Gender-Based Disparities Within Uganda’s Unique Cultural Contexts
While the caste system does not exist in Uganda, a deep line of social stratification nonetheless separates the rich from the poor. In the mid-1990’s 55% of the population was living below the national poverty line. While this number is improving significantly with time, the fact remains that almost ⅕ of all Ugandans today are severely impoverished. As everyculture.com writes, “wealth distribution [in Uganda] is governed by class position,” which is in turn influenced by social standing within one’s community. Similar to most countries in the world, Ugandan women occupy a social position that is, on average, significantly lower than their male counterparts in society. This phenomena is juxtaposed with many women’s substantial economic and social freedoms and responsibilities in certain traditional Ugandan communities, such as rights to own land, be religious leaders, have political influence, and the ability to cultivate cash crops. At the same time, it wasn’t until the 1990’s that women in rural areas of Buganda were not expected to kneel before the feet of the men they were addressing.
The social disparity between certain women’s standing within Uganda is stark. As a country with a wealth of rich and diverse tribes and cultures, varying engagement with women’s rights is to be expected. With the rise of Museveni in the 70’s and 80’s, the president vowed to eliminate gender-based discrimination within social and professional work settings in Uganda. It was decreed that rural credit plans for farming loans would be made available to women, and that there would be one female representative for each district to sit on the National Resistance Council. While huge leaps forward in the fight for women’s rights have been achieved, many more steps must be taken if gender-based discrimination is to be beaten.
The familial context is still an area in Uganda that sees a great disparity between men’s status and women’s. The exchange of bride-price, an agreed upon sum of valuables (usually food or money) given to the bride’s family by the groom, is still legal and practiced in many rural Ugandan communities, and is deeply rooted in the idea that women are the property of their fathers, and later, their husbands. While a law has recently been passed making the retrieval of bride-price after divorce illegal in Uganda, much of the gender-based violence fuelled by bride-price still occurs. Men traditionally have authority within their families, with household tasks such as cooking and cleaning overwhelmingly being left to the women and girls. This idea can perpetuate a financial dependence of women to their husbands.
The aspect of Uganda that makes the country’s history so rich and varied— its wealth of different cultures and communities living in unique ways from each other— is also a contributing factor to the fluctuating importance given to women’s rights in various areas of society. This is not to suggest that Uganda should strive to create a monotonous cultural melting pot for its citizens, but that within each different Ugandan community women’s rights should be put at the forefront of policy making.
Hosanna Galea, Gender and ICT Policy Advocacy Intern at the Women of Uganda Network
Honours Gender, Sexuality, Feminist Studies, and Social Justice Major at McGill University