Women’s Emancipation in Africa – Reality or Illusion?

A Case Study of Mbarara, Western Uganda

by Paul Mutume (Author)
©2017 Thesis 228 Pages
Series: African Theological Studies, Volume 13


Women’s emancipation in Uganda is one of the most successful ventures an African country has ever undertaken. The reality of its success, however, remains a challenge in a society with a long-held structure of patriarchy and institutional, cultural beliefs.
After a critical analysis, the study challenges policy makers to ensure an environment free from all forms of violence and oppression against women – be it physical, economic, social, religious or psychological – and to empower them through education, ensure their financial independence and enhance their psychophysical stability. The study gives credit to women of all ages and indeed all walks of life who have effectively turned their sufferings into joy. It critically analyses the institutional mechanisms and concludes suggesting concrete measures and strategies towards gender mainstreaming.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgement
  • Vorwort
  • Abstract
  • Chapter One: General Introduction
  • 1.1 A Short Historical Background of Emancipation
  • 1.1.1 Remote Factors
  • 1.1.2 Immediate Factors
  • 1.1.3 Age of Emancipation
  • 1.2 Aim and Objectives
  • 1.2.1 Aim
  • 1.2.2 Objectives
  • Main Objective
  • Specific Objectives
  • 1.3 Definition of the Project
  • 1.3.1 Other Terms and Terminologies
  • Gender and Sex
  • Gender Equality
  • Gender Equity
  • Feminism
  • Humanism
  • 1.4 Location and Study Area
  • 1.5 Layout of the Project: Scope, Methodology and Division of the Project
  • 1.5.1 Scope
  • 1.5.2 Methodology
  • 1.5.3 Division of the Project
  • Chapter Two: The Status of Women among the Banyankole
  • 2.1 A Short Historical Background of the Banyankole
  • 2.2 The Status of Women
  • 2.2.1 The Pre-Colonial Period: 15th Century to 19th Century
  • The Usage of “Omugabekazi” (Female King)
  • 2.2.2 The Colonial Period
  • 2.2.3 The Post-Independence Era
  • From 1962 to 1986
  • From 1986 to 2014
  • The General Status Quo Today
  • 2.3 Critique of the Status Quo of Women
  • Chapter Three: Justification for Genuine Emancipation
  • 3.1 Introduction
  • 3.2 Religious Justification
  • 3.2.1 Scriptural Foundations
  • Introduction to Scriptural Reflections
  • Old Testament
  • New Testament
  • 3.2.2 Short Theological Foundation
  • Introduction to Theological Reflections
  • The Magisterium and Women
  • 3.3 Secular Justification
  • 3.3.1 Social Reasons
  • 3.3.2 Economic Reasons
  • 3.3.3 Political Reasons
  • 3.3.4 Humanitarian Reasons
  • 3.3.5 Demographic Reasons
  • 3.4 Implications and a Personal Critique
  • Chapter Four: The Reality and Impact of Women’s Emancipation So Far
  • 4.0 Introduction
  • 4.1 The Research Question
  • 4.2 Indicators
  • 4.2.1 Governance – The Existing Political and Legal Reality
  • Political Breakthrough
  • The Legal Framework
  • Local Levels
  • National Level
  • Popular Media
  • Critique of Governance as an Indicator
  • 4.2.2 The Social Formation: The Cultural and Religious Reality
  • Strong Cultural Principles
  • Early Childhood Preparation and Education
  • The Religious Reality - The Input of the Catholic Church
  • Ecumenism and the Anglican Church
  • On the Secular Level
  • Inheritance of Property
  • Widow Inheritance
  • Domestic Violence
  • The Critical Review of Cultural and Religious Reality
  • 4.2.3 Economic Distribution Indicator
  • Access to Land and Finance
  • Literacy Factor and Access to Education
  • Labor Exploitation
  • An Analytic Look at Economic Reality
  • 4.2.4 Health and Welfare Indicator
  • Physical Reality
  • Psychological Reality
  • 4.2.5 Observations and Conclusion
  • Observations
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Five: Women’s Power and Empowerment
  • 5.0 Introduction
  • 5.1 Definition of Terms: Power and Empowerment
  • 5.1.1 Empowerment
  • Technical Definition
  • Working Definition
  • 5.1.2 Power
  • Technical Definitions of Power
  • Working Definition
  • 5.2 Contextualizing Power and Empowerment
  • 5.2.1 Women and Power
  • Power Within
  • Power From / Over
  • Power To
  • Power With
  • 5.2.2 Women and Empowerment
  • Conditions for Empowerment
  • Levels of Empowerment
  • 5.3 Women’s Empowerment and Integral Development
  • 5.3.1 Key (Main) Areas of Women’s Empowerment
  • Social Empowerment
  • Economic Empowerment
  • Legal Empowerment
  • Political Empowerment
  • Psychological Empowerment
  • Sexual Empowerment
  • Chapter Six: Research Recommendations and General Conclusion
  • 6.1 General Research Findings
  • 6.2 Concrete Research Recommendations
  • 6.2.1 Girls’ Education
  • 6.2.2 Employment for Women
  • 6.2.3 Protection of Women
  • The Domestic Relations Bill
  • Domestic Violence Act
  • Public Space/Public Domain
  • Anti-Pornography
  • International Criminal Court Act
  • 6.2.4 Health Facilities
  • 6.2.5 Religious Intervention
  • The Catholic Church
  • Other Religions
  • 6.2.6 Appreciating and Celebrating Female Sexuality
  • 6.3 General Conclusion
  • Selected Sources and Bibliography
  • Literature and Books
  • Other Sources
  • Abbreviations
  • Index
  • Series index

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I wish to express my deepest appreciation to all those who supported and accompanied me in the completion of this study. The success of my doctoral thesis was made possible by many people. I do not have the space to name them all but a few whose prominence and excellency in the realization of this work cannot remain unmentioned.

My utmost gratitude to the Almighty God whose gift of life and abundant blessings cannot be taken for granted. I am also grateful to the Archbishop of Mbarara, Most Rev. Paul Bakyenga, for his permission to complete my studies in Germany. I cannot forget Rt. Rev. Francis Aquirinus Kibira, the Bishop of Kasese Diocese, with whom all this began. My special thanks to my moderator Prof. Dr. Dr. Gerhard Droesser, whose fatherly and friendly approach cannot be forgotten. His in-depth but constructive criticism facilitated the successful completion of this work. I remain indebted to his professional guidance, valuable support and useful recommendations in this study. To my co-moderators, Dr. Frederic Fungula and Prof. Dr. Udeani Chibueze, I express my thanks.

I would also like to extend my thanks to the Diocese of Würzburg, Germany for the financial and spiritual support during my studies. For their generous support, I am grateful to Pfr. Stefan Redelberger and the parish members of Maria Hilf-St. Anton, who welcomed me to Germany and introduced me to its culture, to Mr. Manfred Emmerling and to the parish community of Oberpleichfeld. Pfr. Bernd Bielasik vielen Dank, Pfarrvikar Duc Ninh Nguyen, Pfr. Helmut Rügamer, Rev. Fr. Charles Tumusime Rucumu, Pfr. Hans Fischer and Ms. Birgit Jäger thank you very much. I cannot forget the tremendous support from the family of Christian Sandra Miriam Achenrainer, Ms. Lydia Bakecura and those who read through my work and contributed, especially Ms. Kate Dixon, Ms. Ronnah Tumusime and the family of Eddie Rosette Mutetsi Kamugisha; I am very grateful. I am indebted to my strict but very caring German language teacher Ms. Gisela Kugler for her help, and to all my subsequent lecturers and professors who saw me through my study. ← 11 | 12 →

Last but not least, I wish to acknowledge the support, care, love, cordiality and sacrifices, prayers and patience of my parents, Henry and Sophia Kabigumira, my sisters and brothers, cousins, my uncle Ignatius Mpurubuki and his wife, other relatives and friends, the Banyatereza sisters of Fortportal Diocese, the priests and religioius men and men of Mbarara archdiocese and everyone who supported me in the completion of my study.

Many would not like to be mentioned and I am very grateful to those whose names do not appear here but who contributed. May God reward you abundantly.

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Anliegen des Verfassers ist, die aktuelle Lage der Frauenbewegung in Uganda aus ihrer geschichtlichen Entwicklung zu verstehen, sie kritisch nach ihren objektiven Fortschritten, aber auch nach ihren Defiziten zu beurteilen, sodann ihre zukünftigen Entfaltungschancen zu erwägen.

In seiner Arbeit nimmt er entschieden Partei für die Emanzipation der Frau auf allen gesellschaftlichen Ebenen. Vor der Auseinandersetzung mit den traditionellen wie auch modernen ideologischen Einstellungen, die die Chancen weiblicher Selbstverwirklichung zugunsten der männlichen missachten, scheut er nicht zurück. Damit leistet er in Konkretion christlicher Sozialethik einen sinnvollen Beitrag zu einem tiefgreifenden kulturellen Paradigmenwechsel, der sich – wie zu hoffen ist – in einer umfassenden Lerngeschichte, in der sich die weibliche und ebenso die männliche soziale Identität verändern wird. Dass dieses Unternehmen glückt: die Idee der Emanzipation gesellschaftlich verankert wird, verlangt, dass alle gesellschaftlichen Akteure – Individuen und Institutionen – sie in einer konzertierten Aktion zu ihrer Sache machen. Freiheitschancen müssen in der politischen, rechtlichen, ökonomischen, familialen Dimension, aber eben auch in dem durch Bildung geförderten und stabilisierten Bewusstsein der Individuen, als selbstverständliche Gegebenheiten die alltägliche Praxis bestimmen.

Der Autor hat ein für die Modernisierung afrikanischer Gesellschaften brennendes Thema aufgegriffen. Er nähert sich ihm gleichsam naiv, ohne falsche Voreingenommenheiten. In der Darstellung beweist er Selbständigkeit, soziologische Auffassungskraft und theologisch-ethische Leidenschaft. Dass Vieles verbessert werden kann, ist klar. Das ändert aber nichts am Wert des Konzepts. Die Lektüre ist spannend und regt zum Weiterdenken an. Paul Mutume hat das Potential, seine Studien zu erweitern und zu präzisieren.

Prof. Dr. Dr. Gerhard Droesser

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This thesis explores the reality of gender equality in Uganda while also investigating the factors that influence this reality. The aim of the study is, therefore, to analyze gender equality or inequality in Uganda and the efforts that have been employed to improve it. The central guiding research question is: To what extent have women been emancipated and what are the successes and challenges of this emancipation? Secondly, the thesis further explores women’s emancipation in the major sectors of life and the way forward for future improvement. For these purposes, a well-thought-out study and analysis of literature, oral and statistical data has been done. Evaluation of internationally recognized indicators has been employed to determine the extent of the success of this project. The research has recommended empowerment – both subjective and objective – as a means to the full liberation of women, and consequently the outcome will be gender equality that is beneficial to all Ugandans. Finally, the analysis and research findings show a rather positive progress of gender equality in Uganda.

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Chapter One: General Introduction

1.1 A Short Historical Background of Emancipation

Generally, and globally, a lot has been said and written about the liberation struggle of women, especially in the last century. Most of these writings have been essential in the noble struggle for the liberation of women. Despite these writings, a lot remains to be done to enable women to occupy their rightful position in society. Women’s contributions to the economic, religious-cultural and socio-political advancement of their countries, international conferences and the universal declaration of human rights, have to be recognized and appreciated. Unfortunately, women have often got only what they have struggled for and not what they deserve.

As such, the emancipation of women remains a matter of concern after a century, especially in Africa. The struggle for women’s freedom in a strategically central position in the lives of their families, communities, societies and countries does not seem to be yielding much. Women have always struggled for financial independence, recognition and respect, though with little success. There is a need to address this problem concisely and precisely. The subjection of women to economic manipulation, sexual exploitation, and political marginalization remain the thorn in the flesh of women’s liberation today, even in developed countries.

The struggle for the liberation of women is not new or alien to the African people. Throughout African history, women have always fought for their freedom. This fact, though, has always yielded either nothing or no significant effect and was often short-lived. What is clear is: any fruitful and genuine liberation demands sacrifice and, more often than not, martyrdom.

In the last years, the trend and speed of women’s emancipation in Uganda has gained momentum and significant progress has been made. The year 1986 remains historic for women because it formally ushered in the liberation struggle, at least in the minds of many Ugandans1. Undoubtedly, since 1986, the emancipation of women has taken a central stage on Uganda’s ← 17 | 18 → political, social, economic as well as religious scene. For the first time, it was receiving more public attention than it had during any other epoch in the history of Uganda.

However, the emancipation of women in Uganda had a long history that often remained obscure. The ‘1986 turning point’ did not come as a surprise. It was long overdue. There are factors responsible for this. These can be categorized under remote and immediate factors.

1.1.1 Remote Factors

The remote factors include the political instability, economic stagnation, global trends like women’s rights, feminists, emancipationists, the 1980s Nairobi and Beijing conferences and the influence of international media2. All these played a very significant role in the struggle for the rights of women. They also awakened the longing for the respect for human freedom. The remote factors are both negative and positive.

The dictatorial regimes and subsequent liberation of Uganda prepared a fertile ground for the awareness of human rights and their abuses. A big part of Uganda’s history is dark. Following the authoritarian regimes of the 1970s and early 1980s, which were destructive for nearly every sector of Ugandan society, women and children were those who suffered most during and after. Anarchy and disorder characterized these dark years, and respect for human rights was no longer an issue. The most important thing was survival, and the majority of Ugandans never minded the issues of human rights.

The militaristic regimes were busy plundering Uganda’s wealth and quenching their thirst for power as ordinary Ugandans suffered. The abuse of human rights was the order of the day during these aggressive regimes. Cases of extrajudicial killing, sexual harassment and rape of women and ← 18 | 19 → girls increased significantly as soldiers and security personnel were allowed and encouraged to terrorize the public, often systematically using rape for such ends.3 It was not only soldiers who did these heinous and terrible crimes but also other men who were in power, or who at least thought they were. They merely looked on, doing nothing to stop these crimes. Unfortunately, this indifference was from top to bottom, from the highest administrative structure to the lowest.

Simultaneously, the lack of the rule of law and enforcement meant that criminals were never held accountable. In this case, rapists were not punished. Justice was never served. Women suffered most because of their already patriarchal and segregational societal structures and these traumatic experiences, and the criminals often walked scot-free. Also, due to the prevalence of such physical violence, women still faced immense structural disadvantages that were accentuated by the repressive and dictatorial atmosphere of Amin’s and Obote’s regimes.4 This kind of suffering provoked the need for change.

Sadly, the few women who were already in powerful positions or were counted among the fortunate ones did not help their fellow women.5 The research did not find significant evidence of women helping women to be free of this misery. They never saw a need to pave the way for the emancipation of the rest of women, the majority of the suffering women. Miria Matembe, one of the most prominent women activists in Uganda, agrees with this point. She writes in her autobiography that the most powerful women during this terrible period were mostly the “wives of big men either in government or religious bodies.”6 She argues further that these women, ← 19 | 20 → with their conservative views and lack of formal power, refused to acknowledge women’s suffering and oppression and never took action to address it.

Meanwhile during this regrettable and repressive period in Uganda, the international women’s movement was gaining ground on a world stage and exerting its influence on global policy makers. The United Nations declared 1975 to 1985 as the ‘Decade for Women’ and required its members to establish government organizations to address women’s issues. In Uganda, President Idi Amin Dada “took an initiative and established a National Council of Women in 1978, which he and later Obote used to regulate, control and repress non-governmental women’s organizations”.7 Both governments used these women organizations for their own benefit.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (May)
Status Gender Power Empowerment
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 228 pp.

Biographical notes

Paul Mutume (Author)

Paul Mutume is a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Mbarara in Uganda. He holds degrees in Philosophy from Makerere University in Uganda and in Theology from the Pontifical Urban University, Rome, as well as a doctoral degree in Theology from the University of Würzburg in Germany.


Title: Women’s Emancipation in Africa – Reality or Illusion?