The cultural sector in Uganda encompasses various forms of expression, including film, music, visual art, literature, fashion, and more. However, it remains largely male-dominated. Polly Kamukama, an art and culture analyst, notes that men continue to hold power in terms of creative control, negotiation, and access to resources. The gender gap is evident in various aspects, including employment, compensation, financial support, leadership roles, skills development, and opportunities, with women representing only 25% of the workforce in these domains.
One of the most prevalent gender disparities is the wage gap. Women often receive lower pay than their male counterparts for similar roles, perpetuating the unjust practice of gender-based discrimination. For instance, actress Jackline Katusiime has frequently been paid less than male colleagues for identical roles, facing comments implying that her financial needs are lower due to her gender. Esther Nakaziba, a special effects makeup artist, highlights the presumption that women don’t require adequate compensation. She reveals that many men tend to make the assumption that women do not require equitable compensation, a presumption stemming from the misguided belief that women have fewer financial responsibilities or financial needs. “This deeply ingrained bias further contributes to the existing wage gap and challenges women face in gaining equal recognition and compensation in the cultural sector,” she said.
Women in Uganda’s cultural sector encounter barriers when vying for leadership positions and career advancement. Aisha Namatovu, the president of Pearlwood, believes that the lack of female representation in positions of power within the cultural sector perpetuates a system that can be unwelcoming to women. “The absence of a level playing field in terms of access, opportunities, and representation compounds the hurdles that women face in their quest for leadership and career advancement within Uganda’s cultural sector,” She said. Adding that: “ It underscores the urgent need for measures to level the playing field, promote gender diversity in leadership roles, and foster an inclusive environment that empowers women to flourish and contribute to the sector’s growth and vitality.
Gender disparities also extend to the content production divisions of the cultural sector. In music production, women constitute a mere 1% of the workforce, as noted by Joseph Kahirimbanyi. Fortune Betty, a former music producer, faced skepticism from both male and female musicians who believed music production was a male domain. The film and music industries witness a similar trend, with a dominant male presence, resulting in a scarcity of female music producers.
Approximately 63% of women working in the cultural sector experience gender-related challenges, while there are no reported instances of men facing such issues. Several factors contribute to these disparities, including traditional beliefs, religious influences, educational inequalities, fear of jeopardizing job opportunities, and insufficient capital to initiate businesses within the sector. Moreover, women are often perceived as emotionally, physically, and mentally delicate, making collaboration with men challenging. Mariam Ndagire Kizito, a veteran in the cultural sector, acknowledges that some women contribute to perpetuating gender disparities through a lack of motivation and expectations for sympathy from men.
Gender-based challenges in the cultural sector take a significant toll on women’s mental and emotional well-being. Many women have contemplated quitting their careers due to the obstacles they face. Nisha Kalema, for instance, left the film industry for a two-year hiatus but returned to prove her capabilities.
Female artists report lower financial statuses compared to their male counterparts, primarily due to payment disparities. In institutions without female decision-makers, women’s rights are frequently overlooked, and instances of gender-based discrimination and harassment often go unaddressed due to the absence of a proper reporting mechanism.
Consequently, women in the cultural sector are compelled to make significant sacrifices in their personal lives and careers. These sacrifices may include forgoing opportunities for skill development and advancement. This lack of skill development, coupled with unequal opportunities, becomes a significant obstacle on their journey to success, hindering their ability to compete on an equal footing with male colleagues. As a result, women in the sector face a steep uphill battle to overcome these systemic challenges and achieve their full potential.
Women in Uganda’s cultural sector propose several solutions to address these gender disparities. They suggest creating a fund to support women-owned businesses and establishing a minimum wage to ensure equal pay for equal work. Moreover, an authority or platform where women can voice their challenges, combined with national-level laws and policies promoting women’s empowerment and criminalizing gender-based harassment, would lead to greater equality and leadership opportunities for women.
Women in Uganda’s cultural sector are proposing a multi-faceted approach to addressing the entrenched gender disparities. They emphasize the importance of creating specialized job opportunities for women, tailored to their unique strengths and needs. By doing so, they aim to not only bridge the gender gap but also promote diversity and inclusivity within the sector, ensuring that women have equal access to roles and positions they may have previously been excluded from.
In addition to these tailored job opportunities, women are advocating for government-led sensitization programs. These programs would serve as a means to educate the public and industry stakeholders about the significant contributions and capabilities of women within the cultural sector. By challenging traditional stereotypes and highlighting the accomplishments of women in the field, these programs would play a pivotal role in transforming public perceptions. They would help dispel the misconception that certain roles can only be filled by men and underscore that women are equally capable and deserving of recognition.
Furthermore, women are stressing the need for the government to take a proactive role in assessing and addressing gender disparities within the cultural sector. This begins with a thorough evaluation of the existing imbalances and an understanding of the challenges women face. The government’s involvement in formulating policies specifically designed to tackle these disparities is essential. Such policies should promote and empower women while also criminalizing gender-based harassment, creating a legal framework that ensures equality and accountability.
Ultimately, the promotion of an environment of accountability is vital in the journey toward gender equality in Uganda’s cultural sector. This means holding individuals, organizations, and institutions responsible for their actions, particularly in cases of discrimination or harassment. By establishing a zero-tolerance stance on gender-based discrimination and harassment, the government can create a safer and more equitable landscape for women to thrive within the cultural sector. These combined efforts are integral to dismantling the longstanding barriers that have hindered the progress of women in the field and will pave the way for a more inclusive and diverse cultural sector in Uganda.
Robert Musiitwa recognizes the government’s efforts in attempting to address gender disparities in Uganda’s cultural sector. However, he underscores the formidable challenges stemming from deeply ingrained cultural norms and the sector’s limited attention to these issues. These cultural norms, which often dictate traditional gender roles and expectations, present significant barriers to change and progress. Moreover, the cultural sector receives less attention compared to other fields, such as the sciences, which further hinders efforts to rectify gender disparities.
Despite these challenges, there is a sense of optimism that the gender disparities plaguing Uganda’s cultural sector will diminish in the years ahead. The persistence of stereotypes and traditional beliefs has perpetuated these inequalities, impacting not only women’s compensation but also the roles they can assume in the industry. The toll on women’s emotional and psychological well-being has prompted some to contemplate abandoning their careers.
The key to addressing these issues lies in transforming deeply entrenched perspectives and promoting gender equality. This goal is championed by many women working in the industry who are determined to challenge the status quo. Their hope is that, with time, these gender disparities will become a relic of the past, allowing women to enjoy equal opportunities, fair compensation, and a more inclusive and supportive cultural sector in Uganda.
This article was written by Kiganda Hussein and commissioned by PANAF as part of the women-led series, with the goal of identifying and addressing structural barriers faced by women artists.