Rural Livelihoods, HIV/AIDS and Women's Activism: The Struggle for Gender Equality in Primary Education in Uganda

Article excerpt

Abstract

In Uganda, various stake holders including the government, NGOs, and women activists have undeniably played important roles in the combat for gender equality in primary education. However, there is evidence that success has not yet been realized. This article is based on research conducted to discover why gender inequalities in Uganda's Universal Primary Education persist despite deliberate measures to eradicate them. Two questions are addressed, namely: does HIV/AIDS contribute to the persistence of gender inequality in rural areas? What is the importance of linking theory and practice in women's activism in such a context? The findings reveal that HIV/AIDS affects household access to essential livelihood assets prompting responses and pathways incompatible with girls' schooling. These included girls' involvement in sex for economic gains, which obviously exposed them to the risk of contracting HIV. A vicious cycle of HIV/AIDS and gender inequality therefore exists despite women's protracted engagement in activism even in the era of HIV/AIDS. I argue that there is a need to refocus women's activism towards more practical rather than theoretical engagement. Apparently, there has been too much theorizing about the need to perceive the achievement of gender equality as a social justice issue. Such a perception must be accompanied by corresponding practice rather than just rhetoric. For example, the vicious cycle of HIV/AIDS and inequality could possibly be broken by a radical feminist movement capable of, not only advocating for, but also instituting practical measures to eradicate gendered discrimination at the household level to begin with. In addition, there is a need for the provision of better HIV/AIDS medical care and children's school requirements particularly in rural areas. There after, we shall comfortably count the achievements of women activism for educational gender equity in Uganda and Africa at large.

Keywords: AIDS orphanhood; AIDS-induced Poverty; Educational Gender equality; Rural Livelihoods; Vulnerability, ethnography.

Introduction

Uganda is one of the countries that have made deliberate efforts to achieve gender equality in all aspects of life. These efforts are manifested in the guarantee of equality in the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda (Government of Uganda 1995), the establishment of the Ministry in charge of women and gender affairs in 1986, the National Gender policy (1997), the National Action Plan of women (1999) among others. Within the education sector, various measures have also been put in place to facilitate the achievement of gender equality. These include the implementation of Universal Primary Education (UPE) in 1997.

Nevertheless, there is evidence that the problem of educational gender inequalities remains unabated (see Kakuru, 2003; Kasente, 2003; Okuni, 2003; Kakuru, 2006). Several factors have been considered responsible for the persistence of educational inequalities including the work of patriarchal beliefs, practices and values (Kwesiga, 2003, Kakuru, 2006). HIV and AIDS have also featured among the factors reinforcing the existing forms of social inequalities including gender (Ellis, 2000; Barnett, 2004; Muller, 2004; Mohlahlane, 2006; Kakuru, 2007). Given that various initiatives have been put in place to facilitate the achievement of gender equality in education without much success, it is important to advocate for the need to refocus women's activism towards more practical rather than theoretical engagement.

This paper reports on research which identifies the various ways in which household processes influence schooling in the face of HIV/AIDS and how the role of women's activism can be useful in changing the status quo. It begins with a brief explanation of the HIV/AIDS situation in Uganda and the nature of Ugandan feminism. I then provide a brief background on the rural livelihood context and methods used in the study. …