Feature Interview-Women’s Involvement in Politics- Aloikin Praise Opoloje

Published By UNNGOF |  June 11, 2024

Can you briefly introduce yourself and share your background, particularly your involvement in political or civic activities?

My name is Aloikin Praise Opoloje. I am a social justice advocate that is passionate about the observing human rights. I am interning at Chapter Four Uganda as a Legal Trainee. I am a feminist and believe that women are an important part of society and not any lesser.  I am a law student at Makerere University of Kampala. I work with Openparly Ug that is a youth-led Parliamentary Monitoring initiative as the Student Engagements Lead and organise student debates around issues that arise in parliament. I volunteer with the Dwona initiative that seeks to eradicate period poverty and misinformation.  I have also interned at the Human Rights and Peace Centre. I am a mother.

How would you assess the current state of Uganda’s rule of law and constitutional framework?

The law in Uganda as is on paper is, by and large, one of the best on the continent. I would even dare to say in the world. Despite not being perfect, it provides for the observance of human rights in Chapter four. it goes ahead to acknowledge that power actually belongs to the people. The constitution of Uganda goes ahead to stipulate the various separation of powers among the arms of government to promote accountability among other positive benefits. However, that glory sadly only exists on paper. When it comes to the actual implementation of that law, power belongs to those with the guns. Fear has been used as a great tool to oppress people in Uganda. Any form of exercising of power by the people is answered by violence. Tear gas. Bullets. Arbitrary arrest. Murder.  Disappearances.  A judge cannot do their job without receiving a letter from the president questioning his decision. The institutions supposed to hold the government in check like the Uganda Human Rights commission are in bed with the oppressors. Extravagance by parliamentarians on taxpayers’ money is the order of the day. The price that we pay in this country to have the rule of law is blood.  We are in a bad state. I would say a state of emergency.

In your view, how does the existing constitutional framework and political environment impact the participation of youth, women, and persons with disabilities (PWDs) in electoral processes? Can you share any personal experiences or observations from your involvement?

The most recent elections that we had in 2021 were marred with the death of people. It was just the dawn of a strong opposition party NUP. I don’t think there has been a larger number of disappearances and deaths reported during any election period as was in that time. Kids and women inclusive were being killed. This simply shows that a polling centre is not just a place where citizens go to perform their civic duty. It’s a war zone. And as a young person with so many dreams ahead of you, such a place is a no-go zone. You do not want to die young and fail to achieve your dreams. Women and persons with disabilities that are scientifically by large extent unable to physically defend themselves will most likely avoid such places that involve fighting, shooting and killing.

When it comes to the law, the electoral commission that is supposed to run free and fair elections is most likely not going to bite the hand that feeds it. The president cannot be responsible for appointing the chairperson of the electoral commission and we expect him/her to be impartial. The Electoral commission has lost credibility to the point that not even its results are trusted. The voter turn up is therefore negatively affected as more and more people see no reason to vote when they do not feel like their vote counts.

As a youth leader, woman, PWD, or civil society actor, what specific challenges have you encountered or identified that hinder the participation of youth, women, and PWDs in electoral processes?

As a woman, I feel that the biggest hindrance is the terror. The terror that is built around the entire electoral period is enough to prevent me as a woman from involving myself in any electoral process.  Existing in a patriarchal society that already has a high level of gender-based violence towards women, the election period makes it worse. A woman that is not in a yellow shirt or holding out a thumb is most likely to be a target. You cannot be an opposing woman. Online violence manifests during periods of political activity, and, when directed at women in public life and political discourse, is an example of Violence Against Women in Politics. It is, therefore, referred to as Online Violence Against Women in Politics. Men and women experience online violence differently. Women are more likely to experience trolling, sexual violence, and body shaming. Men are more likely to experience hate speech and satirical comments. Eighteen percent of the accounts belonging to women experienced sexual violence compared to 8 percent of those belonging to men during the 2021 elections. It is in such a period where nudes will leak. Women will be weighed according to how nicely they are dressed rather than the content they share. You are more likely to be asked, than your male counterparts, if you are married or not. Not being married is not a good thing, it portrays you as an irresponsible woman not worthy to lead.

Secondly, the standard set for women that seek to run in an election is way higher than that of the male counterparts. Are you bold enough but not a toxic feminist? Are you able to interact with all but not be overly attached? Can you confidently face your male counterparts but not be over daring? This directly affects the number of women that run for the election. It even goes ahead to be reflected in the election results. During the 2016 general election in Uganda, only 1 percent (87 of the 8,793) directly elected council positions in local government were won by women candidates. Our society is raised in such a way that women are considered to be people that cannot get the job done beyond the kitchen and bedroom. It’s a man and woman issue.

If you had the opportunity to serve as the President of Uganda for a month, what key constitutional and legal reforms would you prioritise to improve the country’s electoral democracy?

I would reinstate the term limits for the president role. In the past decade, leaders of an increasing number of African countries have found and implemented ways to avoid adhering to term limits. Since 2015, over a dozen presidents have managed to weaken, circumvent or eliminate limits which had been set as a means of curtailing the amount of power vested in the executive branch of the government. When power is concentrated at the top, civil society’s role is diminished, and leadership is less likely to respond to the will of the people. The governing powers become resistant to new ideas and cling to the status quo, preventing advancement and development.

Looking ahead to the period after the 2026 elections, what is your vision for Uganda? What changes or developments do you hope to see in the country?

I hope that women will fairly be given ground to participate in this election. We have the computer Misuse Act. I hope that it can be used to reduce the number of women that face online violence due to their engagement in politics. Digital safety training should be available in the form of courses and refresher training on digital safety and hygiene for all aspiring and incumbent women politicians to navigate online platforms, set strong passwords, use password managers, use encrypted messaging, etc. Online violence must be addressed swiftly and transparently to uphold democratic processes and curb the virality of offensive online posts. Civil society, together with the government, should work to set up a dedicated desk or team using human rights-based and gender-sensitive approaches such as civil society engagement to support aspiring and incumbent women politicians on an ongoing basis for issues such as hacking, doxing, non-consensual sharing of images, documenting online violence, etc. This should also include the training of law enforcement personnel and prosecutors on the prominent issues related to online violence of women in politics and how to handle these cases in an appropriate, timely, and fair manner.

What message would you like to convey to your Area Member of Parliament regarding electoral and constitutional reforms? What advice or call to action would you give to your fellow youth, women, and PWDs to encourage their active participation in the political process?

We as women of Pallisa district need better representation of the issues we face. There is a lot of early marriages and high levels of school drop out for girls due to various reasons. We need to hear a more vocal voice of Pallisa in parliament. A voice that is followed by tangible results. Ogwari Polycarp and Kevin Ojinga Kaalya should see to it that they are not just part of the process but influence the process.

There is a growing recognition of the crucial link between local governance, development, and gender equality. Women play a critical role in emphasising local priorities, have an impact on developmental outcomes, and are essential in ensuring sustainable development in the spirit of decentralised governance. Therefore, as women, you should not abstain from electoral processes because it’s tough. Instead, be part of the processes and carry the views and pains of women to those platforms and effect change. Bring up new ideas that solve the hindrances we suffer as women in electoral processes.