Gender, class, culture and democratisation: a study of women’s participation in formal politics and collective activities in Kampala, Uganda
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This thesis is an in-depth study of Ugandan women’s responses to the transition to democracy that began when the National Resistance Movement came to power in 1986. In contrast to the political repression of preceding decades, the new government expressed a commitment to democracy and the promotion of gender equality. Affirmative action legislation was instated to increase women's political participation at all levels. This led to an unprecedented period of women's individual and collective action to reduce their marginalisation. This study sought to test the widely held assumption that democratisation and increased gender equality are necessarily interlinked. I explore two principal modes of women’s political engagement: namely participation in formal politics and participation in collective activities. With respect to participation in formal politics, I investigated the types of women who enter formal politics at the local and national levels, and the ways in which they do so. In relation to collective activities this thesis explores the differences between categories of women that been important both in shaping the nature of women’s participation and the relationship between women and the state. Fieldwork carried out in 2003-2004, combined two strategies; a in-depth neighbourhood study in Kamwokya, a low-income Parish and case studies from within a wider elite network in Kampala. I utilised a feminist reflexive approach which emphasises the value of integrating positionality into anthropological analysis. I used my unique identity as both “insider” and “outsider” as a starting point for engagement with the different social groups in Kampala as well and for the interpretation of my findings. A historical account of changing gender relations and class formation in Uganda provides a background for a descriptive scheme of contemporary gendered class categories for women in Kampala This dissertation reveals that the interrelationship between class and gender has been the most important factor in determining how women have responded to changing state gender policies under the NRM. Although grassroots politics is the entry point for all women into formal politics, analyses reveal two very different patterns of involvement at the local and national levels. Lower class women in Kamwokya utilised the LCs as a way of gaining higher status within their local community. In contrast, elite women used the LCs strategically as a route to national politics. This pattern also reflects the considerable advantages that elite women have over non-elite women in relation to advancement to national politics. These include, education, professional experience, access to elite male patronage networks and the resources to mobilise grassroots support. I also identify a small cohort of women who represented a new, bounded form of grassroots female leadership that arose as a result of participation in local politics. This study investigates the elite-led, national women’s advocacy organizations, whose mandate reflects a new solidarity on the part of elite women with their non-elite counterparts. Local women’s organisations were found to be generally small, informal neighbourhood groups focused on meeting practical needs. I identified three forms of Rotating Savings and Credit Associations (ROSCAs), which reflect different strategies that lower class women use to work around strategic constraints. These findings seriously challenge the commonly held association between democratisation and increased gender equality. By revealing some of the social and practical constraints related to class on women’s participation under the NRM this thesis provide a strong case for a re-evaluation of affirmative action as a state-led, top-down strategy to increase women’s participation. Although this study of the gendered dynamics of women’s participation heavily emphasises the voices of urban women to the exclusion of urban men, these nuanced descriptions of women’s participation may provide a starting point for the formulation of alternative feminist strategies.