introduced a grassroots administrative structure of nine people at each level from village upwards and it provided for a third of the committee at each level to be occupied by women. It also introduced the post of secretary for women affairs to ensure women’s affairs are adequately addressed.
This was the pillar for the affirmative action that was later included in the constitution. Apart from the leadership positions, girls joining tertiary institution of learning after high school were given an additional 1.5 points on their final score, so as to have more girls join university.
Today some gender activists have argued that perhaps, to think of affirmative action for boys because the girls are doing much better than the boys in many aspects.
This debate has also attracted religious leaders to start platforms for the boy child empowerment. Today, the number of women wining in open elective positions has also shot up. Many women no longer need affirmative action ticket to win elective positions. They go for general seats to compete against men and many have won.
Data from the current parliament indicate that female constitute 34% of the total of 189 MPs. 146 seats are for district women representatives, 16 are for directly elected constituency representatives, three represent the army (UPDF), two represent workers, two represent the youth, two represent persons with disabilities, three represent older persons while 14 are ex-officio members.
The 30% gender representation of women in parliament and local council leadership has also ensured that Uganda has had one of the best women empowerment policies. Uganda was the first country in Africa to appoint a female Vice-President, Dr. Specioza Wandrira Kazibwe.
Currently, the list of top political offices and state agencies headed by women is impressive. We have several female leaders, including the Speaker of parliament, Anita Among, Vice-President Jessica Alupo and Prime Minister Robina Nabbanja, among others. Considering this progress in the empowerment of marginalized groups, especially women, should the Government now consider setting term limits on affirmative action?
However, there are concerns that affirmative action could be tilting the balance of opportunities against the male gender. In recent days, several citizens have cited the number of women holding key government positions, as a justification for the success of the women’s movement. Many scholars believe Uganda has come full circle as far as women emancipation is concerned.
A study published by Researchgate.com about women’s emancipation in Uganda shows that at least two-thirds of households say their daughters would not have joined university education had it not been for the policy.
The study dubbed ‘Affirmative Action and Women in Uganda‘s Public University Education’, however, says the policy has not been all-inclusive, which is the reason for growing inequality among the women.
Church of Uganda Archbishop Stephen Kaziimba suggests that it is time to think about focusing more resources on the boy child for fear that the balance of opportunities could be tilting against them.
Going forward, we need a national review of the affirmative action and what should be done to consolidate the gains while repealing what is not currently relevant. Affirmative action has served its purpose.
It is time to come up with another strategy of empowering marginalized groups in society without making them look like they are less equal to other people in society. Most importantly, the current concern about the marginalization of the boy child should be addressed.
Authored by Prof. Alex Turyatemba Bashasha (Ph.D.), the Director General of TABKEN Consults on Development, a fellow of the Unicarribean Business School, and an associate with SSBM Geneva. He holds a Bachelor of Laws (LLB), a Master of Laws (LLM), a General Master of Arts (M.A.) in Human Rights and Development, and a PhD in Political Studies with specialisation in Constitutionalism, Democratization, and Good Governance from Nelson Mandela University, South Africa. He also holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the Law Development Centre, Kampala, and two Post-Doctoral Certificates in Executive Leadership and High Impact Leadership from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge in the UK, respectively.