Source: New Vision
As the war in Libya rages on and as the television pictures capture what is happening, one particular section of the society is missing in action—where are the women?

Women in Libya were famed as Gadaffi's bodyguards. Will their absence at such a critical time work against their future participation in public affairs?

Closer home, in Kenya women leaders want 80 new constituencies expected to be created before the next general elections of 2012 to be reserved for female candidates. This proposal is to ensure that not more than two-thirds of MPs are of the same gender as stipulated in the Kenya Constitution.

The principle of affirmative action also provided for in the Uganda Constitution honours the diversity of society. The Constitution of Uganda provides for affirmative action in favour of marginalised groups.

Article 32 states: "Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, the state shall take affirmative action in favour of groups marginalised on the basis of gender, age, disability or any reason created by history, which exist against them."

This Constitutional principle on affirmative action for marginalised groups does not explicitly state the kind of action the state is mandated to take. Best practices from other parts of the world have instituted actions such as:

Establishment of quotas for marginalised groups in political, economic and social spheres of life. Quotas have, for example, been instituted to facilitate economic empowerment whereby banks are obliged to grant loans to marginalised groups at subsidised rates; or

Providing a certain percentage of jobs or positions for marginalised groups; or

Granting additional credit ratings in the education sector such as the 1.5 point programme, implemented at Makerere University which ensures that by awarding 1.5 points, more female students are guaranteed to access higher education.

Affirmative action could also include allocation of special funds or the taking of special measures in favour of development of the least developed areas in order to target marginalised groups.

The Constitutional provision on affirmative action further states that "laws, cultures, customs and traditions which are against the dignity, welfare or interest of women or any other marginalised group ...or which undermine their status, are prohibited by the Constitution."

This Constitutional provision presents us with an opportunity to take action on laws, cultures, customs and traditions that have for time immemorial been used to undermine the dignity and status of marginalised groups.

The term "marginalised groups" includes women, men, the elderly, persons with disability, minority groups such as the Batwa and may include persons living in historically neglected areas such as the Karamoja region.

Likewise, laws, cultures, customs and traditions which are against the dignity, welfare or interests of women or any other marginalised groups also depends on the prevailing circumstances. Some of our traditions emanate from culture and religion and as such we have religious practices which do not allow women to occupy senior positions in religious hierarchy. Churches do not, for example, allow women to occupy the position of 'Bishop'. This status quo needs to be reviewed.

Actually, in practice it has been reviewed —the Pentecostal movement currently has several female Bishops, Prophetesses and Pastors who are respected in their own right. This is an interesting phenomenon and is supported by the fact that women make up the biggest percentage of the faithful and highest percentage of the congregation. And most religious doctrines preach equal treatment of human beings based on the belief that we are all children of God, made in the image of God.

Religious and cultural institution should institute a mechanism to change traditions and practices that do not promote the dignity, welfare and interest of all people. One mechanism the Government has instituted to ensure that affirmative action is implemented is the establishment of the Equal Opportunities Commission.

This, coupled with Parliament's mandate to make laws for the purpose of giving full effect to affirmative action in favour of marginalized groups provides an unprecedented opportunity for women and all marginalised groups to access affirmative action.

Affirmative action has been implemented in political leadership and access to higher education but more needs to be done in the areas of economic opportunities and capacity building in order to put into action measures that can effectively redress imbalances which exist against marginalised groups.

As the saying goes, it is better to learn how to fish rather than to continuously receive fish as handouts. Affirmative action in favour of marginalised groups should not be perpetual. A time-frame should be set and sustainability built into action which should ensure progressive and systematic creation of an environment whereby equal opportunities are accessed by all irrespective of gender, age, disability or any other reason created by history, tradition or custom.

My thoughts are clouded by what is happening in Libya. My prayer is that peace reigns and that the women and men engaged in the strife emerge as equal partners with access to equal opportunities—so to expedite the rebuilding of the nation.

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