I have always objected the call to be a parliamentary reporter. I once told a friend that if I were to be one I would be angry all the time and would get grey hair quicker. This objection is rooted in my belief that our parliament doesn’t really represent me and they hardly come up with solutions to problems that people especially of my generation are facing whether as a youth or as a women. In Uganda we adopted a quota system which is hailed around the world as a way to include women in power but it seems the proponents of this system had no idea of realities on the ground especially in country like Uganda which for the last 23 years has been ruled not only by men but men who never took power through a ‘democratic’ way.
In my past posts I have emphasised that I believe that most of them have a high sense of self –importance that even 23 years after ‘eating’ , as Ugandans would say, they still play the bush-war hero card on us. They literally run Ugandan that unless you were part of their bush struggle then your right to be heard is not big enough today. This sense has been displayed many times and in many forms that during the Global Fund commission that investigated the embezzlement of the money, one former minister under the spotlight, told a quite honourable judge that “when we were fighting you were hiding under tables.” They use their war time stories to keep us subjugated as they use state resources like their personal store. So to try to ‘include’ us, Ugandan women, in decision making process special posts were created for women members of parliament. There are few women who have succesfuly won direct posts to parliament. For now our deputy speaker of parliament is a woman. We have almost 31 percent women representation but I guess the benefactors of the quota (who are mostly those men ruling us) thought “having women stooges is better than nothing” and so every five years we go back to our villages to vote for stooges who have no idea how the soldier-male dominated government works and few of them even bother to try to catch-up. No doubt we have some incredible women in there but I guess they don’t even make ten percent.
President Museveni’s ruling party has the majority in the house meaning they pass anything he wants with little questioning –as long as it comes from those who fought with him in his rebellion which means no woman dares to ask him except his wife. So women in this party are mostly bystanders in government used to sway donors and also sway votes from more than 50 percent of the population. The government spends a lot of money in campaigns against independent minded women who dare to stand for elections for they are afraid these women will try to push for their space in the power circle, the kind of pushing for power that is not based on whose wife, girlfriend, mistress or concubine you’re that is mostly the norm among those women high in the NRM (ruling party power ring. Any women with capable leadership skills and a good reasoning will of course be failed with the help of inexperienced, sometimes utterly dense ones. This is the situation in our country. The little discussion from these women, lack of challenging the status quo and the visible lack of knowledge is unfathomable. To know what a joke a our women representation can be yesterday I woke up to an email from a friend in kampala with a story on family planning in Uganda. The New Vision sought thoughts of some women MPs and here was the most shameful statement that can come from a woman MP. My friend knew this would make my blood boil because this woman is supposed to represent me as in she represents all women in Bushenyi.
This is it:
“People in the village see children as a source of wealth and where will the middle class get house-girls and house-boys if you promote family planning? Bushenyi Woman MP Mary Karooro Okurut (NRM) asked.”
How can a woman possibily have such a narrow view of issues that affect women in our villages? In actual sense she supports the continued denial of proper education for girls (girls school dropout rates is higher despite free primary education), child labour and all sorts of mistreatment, ranging from sexual to physical , that is put upon these house maids. How can you reduce the concerns of the health of mothers and future of Ugandan girl child to them producing for you house maids? I don’t know what class Karoro belongs to or whether she has girl child relatives that have not had an education andhy she thinks being a house maid is all she can advocate for most poor families in Uganda or but she will not speak for many of us who want to see an end to child labour and death of mothers during pregnancy. One story has explained maternal death to the understanding of an ordinary person like this “we lose a whole taxi (matatu) of women everyday due to childbirth complications” and to see a woman member of parliament blind to the connection between having many children in a country with limited access to hospitals to this high number of deaths is absurd. If only Karooro, the privileged MP could make a visit to Mulago hospital and see how mothers are lying on verandas with no attendants if only her relatives were the ones missing this education and becoming house maids may be she would think twice before she gives us such comments.
I was never raised by a house maid but i have seen many families in Uganda employ or call it exploit poor children as young as 10 whom they bring to take care of their children, sometimes the same age as the maid. I have seen people bring their less priviledged relatives to cities to make them housemaids when they could afford them an education and this makes me call that Ugandans not just Karooro should try to see the bigger picture.
We have a big child labour issue in Uganda which will not be easy to end but seeing a justification from a member of parliament is unfortunate. I am not against anyone having lots of children but for those dying mothers with no health care if they want to have few children they should be given this option. We have 56 percent of unwanted (I prefer to use unexpected) pregnancies and if leaders like Karoro are more worried of the middle class’ needs for house maids than the lives of mothers then we will continue losing that one taxi of women. It’s even more worrying to know that people like Karooro are the women close to the ‘fountain of honour’ where most decisions about our lives as Ugandans are made.