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Analysis & Opinions

Advancing Gender Inclusion is a Vital Path to Prosperity

By Patricia Ojangole

As we celebrate International Women’s Day under the theme “Inspiring Inclusion,” it is crucial to reflect on the global journey towards gender equality and the pivotal role Uganda plays in this narrative. Gender inclusion isn’t just a moral imperative; it’s a catalyst for national and global progress, fostering equality, diversity, and economic growth. This year’s theme resonates deeply with Uganda, where the pursuit of gender parity is both a moral duty and a socio-economic necessity.

Globally, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index for 2023 reveals progress, though modest. The global gender gap score improved from 68.1% in 2022 to 68.4% in 2023, up by 0.3 percentage points. This means that, on average, women have only about 31.6% of the opportunities, representation, or outcomes that men enjoy. Despite advancements, no country has achieved full gender parity. Notable exceptions include Iceland, Norway, Finland, New Zealand, Sweden, Germany, Nicaragua, Namibia, and Lithuania, standing at at least 80% towards closing their gender gap.

In the African region, Sub-Saharan Africa takes the lead with the highest gender parity at 68.2%. Uganda, as a member of this region, has seen fluctuations in its gender gap score, standing at 70.6% in 2023, a decline of 1.8 percentage points from the previous year. While commendable progress is evident in health, education, and political empowerment, economic participation and opportunity faced a decline from 69.6% in 2022 to 62.3% in 2023, emphasizing the challenges that persist.

Uganda recognizes the critical role women play in its socio-economic transformation. Women contribute significantly to agriculture, business, trade, and industry, yet they face numerous challenges, including limited access to productive resources, social representation, and decision-making spaces. For instance, women account for about 77% of the agricultural labor force, the sector that accounts for 24% of the GDP, and about 40% of Uganda’s export earnings.

The Uganda Development Bank (UDB) is a crucial player in addressing the key economic constraints faced by women in especially accessing capital and business advisory services. The UDB has implemented strategic programs like the Women Prosper Loans to empower women economically. These initiatives aim to increase access to affordable and appropriate financial services for women-owned and women-led businesses.

However, challenges persist, such as women’s limited access to productive resources, property rights, and decision-making abilities. The UDB’s Women Prosper Loans, with features like low-interest rates (10-12%) and patient capital, address these constraints. These financial products support women in various sectors, from essentials production to business expansion, fostering economic empowerment and reducing the gender gap.

Beyond economic challenges, Uganda grapples with issues like abuse of labor, especially girls’, exported to the Middle East, child pregnancy, and early marriages. Women’s participation in the workforce is hampered by cultural norms, practices and attitudes, limiting their mobility, and perpetuating unequal demands of domestic responsibilities. The UDB, recognizing these broader societal issues, is not just a financial institution; it’s a catalyst for societal transformation.

As we look toward a shared future, women in Uganda are shaping the narrative of progress. Initiatives like the Women Prosper Loans are not just financial tools; they are instruments of change. Uganda’s commitment to gender equality is evident in the representation of women in political leadership, with 46% in local government, 33% in parliamentary seats, and 43% in cabinet positions.

The government’s commitment, as outlined in Vision 2040 and National Development Plan III, underscores gender equality as a cross-cutting enabler for socio-economic transformation. The UDB’s role becomes even more crucial in addressing these structural barriers.

On this International Women’s Day, let us celebrate the progress made, acknowledge the challenges ahead, and amplify the importance of gender inclusion. Uganda’s journey is a testament to the resilience and contributions of women.

As Ugandans, let us be proud of the strides we have made and be optimistic about the future. Let us continue to inspire inclusion, break barriers, and work towards a Uganda where every woman’s potential is fully realized. The path to equality is a collective journey, and together, we can build a nation where every voice is heard, and every woman thrives. Happy International Women’s Day!

The writer is the Managing Director of Uganda Development Bank

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