The Evolution of Women’s Role in Local Government

August 1, 2022

“Men will no longer be talking in 20 years. Museveni has given too much power to women.” — a male sub-county Executive Committee member in Uganda, as quoted in “Women In Ugandan Local Government: The Impact of Affirmative Action” by Deb Johnson with Hope Kabuchu and Santa Vusiya Kayonga

Despite men’s premature sounding of alarms at the presumed overrun of Uganda’s government by women, the mere presence — let alone rise- of women elected to public office is a relatively recent phenomenon when taken in the grand context of our nation’s history.

It can be traced back to the establishment of National Resistance Committees (RCs) in 1989, which later became Local Councils (LCs). Under the RC System, only one out of the nine councillors had to be a woman. This was improved by the 1997 Local Government Act which provided for women councillors forming one-third of the local council in addition to female Youth, PWDS, Elderly and Workers representation in District Local Council.

This has since been upped to a woman councillor directly elected to represent each electoral area in the District as provided for by the Local Government Act 2020 as amended.

A few years later, the Ministry of Gender created Women’s Councils under the National Women’s Council Act of 1993. These structures were charged with the responsibility of fostering the social and economic development of women. The national council was composed of five women and started at Local Council level one (village level, the smallest government unit of administration) to local council five (district level). The women councils I and II chairpersons became ex officio members of Local Councils I , II, III and V respectively.

Further strengthening women’s status on the political scene was an affirmative action clause included in 1995’s constitution, which outlined the specific rights of women and committed to rectifying past imbalances. It read as follows: “Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, the State shall take affirmative action in favour of groups marginalised based on gender, age, disability or any other reasons created by history, tradition or custom, to redress imbalances which exist against them.” (Article 32.1).

However, while the Constitution provided an opening for women in the national policy environment, it did not guide how to commit affirmative action into practice in government institutions.

This discrepancy was partially addressed with the passing of the Local Government Act of 1997, which laid the foundation for women’s inclusion in the government’s decision-making structures. The implementation of these clauses was quickly put into effect at the local government elections in 1998.

Yet in a twist of bureaucratic irony, the women council statute was not provided for in the Local Government Act and thus not recognised as a Local Government structure. This has meant that women councils do not receive funding or technical support from local governments.

So despite the lauded affirmative- action clause and central government’s policies committed to decentralising administrative, political, and financial responsibility to lower government levels, along with various other such policies in place to increase women’s participation in elective politics, they are rarely backed up by political will.

Hampered by cultural resistance to women in leadership positions, dated gender roles and a disproportionate lack of experience (due to the historical exclusion of women from the political sphere), there has been a marked lack of support for the relevant ministry and district departments tasked with creating an environment which encourages women’s political participation. And yet even in a limited capacity, the impact of women in local government has been undeniable and measurably contagious, leading to a surge of women enlisting in community activities, starting businesses and campaigning for public office.


  • Women in Ugandan Local Government: The Impact of Affirmative Action Author(s): Deb Johnson, Hope Kabuchu and Santa Vusiya Kayonga, Source: Gender and Development, Nov. 2003, Vol. 11, №3, Citizenship (Nov. 2003), pp. 8–18, Published by Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Oxfam GB
  • Contribution of Women in Influencing Legislation and Policy Formulation and Implementation in Uganda (1995–2005).Author(s): Elijah Dickens Mushemeza Source: Africa Development / Afrique et Développement, 2009, Vol. 34, №3/4 (2009), pp. 167–206 Published by CODESRIA

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