This is a FIRST HAND recounting of the parliamentary session on September 26th, told by AMwA’s very own Ms. Irene Kagoya who watched it all play out from the gallery. She speaks about the impact the session had on her as a Ugandan and as a feminist.
It was my first time in the parliament gallery I was very excited to be part of this particular parliamentary session as it involved tabling a very contentious motion of a constitutional amendment to remove presidential age limit under Article 102 (b). While I appreciate the need for security checks in an era where terror attacks are unpredictable, it was quite challenging to be subjected to various security checks from one point to another. The bureaucracy, heavy presence of security personnel and machinery around the parliamentary building was quite intimidating. I cannot even imagine the impact this had on the female members of parliament let alone any other ordinary Ugandan woman who wished to exercise her right to be in parliament that day!
As the speaker walked in, it was extremely heartening to see a woman so wellrespected as a person of authority. Every body stood and bowed as she walked in escorted by her sergeant at arms, and sitting before anybody else could. It was quite powerful - another moment for me to celebrate successes of the women’s struggle for political participation in Uganda.
While the session kicked off well, the tension in the house was evident from both the opposition and ruling party. It was not long before a scuffle ensued between one opposition member and a member of the ruling party. Members begun lifting chairs and exchanging blows. It was complete chaos but amidst all this, Honourable Monica Amoding stood strong and held her ground. She even tried to stop the fighting at one point. As I watched the drama, my mind kept racing - thinking about women and effective political participation. How can women effectively engage in political leadership when their safety is threatened? What does this mean for any young woman wishing to join political leadership?. In no circumstance would this environment entice women to participate in governance and democratic processes. For a second it got me thinking that indeed politics is only a place for the hard-hearted and masculine, and definitely not a place for women.
I was wrong!
Hon. Amoding showed the nation that a woman could be brave and stay strong and participate in government even under such barbaric conditions. Another female member of parliament, Hon. Kiiza Winnie the Leader of the opposition still found her voice in the crowd of aggressive and angry men who kept dominating the session. It was like they were all pushing so hard to speak on the floor that they forgot they were a part of a team, and even the women who were sitting directly in front of a microphone could not speak. Again a portrayal of the power dynamics between women and men when it comes to political participation was clearly painted. Hon. Namboze Betty, among others, showed us that women do have the spirit and the strength to participate even under such conditions. When the opposition started singing the national anthem, she stood alongside them singing with such heart and ferocity!
For a long time we have continued to question women’s meaningful participation in Parliament. While the rise of women in parliament with statistics at 35% has not substantially translated into the change we seek; we must remain cognisant of the environment within which these women operate. This for me was a take home.
It is not enough to have them in the room; we must support them to fully influence the decisions in parliament. Part of this is advocating for a safe environment, including procedural rules that deliberately position women to engage in the parliamentary session. When I talk of a safe environment I mean an environment where women are free, and treated on equal footing as their male counterparts in all rights. It was painful to watch one opposition member raise a point of order on a matter of a female member’s dressing stating that she dresses indecently and violates him, a matter that the speaker ruled on. For me this was yet again another tactic of policing women’s bodies. It was evident that he wanted to embarrass her so that she is discouraged from confidently pursuing her agenda as a leader of the ruling party which was clearly motivated by his egoism. As I kept watching, I could also see one female member fidgeting with her skirt slit throughout the session as her male counterparts kept making her feel uncomfortable. These and many more discriminatory scenes kept playing out in a parliament on that day. We ought to ensure that all MPs regardless of their differences are accorded the same respect and dignity as provided in the 1995 constitution.
Society tells us that as women we cannot be “fire fighters” that we cannot be leaders with the same ferocious spirit as men, but these women demonstrated otherwise that day not forgetting the fateful 27th of September 2017 when opposition members were forcefully taken out parliament. Despite all these hurdles, I commend the female members of parliament especially from the opposition wing for standing up for what is right amidst all forces. Therefore, whenever we seek to criticize female MPs let us not forget our feminist lenses.
I hope that the next time I am in parliament whether in the gallery or as a Member of Parliament, women will not have to triple their efforts to make their voices heard compared to our male counterparts
For God and My Country