Pathways, perceptions, and performance: a comparative analysis of women on affirmative action and open seats in Uganda's 10th Parliament (2016-2021)
This study was motivated by the biased societal perceptions and evaluation of women who come to Parliament on the Affirmative Action (AA) seat. For example, women on AA are often perceived as second-class representatives, duplicating the work of MPs on open seats. In media and general representations, AA women MPs are constructed as tokens, and their contribution to the women’s agenda is often put in doubt. However, there is inadequate evidence of the performance differences between women in AA seats in juxtaposition with those on open seats, which then blurs their authentic performance. Drawing on feminist poststructuralist thought, this study compared the pathways, perceptions and performance differences of Women MPs on AA vis-à-vis MPs in the open seats using the case of five districts in Northern Uganda (Agago, Gulu, Kitgum, Pader, and Oyam) on the AAS and open seats. The study employed the explanatory case study design and qualitative methods, namely, In-depth Interviews (IDI), Key Informant Interviews (KII), and Focus Group Discussions (FGD). I also reviewed the Hansard for the 10th Parliament of Uganda to obtain data on women MPs' motives, experiences, voter perceptions, and WMPs' representative and legislative performance. Findings revealed that motives for parliamentary representation varied among women regardless of the nature of the seat. Women MPs had varied experiences despite the shared social-cultural environment they represent. Voter perceptions were contradictory and subjective, shaped by voter characteristics such as rural non-elite and urban elite and contextual factors. The rural non-elite voters perceived MPs on the AA and open seats as performing to expectation. In contrast, the urban elite perceived all women as non-performers but evaluated MPs in AA as worse than those in open seats. The findings from the Hansard of the 10th Parliament showed no substantial difference in performance, but most importantly, women perform as individuals based on their constituency needs, interests, abilities, committee membership, time spent in Parliament and position in Parliament. Therefore, the negative attitude towards Women MPs on AA was founded on the masculine standard associated with the design and implementation of AAS, resulting in binaries in which women are constructed as inferior representatives. Conclusively, this study argues that contextual factors influence WMPs' performance in legislation and representation rather than the seat type, making it impractical and undesirable to differentiate women's performance.