Women in leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID19 World
National Union of Women with Disabilities of Uganda (NUWODU) joins the rest of the world to commemorate the International Women’s Day. This year’s global theme “Women in leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID19 World” celebrates efforts of women in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID19 pandemic. Never has women’s strength and resilience shone through than with their exemplary leadership skills in curbing the pandemic in their communities.
The desire to do better and empower their communities propelled many women with disabilities to take on leadership roles by contesting in the general elections of 2021 at all levels. Out of the 34 women that contested for the Special Interest Group seat, 13 emerged winners inclusive of which are some of NUWODU’s beneficiaries and staff members.
In honour of the global theme, two of NUWODU’s staff shared their journey and experiences to leadership positions as Female councillors representing persons with disabilities in the districts of Katakwi and Kamuli. Ms. Aserait Agnes is a new entrant on the political scene representing the interests of persons with disabilities in the district of Katakwi while Ms. Nakyesa Joy is taking on her third term as the female councillor of persons with disabilities in Kamuli Municipality and Chairperson Production, Gender and Community Development.
- Impact of COVID19 on women in leadership especially those vying for leadership positions and how they are manoeuvred through the challenges.
COVID19 came with its own challenges. Whereas social distancing was mandatory in respect to the SOPS as designed by Ministry of Health and in relation to the regulations of Electoral Commission, it was a task for the candidate to see how to address some of COVID19 related challenges like inadequate provision of face masks for the electorates. The candidates to some extent sacrificed personal funds to provide face masks. Ms. Agnes observed that “it seemed that a quarter of the PWDs received the face masks from government of Uganda or none. As a result, the electorates looked at the candidates to provide face masks. This means there is a big gap in service delivery among the masks distributing committees at district level. This may not be just a gap in my home district of Katakwi but other districts as well and needs to be rectified to ensure PWDs also benefit from the government programs at district levels.”
To manoeuvre around the challenges imposed by the restrictions of SOPs and the pandemic itself, Ms. Joy shared that, “I resorted to reaching out to the voters through phone calls, holding radio talk shows and meeting one on one at their homes which became expensive for me as a candidate of which I couldn’t manage some of the means mentioned above.”
The economic downturn brought on by the pandemic heightened poverty levels among the electorate leading to high expectations from their candidates like the provision of transport to and from the rallies and polling stations. Ms. Agnes noted that, “maintaining the interest of voters was tricky. You had to sacrifice the little funds you have and provide them with transport refund whenever there was a rally. The distant locations and of course the various impairments of the electorates necessitated facilitation to enable them to access the rally venues” while Ms. Joy stated that, “conducting meetings required getting permission from the RDC’s office to have the accepted number of people in a spacious place which would require money to hire a venue and facilitating them with transport back to their homes.”
- Key Challenges to the women’s agenda especially where disability inclusion is concerned
Persons with disabilities contesting for leadership roles have always been public interest. However, attitudinal barriers towards persons with disabilities tend to challenge the candidacy of persons with disabilities because of their disability and this was no different for Ms. Agnes. “A few electorates asked how I would represent at the council and my opponent mentioned that the Deaf are confused people. I confronted her to explain and give evidence on how and when the Deaf people have ever confused her. Knowing that she was discriminative towards persons with disabilities made me stronger. I used the knowledge and experience that I have towards disability categories and how they are discriminated against as a tool in my campaign to change the mindsets of the electorates by showing them that I was capable”, she said.
As a hearing impaired woman, Ms. Agnes also mentioned that not having a Sign Language Interpreter at her disposal yet she was contesting in an election for special interest groups that is persons with disabilities was a burden to her. This also extends to women’s foras. “As women with disabilities, we tend to be invited by our partners in mainstream women’s rights organisations only to meet accessibility challenges like these. If it’s not inaccessible physical environments for the physically disabled, it is the lack of Sign Language Interpretation for us the Deaf. If we fail to think of all the accessibility needs in an election such as this, how can we expect our partners to do better?”
- Hopes for disability inclusion in government planning and development.
Appreciation for disability. The empowerment of women and girls with disabilities especially in leadership roles is derailed by disability and gender-based discrimination. As a woman with a disability, Ms. Agnes hopes that her leadership will “enable her home district to embrace and appreciate disability enough to pave way for change in the way government programs are carried out in the district.”, while Ms. Joy hopes to “advocate for inclusion of women with disabilities in programs targeting all women in mainstream women’s rights organisations.”
With the appreciation of disability, Ms. Agnes, and Ms. Joy hope to see an increment in access to equal opportunities by women and girls with disabilities. Ms. Joy plans to lobby the council to increase the budget line for persons with disabilities while Ms. Agnes plans to show the relevance of accessible communication and help the council have a clear understanding of disability rights so it can facilitate and avail the services of professional Sign Language Interpreters during council and committee meetings. A right that is recognised in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the 1995 Constitution of Uganda.
The participation of women with disabilities in electoral processes at all levels certifies the tenets of Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. But for women with disabilities this right is further emphasised by Articles 9 (1) and Article 6 (2) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
This year’s theme could not be any more appropriate for women with disabilities have shown their capabilities and resilience in manoeuvring the challenges that came with the electoral processes and the pandemic.
Happy International Women’s Day!