ACFODE’S MILESTONES SINCE INCEPTION
Presentation of memorandum on the plight of women to the President
In March 1986, ACFODE organised women’s NGOs in different parts of Kampala to participate in the week-long events commemorating the International Women’s Day. The climax of the week’s events was a ceremony officiated by the newly sworn-in President of Uganda H.E. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni at the Uganda Conference Centre. ACFODE grabbed the opportunity to present a memorandum to him, which, without mincing words showed the plight of the Ugandan women and the need to address their situation. It was the first wake up call for the new government to realise how much was on its plate to bring a fundamental change into the lives of women in Uganda. ACFODE believes that what was expressed in the memorandum contributed greatly to the gradual unfolding of concessions that the new government made to include women on the national agenda.
Seminar on issues raised at the 1985 UN Conference on Women and a Presentation of a list of Qualified Women for political appointments
In December 1986, ACFODE held her biggest ever, national seminar in Mukono as a follow up to the Third United Nations World Conference on Women. The seminar, which was attended by 317 women, 120 of whom were from the rural areas, focused on sharing the outcomes of the world conference, analysing the issues and their relationship to the Ugandan situation as well as drawing up follow-up programmes relevant to this country.
The then Prime Minister of Uganda, Dr Samson Kisekka confessed that Government was reviewing the managerial positions of government institutions but lacked knowledge of qualified women to appoint. ACFODE volunteered to assist by compiling the curriculum vitae of qualified women, capable of effectively managing government bodies and parastatals. The list and CVs were duly handed to the Prime Minister. That timely intervention by ACFODE marked the beginning of the appointment of women into positions of decision-making at the national level. For instance, women were appointed as commissioners on Commissions of Inquiry, Constitutional Commission, Review commissions on education and public service. Others were appointed judges in the Judiciary.
At the same seminar, ACFODE publicly pressed for a ministry for women, a women’s desk in all ministries, and women representation at all levels in local government. She also called for the repeal of the 1978 Decree which had created the National Council of Women and also asked for an independent umbrella organisation for women.
Establishment of the Ministry of Women in Development
The establishment of the Ministry of Women in Development under the President’s Office in 1988 was a landmark for ACFODE since it served as the national machinery for the advancement of women. This was followed by the creation of women’s desks in other government ministries and in public offices (local government). This ministry later became a fully fledged ministry when it merged with that of Youth and Culture, before eventually transforming into the current Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development. Today, it is responsible for the overall formulation and coordination of policies on women, and is a catalyst for sensitising government organs on gender issues.
Entrenching Affirmative Action in government institutions
ACFODE was a leading force in pressuring government to ensure that affirmative action becomes embedded in the institutions of the State. ACFODE played a role in convincing the NRM government that affirmative action was also of crucial importance in the political arena. As a result, binding seats were secured women representatives at all levels of the local councils (formerly known as the Resistance Councils (RCs), and a directorate of Women Affairs was set up within the NRM Secretariat – the mobilisation body of government. The first Parliamentary elections by the NRM regime held in 1989 had 34 seats exclusively for women representatives. In effect, each of the 34 districts had a woman representative in Parliament. Also, women were not excluded from contesting for the directly elected MP slots, and some actually won through that avenue.
ACFODE launched the maiden issue of Arisemagazine to highlight and disseminate information regarding the advancement of women and also serve to enhance organisational documentation. The magazine was part of a wider programme of information dissemination and publications. The objectives were to build confidence in women and enhance their positive image in society; to facilitate change of attitudes that hinder women’s advancement and emancipation; and to publicise ACFODE activities. The magazine also promoted the free flow of information internally and externally and was a tool for ACFODE’s advocacy and lobbying efforts. Arisemagazine has covered achievements, best practices and the challenges that gender activism encounters locally, nationally and internationally. To date (January, 2012) 51 issues covering the entire range of the gender equality and equity subject have been published.
Visibility of the women’s cause in the mainstream media
As early as 1991, ACFODE lobbied and secured a weekly Women’s Page in the government newspaper, The New Vision to cover women’s issues. It was not easy for the management of the newspaper to buy ACFODE’s appeal, especially since the paper did not have established mechanisms to implement the request.
This was however granted on condition that ACFODE member participate actively. Upon this, members began to file the stories. Eventually, the women’s page came out. The overall objective was to advance the cause of women in the country by changing societal attitudes, especially with regard to stereotyping. It was intended to awaken the readers to the fact that women had equal capabilities and therefore, there was no need to deny them equal opportunities with men. The page was also intended to give a voice to women; to that end, women were expressly encouraged to contribute. By 1994, the management of The New Vision had seen the advantage of having a women’s page since it increased the paper’s readership. Later, the women’s page was transformed into a four-page pull out titled “Women’s Vision.” Today, it has been transformed from a policy change advocacy page to a sound section that roundly addresses all issues concerning women. It is a respected, conspicuous part of the Tuesday edition of The New Vision titled “Her Voice”. And without doubt, ACFODE can humbly claim to have set the ball rolling.
Establishment of the Department of Women Studies at Makerere University
ACFODE joined hands with the University Women’s Association to make a case for of a gender department at Makerere – Uganda’s most prestigious university. It started with a presentation by ACFODE to a conference of donors in which she made a passionate appeal for the creation of the department. Incidentally, some of the members of the University Women’s Association who were actively pushing for this department also happened to be ACFODE members. Their efforts paid off in 1991 when a Department of Women Studies was established at Makerere University offering a post-graduate course in Gender Studies and later the undergraduate course as well. Today, it is no longer referred to as a Department but rather Makerere School of Gender Studies.
Creation of an independent umbrella women’s organisation
Working alongside other friendly interests, ACFODE was instrumental in establishing the National Association of Women Organisations in Uganda, (NAWOU) an independent umbrella body for all women NGOs.
Enhancing Women’s Participation in Democratisation Processes
ACFODE developed and implemented the Link Programme, the most comprehensive civic awareness activity which was instituted to facilitate and maintain public interest in the Constituent Assembly (CA) debates. Not only did the programme act as a bridge between the people and the Constituent Assembly delegates, but also contributed to the nurturing of a culture of popular participation in civil issues as a permanent process. Being the only initiative for the public generally, and for women in particular, to enhance their participation in the democratisation processes of the Constituent Assembly as well as the Uganda Constitutional Commission, the Link Programme confirmed ACFODE’s capability and enhanced her reputation locally, nationally and internationally as a civic educator.
Participation in the formulation of the landmark 1995 Constitution of Uganda.
ACFODE successfully lobbied for the inclusion and enactment of gender-related human rights provisions appearing in the preamble, in the National Objectives and Directive Principles of State policy. She was proactive in influencing the content and outcome of article 78 and 180 of the Constitution that guaranteed women’s representation in Parliament and local government structures. Objective VI of the National Objectives and Directive Principles of State policy stipulates that the state shall ensure gender balance and fair representation of marginalised groups on all constitutional and other bodies. Article 78 (1) (b) stipulates that there shall be one woman representative for every district. Article 180 (2) stipulates that one third of the membership of each local council shall be reserved for women and that any law enacted by virtue of this article shall provide for affirmative action for all marginalised groups referred to in article 32 of the Constitution.
Giving visibility to the contribution of NGOs to the women’s cause
In order to document the invaluable contribution of NGOs to women’s empowerment, ACFODE compiled a book titled Visible At Last: NGO contribution to Women’s Recognition in Uganda. The book profiled 47 NGOs and community-based women’s groups that were working to empower poor people and give the voiceless and invisible a voice and visibility. It was published to coincide with the Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing, China in 1995. By another coincidence, ACFODE was also celebrating her 10th birthday. Most of the profiled organisations were as young as, or younger than ACFODE as they had been created after 1986 in the new regime of the National Resistance Movement. In the book, each organisation, including ACFODE, described its origins, aims, activities and future plans. In spearheading the production of the book, ACFODE aimed at bringing to light the varied opportunities provided by NGOs to address gender inequalities within society as well as the channels of women’s empowerment. It was meant to highlight the breakthrough and encourage the organisations to build and bind as the ACFODE motto goes. ACFODE also hoped that the book would be another catalyst and lead to more publications and documentation of the growth of NGOs’ struggle for women’s recognition.
Equal Opportunities Commission Act
ACFODE spearheaded the civil society coalition that was charged with advocating and pushing for the enactment of the Equal Opportunities Commission Act that was passed in 2007. The Act provides a legal basis to challenge laws, policies, customs and traditions that discriminate against women and girls. ACFODE was heading the civil society coalition in this regard.
These milestones and many other accomplishments attributed to ACFODE are by any standards no mean achievements. ACFODE seeks to motivate the younger people to appreciate that nothing is impossible with determination, commitment teamwork and a just cause. ACFODE is a role model that provides an existing opportunity for any individual, group or institution to pursue, with much hope, their dream of gender equality and equity in the family, community, the nation and beyond.
ACFODE prides herself in having been the mother of action aimed at addressing women’s issues, hitherto ignored. Now, 26 years since inception and with so many developments and achievements in the struggle for a just society, where gender equality is a reality, it would not be too much for ACFODE to assume the satisfaction of a grandmother, basking in the success of her children and grandchildren. ACFODE‘s remarkable life story of such rich experiences, both pleasant and challenging, with tangible success and achievements in the struggle for gender equality, leaves her with only one course: To take up her deserved place in the annals of history.
Women Achievers Award
In recognition for her commitment to promoting women’s rights in Uganda, Action For Development (ACFODE) – an indigenous, voluntary, non-governmental women’s organization was given the Women Achievers Award 2012 for her “Contributions in Enhancing Women’s Empowerment and Sustaining the Women’s Movement in Uganda.”
The Award was given by Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET) on behalf of the women of Uganda during the National Women’s Week Jubilee Celebrations.
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