Skip to main content Accesibility Help

The Politics of Gender in Uganda: Symbolism in the Service of Pragmatism

  • Dan Ottemoeller

This essay outlines a realist explanation for an increase in women's participation in formal political processes in Uganda. The essay notes that a variety of factors influence women's participation in formal politics, such as demands for increased participation from women and women's organizations, the influence of the worldwide feminist movement, and Uganda's turbulent political and economic history which has created openings for novel political initiatives. However, the paper's central argument asserts that women's role in formal politics in Uganda is expanding principally because women constitute a potentially influential voting bloc in an era in which the liberalization of African economic and political systems limits politicians' abilities to build electoral support based on patronage. The essay suggests that in this context, politicians will seek to build support around issues that can be addressed with symbolic solutions. In sum, this essay asserts that women's increased role in formal politics in Uganda has been brought about by power-seeking politicians who are sympathetic to feminist issues because (1) electoral strategies are severely limited by liberal political and economic values and (2) politicians can secure support from women with relatively low-cost symbolic political initiatives. The paper concludes with a brief examination of the implications of an expansion of women's influence in formal politics in Uganda, especially concerning the potential for women's political support to “cross-cut” historical Ugandan political allegiances defined by ethnicity, religion, region, and political party affiliation.


Cet article esquisse une explication réaliste de la participation croissante des femmes dans le processus politique en Ouganda. Notons aussi que divers facteurs ont contribué à la participation des femmes à la chose politique, tels que l'exigence par les femme et les associations féminines d'une plus grande participation, l'influence du féminisme mondial et l'instabilité de l'histoire politique et économique de l'Ouganda qui a ouvert les portes à de nouvelles initiatives politiques. Cependant nous soulignons que le rôle croissant des femmes dans la politique en Ouganda s'explique surtout par le fait que les femmes constituent un corps électoral potentiellement influent dans une époque où la libéralisation des systèmes économiques et politiques de l'Afrique limite les capacités des politiciens à se construire une base électorale fondée sur le patronage. L'article suggère que dans un tel contexte les politiciens chercheront de l'appui dans des questions susceptibles à être résolus par le recours à des solutions symboliques. En résumé, cet article insiste sur le fait que l'intervention croissante des femmes dans la vie politique ougandaise est due dans une large mesure au fait que les politiciens en quête de pouvoir sont sensibles aux problèmes soulevés par les féministes parce que, premièrement, les stratégies électorales sont sévèrement limitées par les valeurs politiques et économiques libérales, et deuxièmement les politiciens peuvent s'assurer l'appui des femmes avec des initiatives politiques symboles de moindre coût. L'auteur conclut en examinant brièvement les conséquences de l'influence croissante des femmes dans la vie politique ougandaise, surtout parce que potentiellement l'appui des femmes peut permettre d'aller au-delà des allégeances historiques dans la politique ougandaise qui était fondée sur l'ethnicité, la religion, la région et l'affiliation politique.

Hide All
Boyd, Rosalind E. 1989. “Empowerment of Women in Uganda: Real or Symbolic.” Review of African Political Economy 45/46: 106–17.
Bratton, Michael, and Van De Walle, Nicolas. 1997. Democratic Experiments in Africa: Regime Transitions in Comparative Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Byanyima, Karagwa W. 1992. “Women in Political Struggle in Uganda.” In Bystylzienski, J. M., ed., Women Transforming Politics: Worldwide Strategy for Empowerment. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 129–42.
Chazan, Naomi. 1989. “Gender Perspectives on African States.” In Parpart, Jane L. and Staudt, Kathleen, eds., Women and the State in Africa. Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 185201.
Collier, Paul. 1994. “Economic Aspects of the Ugandan Transition to Peace.” Paper presented to the “Developing Uganda” conference, Lyngby Landbrugsskole, Denmark.
Geisler, Gisela. 1995. “Troubled Sisterhood: Women and Politics in Southern Africa: Case Studies from Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana.” African Affairs 94: 545–78.
Gladwin, Christina H. 1991. “Introduction.” In Gladwin, Christina H., ed., Structural Adjustment and African Women Farmers. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 122.
Goetz, Anne Marie. 1995. “The Politics of Integrating Gender to State Development Processes: Trends, Opportunities and Constraints in Bangladesh, Chile, Jamaica, Mali, Morocco and Uganda.” Occasional Paper #2, Fourth World Conference on Women. Geneva: United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.
Himbara, David, and Sultan, Dawood. 1995. “Reconstructing the Ugandan State and Economy: The Challenge of an International Bantustan.” Review of African Political Economy 63: 8593.
Humaratu, Beatrice. 1996. “Women on the Run.” World Press Review 43: 3959.
“IPC Accuses Museveni of ‘Stealing’ all the Women.” 1996. The Monitor (Kampala), 1 03, Internet Edition.
Jamal, Vali. 1991. “The Agrarian Context of the Ugandan Crisis.” In Hansen, Holger Bernt and Twaddle, Michael, eds., Uganda Now. London: James Currey, 7897.
Kabeer, Naila. 1994. Reversed Realities: Gender Hierarchies in Development Thought. London: Verso.
Kasfir, Nelson. 1991. “The Ugandan Elections of 1989: Power, Populism and Democratization.” In Hansen, Holger Bernt and Twaddle, Michael, eds. Changing Uganda. London: James Currey, 247–78.
Low, Anthony. 1988. “The Dislocated Polity.” In Hansen, Holger Bernt and Twaddle, Michael, eds., Uganda Now. London: James Currey, 3653.
Mikell, Gwendolyn. 1995. “African Feminism: Toward a New Politics of Representation.” Feminist Studies 21: 405–24.
Moser, Caroline O. N. 1991. “Gender Planning in the Third World: Meeting Practical and Strategic Needs.” In Grant, Rebecca and Newland, Kathleen, eds., Gender and International Relations. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 83121.
Museveni, Yoweri Kaguta. 1997. Sowing the Mustard Seed: The Struggle for Freedom and Democracy in Uganda. London: Macmillan.
“Museveni Reveals Why He Hasn't Been Toppled.” 1997. The Crusader (Kampala), 11 03, Internet Edition.
“Museveni Wins 11 Districts, Ssemogerere Takes 3.” 1996. The Monitor (Kampala), 22 04, Internet Edition.
Mutibwa, Phares. 1992. Uganda Since Independence: A Story of Unfulfilled Hopes. Kampala: Fountain Publishers.
Mutumba, Richard, and Kaddu, Paul. “Ssemo Should Quit Post - Mutagamba.” 1998. The New Vision (Kampala), 9 02, Internet Edition.
O'Barr, Jean F. 1975. “Making the Invisible Visible: African Women in Politics and Policy.” African Studies Review 28: 1927.
Ochieng, E. O. 1991. “Economic Adjustment Programmes In Uganda, 1985–88.” In Hansen, Holger Bernt and Twaddle, Michael, eds., Changing Uganda. London: James Currey, 4360.
O'Donnell, Guillermo. 1996. “Illusions About Consolidation.” Journal of Democracy 7: 3451.
Oloka-Onyango, J., and Tamale, Sylvia. 1995. “‘The Personal is Political’, or Why Women's Rights are Indeed Human Rights: An African Perspective on International Feminism.” Human Rights Quarterly 17: 691731.
Onyango-Obbo, Charles. 1998. “Will Museveni Chop Off Kazibwe's Neck?The Sunday Monitor, 25 01, Internet Edition.
Parpart, Jane L. 1988. “Women and the State in Africa.” In Rothchild, Donald and Chazan, Naomi, eds., The Precarious Balance: State and Society in Africa. Boulder Colo.: Westview Press, 208–30.
Parpart, Jane L. and Staudt, Kathleen. 1989. “Women and the State in Africa.” In Parpart, Jane L. and Staudt, Kathleen, eds., Women and the State in Africa. Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 122.
Southall, Aidan. 1980. “Social Disorganization In Uganda: Before, During and After Amin.” The Journal of Modern African Studies 18: 627–56.
Sparr, Pamela, ed. 1994. Mortgaging Women's Lives: Feminist Critiques of Structural Adjustment. London: Zed Books.
Tamale, Sylvia. 1999. When Hens Begin to Crow: Gender and Parliamentary Politics in Uganda. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.
Tamale, Sylvia. 1993. “Law Reform and Women's Rights in Uganda.” East African Journal of Peace and Human Rights 1: 164–94.
Tripp, Aili Mari. 1998. “Local Women's Associations and Politics in Contemporary Uganda.” In Hansen, Holger Bernt and Twaddle, Michael, eds., Developing Uganda. London: James Currey, 120–32.
Tripp, Aili Mari. 1996. “Urban Women's Movements and Political Liberalization in East Africa.” In Sheldon, Kathleen, ed., Courtyards, Markets, City Streets: Urban Women in Africa. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 285308.
Tripp, Aili Mari. 1994. “Gender, Political Participation and the Transformation of Associational Life in Uganda and Tanzania.” African Studies Review 37: 107–31.
“Uganda Women No. 6 in Africa.” 1997. The Crusader (Kampala), 22 07, Internet Edition.
Van De Walle, Nicolas. 1997. “Economic Reform and the Consolidation of Democracy in Africa.” In Ottaway, Marina, ed., Democracy in Africa: The Hard Road Ahead. Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1542.
“View: It's All Over, Now Back to Work.” 1996. The Monitor (Kampala), 5–8 07, Internet Edition.
Wakoko, Florence, and Lobao, Linda. 1996. “Reconceptualizing Gender and Reconstructing Social Life: Ugandan Women and Padi to National Development.” Africa Today 43: 307–22.
Widner, Jennifer A. 1997. “Political Parties and Civil Societies in Sub-Saharan Africa.” In Ottaway, Marina, ed., Democracy in Africa: The Hard Road Ahead. Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 6582.
“Women Want One Third of Cabinet.” 1996. The Monitor (Kampala), 3 07, Internet Edition.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

African Studies Review
  • ISSN: 0002-0206
  • EISSN: 1555-2462
  • URL: /core/journals/african-studies-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed