GENDER AND CONSTITUTIONAL RESPONSIBLILITIES OF MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT

The gender issue is much more than electing more women to Parliament.  It affects all aspects of parliamentary life and each of the responsibilities of all Members, says the Speaker of Uganda’s Parliament.

By Rt Hon. Rebecca A. Kadaga, MP, in Kampala.

Ms Kadaga, a lawyer, is the Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda having served as Deputy Speaker from 2001 to 2011.  She is the Vice-Chairperson of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Steering Committee of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and chairs the CWP’s African Region Steering Committee.  Elected to Uganda’s Parliament as a women’s district representative for the governing National Resistance Movement, she was a Member of the National Resistance Council from 1989 to 1996 and has served in the Ugandan Parliament since 1996, holding several ministerial portfolios including Minister of Parliamentary Affairs.  This article is based on a presentation to a Zambia post-election seminar in November 2011.

Members of Parliament are elected by the population which comprises both men and women.  It is the expectation of the population that their aspirations, needs and desires are reflected in the agendas both of the political parities as well as of Parliament.  It is therefore also necessary that both genders be represented in Parliament.  This has its roots in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 which provides in Article 2:

“Everyone is entitled to all the rights, and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without discrimination of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status….”

Since then, several Human Rights Instruments have been promulgated in the United Nations, the African Union and other bodies.
In 1975, the First World Conference on Women called for the establishment of national mechanisms for the advancement of women.  By 1985, 127 Member countries had established national mechanisms.
The question now is:  has national machinery been set up in every country?  If so is it working?  If a country is party to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW), has it enshrined the CEDAW Convention in its constitution?
Most constitutions do not have a guaranteed quota for the representation of women, which probably explains why most Commonwealth countries have yet to achieve 30 per cent representation of women in their Parliaments as agreed by Heads of Government first for 2005 and now for 2015.
Again, if a country is party to CEDAW, does it fulfil the obligation to report on progress every four years?  What does it report?  Have we achieved equity in employment, education, in the economy, the professions, the civil service?  What about in the armed forces?

Varied rates of women’s representation in Africa
It is necessary for each Parliament to take stock and evaluate where it stands today.  Has it created space for the 51 per cent of the population who are clearly under-represented in the House?

There is also another opportunity.  In some countries, the Head of State can make special nominations to Parliament.  There is in place a Southern African Development Community resolution which enjoins the Heads of State to facilitate 50/50 representation of both genders in all the SADC Parliaments by 2015.

In my other capacity as the Chairperson of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CWP) Africa Region I keep a pulse on the progress of participation of both genders in decision-making positions.  To show that Africa countries are at different stages of compliance to the international instruments, I reproduce here a table indicating the gender status of some Parliaments.

Country Lower or Single House Upper House or Senate
 Elections Seats Women Women % Elections Seats Women Women%
South Africa 2009 400 173 43 2009 54 16 29.6
Uganda 2011 375 131 39.93 --- --- --- ---
Mozambique 2009 250 98 39.2 --- --- --- ---
Tanzania 2011 350 126 36.0 --- --- --- ---
Namibia 2009 67 18 26.9 2004 26 7 26.9
Lesotho 2007 120 29 24.2 2007 33 10 30.3
Seychelles 2011 35 8 22.86 --- --- --- ---
Malawi 2009 192 40 20.8 --- --- --- ---
Mauritius 2010 70 13 18.84 --- --- --- ---
Cameroon 2007 180 25 13.9 --- --- --- ---
Swaziland 2008 66 9 13.6 2008 30 12 40.0
Sierra Leone 2007 124 16 12.90 --- --- --- ---
Zambia 2011 156 17 10.90 --- --- --- ---
Kenya 2007 224 21 9.38 --- --- --- ---
Ghana 2008 230 19 8.3 --- --- --- ---
Botswana 2009 63 5 7.9 --- --- --- ---
Gambia 2007 53 4 7.5 --- --- --- ---
Nigeria 2011 352 13 3.69 2011 109 4 3.7

The breakdown of the 131 seats won by women in my own country in our 2011 general elections is:

• Constituency Representatives: 11
• Women District Representatives: 12
• Youth Representatives: 2
• Representatives of disabled persons: 2
• Representatives of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces: 2

Women in influential positions?
Out of women Members of Parliament, how many are Chairpersons of standing or sessional committees?  What chance do we stand for at least 30 per cent of the committees of a House being chaired by women Members of Parliament?  Of the powerful committees such as Finance, Agriculture or Defence, are any of them chaired by a woman Member of Parliament?  If this has not been done yet, will there be an opportunity to amend the Rules of Procedure to ensure at least 30 per cent, if not 50 per cent, of committee Chairpersons are women?
In my Parliament, I have made a proposal to the Rules Committee to consider parity in appointing the Chairpersons of the committees because when the Chairpersons were appointed, the male Members of Parliament took 85 per cent of the places.  This was also because the Whips of the parties, who are responsible for designating the Chairpersons of Committees, were all men.  There is one woman Whip of a small party.  I expect to solve the problem when the Rules of Procedure of the Ugandan Parliament are amended to provide for parity when designating committee Chairpersons.
At the level of the caucuses, the public interest requires that our views merge on common issues.  Can we have an all-party Women’s Caucus?  In Uganda, the Uganda Women’s Parliamentary Association (UWOPA) is an all-party caucus, currently headed by a Member of a small opposition party.  But this caucus also has male Members of Parliament who are subscribing Members.  They pay annual fees, attend all the meetings and have been very useful in sponsoring important Bills such as the Bill Against Female Genital Mutilation which was sponsored in my Parliament by one of the male Members of Parliament who is a Member of the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus.

Constitutional roles and the gender lens
The constitutional responsibilities of Members of Parliament cover our legislative, representative and oversight roles.
In legislation, Members of Parliament must always keep in mind that they represent the entire population – men, women, children, workers, miners, young and old.  Their interests must be viewed with a gender lens.  One should always ask himself or herself how any proposed piece of legislation will affect both genders.  For instance, just for the sake of argument, supposing there were riots relating to the economy, as has happened in many countries all over the world, and suppose Parliament was required to enact a law that imposes a curfew at 5:00 p.m. each day.  One should use a gender lens to see, first, how this curfew would affect school-going children.  Would classes have to be cut short to meet the curfew?  How would it impact on a poor worker who has to walk 10 miles from his or her workplace to reach home?  What would be the impact of the curfew on a woman in the market, or a trader who is trying to eke out a living and who by 4:45 p.m. has not sold anything but needs money to buy food for her home?  The curfew may be a good law to enforce security in a country; but it has far reaching effects on the population.
I want to give an example from the Uganda Parliament.  At a time in the past we had a lot of financial institutions collapsing and leaving depositors with no fall-back position.  The government brought a Bill to Parliament aimed at addressing the problem.  The Parliament enacted a new law on financial institutions that set the minimum threshold of capital of Uganda Shillings 4,000,000,000 or at that time U.S.$4,000,000.
Later on after reflection, we realized that, at the stroke of a pen, we had by law locked out 51 per cent of the population from setting up a financial institution because there was no woman in Uganda who could raise the minimum capital.  We also realized that no young person could marshal those funds.  It became clear that it was probably only the foreigners who would be able to meet those conditions.  We had not employed the gender and equity lens in making that law.
On oversight of Parliaments, the budget process is the key tool of parliamentary oversight over the executive.  How are we distributing the budget?  Take, for example, the defence budget:  how much of it goes to the women and the youth of the country?  The army is a source of employment guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; but how many women are employed in the defence sector?
Look at the health sector: Who are the major consumers of health services?  These are women and children, so how much of the health budget is allocated to paediatric care?  How much of it is allocated to obstetric care?  Better still, is the health budget allocated according to the African Union’s Abuja Declaration which enjoins Heads of State to allocate 15 per cent of the budget to health?  What about agriculture?  Is the allocation in conformity with the Abuja Declaration?  If it is not, what are we going to do about it as Members of Parliament?

Priorities, conditions and expectations
I would like to give two recent examples from the Uganda Parliament.  The Minister of Health had presented a budget in which 60 per cent of the spending was for capacity-building.  We forced this money to be re-allocated to maternal health and cancelled the workshops.
The second example I would like to give was on the Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme where a sum of Uganda Shillings 44,000,000,000 was allocated to be managed by the Ministry of Finance.  We forced them to relinquish the budget to the Youth Ministry.  But what was even more important was the role Parliament played in alleviating the conditions that the Minister of Finance had set for young people to access the funds:

1. That the applicant must have a minimum of an Ordinary Level Education Certificate  (obviously this left out school dropouts);
2. That the business must be registered (how many people in Uganda have registered businesses?);
3. That the business must have been in existence for at least six months;
4. But the most interesting one was that the enterprise must demonstrate the capacity to employ six other young people.  How many enterprises run by adults employ at least six people?  Members must think back to their constituencies and see whether something is feasible.  But the Minister had actually declared that the budget for 2011/2012 was dedicated to the youth!

If you unpack the conditions further, how many of young girls would meet all these conditions?  To cut the story short, we varied the conditions and also moved the funds to the Youth Ministry.
On representation, Members of Parliament find time to relate with the entirety of their electorate through constituency consultations and outreach programmes.  It is also important that the public have access to Parliament; that they attend and participate in public hearings at meetings of committees.  Parliaments should broadcast their proceedings.
There are also civil society’s expectations.  It should be possible for civil society to have an input into legislation, policy and programmes that are brought to Parliament.  It is also important that Members have adequate information in a timely manner to inform the debates.  Parliament should facilitate adequate research services.
However, on the African continent, Members of Parliament are also expected to provide other services, such as roads, hospitals and schools.  It is, therefore, important that the public is educated on the roles of the Members of Parliament vis-à-vis the role of the executive.
At a cultural level, Members of Parliament are expected to participate in funerals, weddings, graduation functions et cetera, and many times they are judged harshly by the electorate for failing to fulfil these cultural norms.
With sufficient and continuous education, information and explanations, I hope we that we shall graduate from this level.