Women in the Uganda military; no family planning services, no promotions

Since independence, tribalism in the Ugandan military has always been a sticking issue. Whether it was regimes of Apollo Milton Obote, Idi Amin or even the current government, getting an army that is of national representation in all ways has been a challenge. It’s not a Ugandan problem, this can be found in many African countries where most leaders have a military background or came to power by the power of the gun.

To ensure loyalty, you must somehow surround yourself with you clan members first, then your tribe, the people from regions closer to your home next and then lastly just recruit foot soldiers from elsewhere in the country.

The Independent Magazine ran a stories showing that the top army leadership in Uganda came from one region-western Uganda or at least spoke the same language. This story was not received well by the army and with a law on inciting violence, the mention of such can easily get you arrested and charged.

Today I am not looking at the distribution of posts in the army according to tribe but rather how unjust, unequal the environment in Uganda’s military is to women.

The Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF) has a total number of 1,566 female soldiers. This is data gathered by a Center Women in Governance (CEWIGO) in their monitoring report of UNSCR 1325 in Uganda to be launched tomorrow.

Even though the UPDF administrators couldn’t reveal what percentage the women in army represent due to security reasons (mentioning that would automatically tell the actual size of the force), they could never even come to a 10 percent.

CEWIGO researchers spoke to Chief of Personnel and Administration for the UPDF said that there are no family planning services availed to soldiers in the barracks. This leads to many unintended pregnancies among female officers who are never supported by the male officers responsible.

Women in the military are often forced to cohabit to avoid sexual harassment from their male colleagues and because there are no family planning services in the barracks unplanned pregnancies are very common.

The denial of female soldiers family planning services has huge effect on whether you are promoted or not. The statement of the Administrator sort of admits that there’s a high level of harassment of women soldiers from their male colleagues and it seems not much rules apply. To even matters worse, when a male officer has a child he is allowed to go for training and get more expertise while the women soldiers who have his children remain.

According to statistics gathered by CEWIGO Uganda has only 1 woman at the rank of a Colonel compared to 99 men; two women are Lt. Colonel and 98 men are at the same rank. We have three women for the Major to 97 men, six women Captains compared to 94 men, 2 women and 98 men for Leiutenant rank and 11 women at Sec. Leiutenant compared to 89 men.

Even if there are other constraints behind low recruitment and promotion of women in the Ugandan military like low levels of education, family commitments, it is appalling to find that even the few that choose to join are subjected to such an environment.

Uganda is well known to have a low family planning, with a 41% unmet need for family planning; Uganda has the third-highest rate in the world. And the failure of government to provide female soldiers free family planning services could not portray the attitude to women’s reproductive health any better.

The UN in several resolutions had called for increment of women in army ranks and Uganda has signed major international instruments like the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). These resolution partly argue that if more women were in charge of areas under conflict, issues like mass sexual violations against women in war time would be reduce. Many women in conflicts from Kasese, Bundibugyo, to north and eastern Uganda have been subjected to gangrape both from rebels and government troops.

Just last week, Minister Eriya Kategaya told the UNSC that Uganda was doing enough to address specific needs of women in conflict areas. If a government can’t provide a much needed service for a woman it employs to defend the country then how would it provide it for an ordinary woman?

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