Letter from Miria Matembe


Dear Participants,
The participation of women in politics is essential to building sustainability. One can not talk of meaningful democratic governance without full and equal participation of women in the political process. There is no doubt that women’s participation is crucial. There are many arguments available to advance women’s political participation. For one, we constitute at least half of any population and as such we should be proportionally represented. Failure to achieve this is to the detriment of any democratic society.
It is imperative that women are involved in politics because their absence from positions of power impoverishes public life and inhibits the development of a just and democratic society. Exclusion of women in decision-making makes the political process less effective than it should be, to the detriment of society as a whole.
Factors that constrain women’s political participation mainly stem from traditional gender roles that separate the public and the private sphere. Overcoming these constraints is no small challenge, but it is possible. There is an increasing realization that women should be accorded more space in political life. We as women need to take advantage of this realization and push for still more space and for more voice.
Many women have already taken advantage of what little space has already been made available to them, and their impacts have been several. They have brought to the surface issues that would have otherwise never been featured and they have also played a role in conflict resolution. For example, in Rwanda, women played a leading role in the reconciliation process. In Burundi, women were at the forefront in negotiating peace and reconciliation. In Uganda, apart from participating in the peace and conflict resolution process in the areas of insurgency in the country, women have played a big role in the counselling and rehabilitation of the victims of war.  Together we can do even more.
I would like to share with you the challenges, successes, and failures I have experienced during my career in politics and the strategies I have used to try to achieve my goals. When I joined politics I had a very clear and specific goal – to espouse the cause for gender-quality and empowerment of women, particularly in the legal field.  It was my childhood dream to have a public platform on which I could talk about women, talk for women, and talk with women.  This shaped my ambition to study law and to later become a parliamentarian. 
Following my dreams and ambition meant facing several challenges. When I first stepped out and stood on a public platform it was like “hell had broken loose.”  I think it was the first time in Uganda a woman had done such a thing.  To publicly challenge the status quo in the manner and style I was doing became offensive and generally unacceptable, especially to men. I really suffered for it.  I was called all sorts of derogatory names, but I was so determined in my ambition that no amount of bashing by the press, castigation, or intimidation by anybody could silence me. 
My title became the “Controversial and uncompromising Matembe.”  Why?  Because I said things that women were not supposed to say. I challenged the unchallengeable.  The storm, the blows and the pains I bore for stepping out to challenge the biases, injustices, and suffering of the women of Uganda immense. They required a high level of interest and commitment to persist.  One has to be very strong-willed to withstand what I went through in the early years of my political life.  My dream drove me on, and to me it was less painful to take the blows than to betray my vision.  I took bashings from both men and women, even my women colleagues in parliament.  I had a love-hate relationship with the press.  While other women to tried so hard to attract media attention, the media was chasing me, because battering Matembe made its papers sell.
I know from experience that to sustain their participation, women need to be equipped with the necessary skills to help them win and stay in office. Running for office is more than just a political decision; it is a deeply personal one. One must be sure that she is personally ready for the gruelling and exhilarating months ahead. We are not alone in this endeavour, however. We can all learn from those who have tried before us. This is why I write to you, and why I’ve included the following advice.  
Miria Matembe

More advice from Miria

Questions to think about if you are considering public office:

 “Why do you want to run for office?”
* Do you have a desire for or interest in public service?
* Do you have strong feelings on a number of issues?
* Do you think that there is need for change in leadership?
* Do you think you can do a better job than the incumbent?
“Do you have what it takes to be a leader?”
* Do you like meeting people?
* Do you speak well in public?
* Can you respond quickly and analyse a situation under pressure?
* Can you handle frustration?
You should also endeavour to find out the following about the office you are running for:
* Is this an open seat or you will be challenging an incumbent? If you are challenging an incumbent, is he or she vulnerable? Why?
* Who are the likely opponents for the same seat?
* Do you have a natural base of voters or for you have to go out and win? What is the political environment in the district and in the community?
* Where will you get the votes to win the election?

Preparations to take when running for public office:

* Prepare one’s self- this includes making sure you do not have any financial, personal or legal issues which may come up or hurt you during the campaign.
* Tour the constituency- candidates need to know their constituency or area they are running in. Possible activities include spending a day in local business and factories, visiting schools and nursing hoes, and stopping by local churches and events.
* Start research. You should gather all the information you can, including past election data, map of the constituency and polling places, election irregularities, voter lists, etc.
* Go to meetings. This includes meetings for the party at local level, as well as community organisations.
* Meet with leaders. You should try to get together with political, business, community and church leaders for support in the future but also to learn what issues are important to them and the people they represent.
* Meet the press. Establish a good rapport with local editors, producers and reporters who will help you during the campaigns.
* Read the news. You should set aside some time each day to read through newspapers, watch local new and listen to radio news.
* Practice speaking.

What to do once you’re elected:

The challenges do not end once you are elected. Being new and inexperienced in public life, and in a parliament dominated by men, it takes a lot of courage and skill to stand up and speak your mind with confidence and clarity. You passion and your reasons for running in the first place are what will help you to continue on.
Whenever my name was called upon to speak, even those members who would be sleeping, (in parliamentary language we call it contemplating) would wake up.  In other words, calling my name to speak in parliament was always a wake up call for members, a call to attention.  No sooner would a woman open her mouth to contribute than points of order, and information would be raised, in a bid to intimidate and silence women.  That never worked with me.  I would shout the men down and tell them they have nothing to inform me about since I am already sufficiently informed on the subject.
My knowledge of the subject matter has always been an effective strategy for me to break through all of the formidable barriers. As it is always said, knowledge is power. When you are knowledgeable on what you are talking about, you are well positioned to disarm your detractors.
Strategies for Success in Politics:
1. Have a clear and specific objective, coupled with unwavering commitment to your goal.
2. Knowledge. One needs to be very well informed, i.e. you must be on top of the situation all the time.
3. You must identify your self with a particular interest in which you must specialise, be it gender issues, human right, children’s right, corruption, environment, etc. that is when you excel on your work. Otherwise, you become irrelevant.
4. You must keep in touch with your constituency. Be personal also. People want to know that you care for their personal interests.
5. Honesty is a good value. People need to know who you are, don’t be a dubious person, mean what you say, don’t just swerve all over the place.
6. Trust and dependency in God.
7. Associating and maintaining a linkage with civil society organisations as a second constituency.

Hon. Dr. Miria Matembe, is a former member of the Pan-African Parliament from Uganda. While on the Pan-African Parliament she was chairperson of the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Discipline a permanent committee of the Pan-African Parliament. In June 2006 she became a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow with the National Endowment for Democracy
She has been a strong proponent for and an advocate of women’s rights in Uganda. She was the former chairperson of Action for Development, Uganda’s leading women’s advocacy organization, an organization she cofounded. For over two decades beginning in 1989 she was a member of Uganda’s parliament. She worked in Ugandan government as minister for ethics and integrity from 1998 to 2003..
In 1995 she was a member of the Constitutional Court that created the Ugandan Constitution. In 1990 she was Deputy General of the Pan-African Congress held in Kampala. She has been a lecturer on law and English at the Chartered Institute of Bankers also in Kampala. A lawyer by profession, Ms. Matemebe is also the author of several articles and a book, Miria Matembe: Gender, Politics, and Constitution Making in Uganda, on women in politics.


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Page last updated: July 12,2007

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