Winnie Kiiza’s Message to Women Leaders in the FOWODE Regional Conference for Women in Politics.

Rt. Hon Winnie Kiiza officiating over the FOWODE Regional Training Camp.

The genesis of affirmative action.

The term “affirmative action” was first used in the United States in “Executive Order No. 10925”, signed by President John F. Kennedy on 6 March 1961, which included a provision that government contractors “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated [fairly] during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin”.

Furthermore, The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), an international treaty adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly, described as an international bill of rights for women, was instituted on 3 September 1981 and has been ratified by 189 states, amongst which Uganda is a signatory.

The motivation or purpose behind affirmative action is to redress the negative effects of actual or perceived pose of current discrimination that is regarded as unfair by relevant legislative bodies.

How it has shaped leadership in Uganda.

In 1986, when the NRA took power it adopted the affirmative action agenda from the CEDAW declaration (1979) that focused much on the female gender. This was later carried on to the 1995 constitution catering for the participation of women in the leadership roles, either political, economic or social.

With the affirmative action in place, there has been an avenue for Increasing the critical mass from which to choose female leaders in Uganda through the supreme law of the land, the Uganda constitution 1995 which advocates for equal treatment between men and women in political, economic and social spaces

Context in which women leaders are operating. (political, economic and social).

Today, women leaders operate in a harsh condition which has continuously been set by the old cultural norms which have always provided less consideration for women in all aspects of life, and thus assigned them community and family roles, where they take care of relatives, children, and be good wives who literally are bundled up in care giving that is usually not paid for.

Therefore, with such an environment, the number of women leaders sprouting up to challenge the status quo are less. For women to meaningfully participate in politics for example, family support is very critical, as majority of them will depend on their spouses for financial support. In addition, some of them may not have the educational requirements due to cultural beliefs and stereotypes.

On a lighter note however, we would like to thank our sisters like Winnie Byanyima, Miria Matembe, the late Sarah Ntiiro and many others who made it their business to fight for the inclusion of women and women issues in the agenda of government. This was evident during the Constitutional making process which culminated into the specific articles in the 1995 Constitution that talked about women involvement in leadership.

Nurturing sisterhood.

It is important to note that sisterhood must be intergenerational and diverse to grow and continue positive social political and economic change. We need more women like Margaret Thatcher, Winnie Mandela, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who stood out to challenge the status quo and became symbols or examples of the capabilities of women when empowered. Therefore, we all have the capacity to be like them with a collective responsibility to promote justice, love, peace, gender and racial equality.

Our sisterhood is our tribe and each one of us is gifted with something unique, our own arsenal of knowledge, skills, and weapons (not literally, but figuratively) to assist us in achieving our goals. Therefore, the generation that we are now grooming to lead this nation in the future, expect and need purpose, passion and perspective to be woven into their ambitions. This can be done by we the women, creating a culture and systems that prepare women for leaderships roles at all stages of life; and modeling the right behavior or standard that can be passed on to the next generation, by standing out to be figures, examples and images of hope to be looked up to.

Transformational leadership.

Quote: “Transformational leaders don’t start by denying the world around them. Instead, they describe a future they’d like to create.” – Seth Godin
If we are to successfully nurture/ groom the coming generation of women, we must inculcate the aspect of transformational leadership, which serves to enhance the motivation, morale, and performance of the new breed of women leaders. Because as women in leadership, we ought to know that we are symbols and examples to the young women (followers, who look up to you) in our communities, and we ought to create an avenue on which they should climb up, to flourish.

There exists the commonest theoretical examples of how transformational leadership can be achieved, as developed by various scholars; that is,

  • Idealized influence, when the leader acts as a strong role model for their organization and leads by example;
  • Intellectual stimulation, when the leader encourages their followers to think for themselves;
  • Individualized consideration, when the leader establishes a strong relationship with their followers.

With the theoretical terms out of the way, the basic understanding of how transformational leadership can be achieved, rotates around a variety of mechanisms which include;

  • being a role model for followers in order to inspire them and to raise their interest in the leadership; therefore we ought to be mentors and coaches of our fellow women in our communities. Our goal, as a transformational leader, is to influence people for a positive change. Hence, you need to set high standards of ethical behavior and develop an approach of integrity in all your actions. Remember, when you are a transformational leader, people strive to be like you.Therefore, you need to practice what you preach.
  • Challenging women to take greater ownership for their work and achievements.
  • Creating room of understanding our strengths and weaknesses as women, and building on to them to enhance performance. This is because understanding our strengths and weaknesses gives room for innovation and creativity, as well as critical thinking and problem solving ability.

Leaving a legacy (standing out, being a different kind of leader)

For many, leaving a legacy is associated with the end rather than the beginning or the next phase in one’s career. Your leadership is not shaped and your legacy is not defined at the end of the road but rather by the moments shared, the decisions made, the actions taken, and even the mistakes overcome throughout the many phases of your career.

To date, I’ve experienced some significant phases and key aspects in my career; these series of legacy stages have guided my leadership journey and are shaping the leader that I am today. Therefore, to help guide your sustainable success as a leader and keep you moving in the right direction, here are a few significant stages which ought to be considered while building your own legacy, making you a different kind of leader.

  • Identity and Values; You must know and be extremely connected with who you are and what you represent as an individual and a leader. What are the values and beliefs that influence how you lead, your behavior and your attitude? Do others know the real you and what you represent as a leader for the betterment of a healthier whole?
  • Guiding Foundational Principles; Once you have been able to solidify your identity and set of values, how do they translate into a set of guiding principles that others can begin to expect from you? These principles should represent your most enduring ideas and ideals and set the tone for your performance expectations as a leader.
  • Courage and Risk-Taking; As a leader, you must trust your gut and be courageous enough to take calculated risks. At times, this requires you to trust yourself enough to challenge the status quo and push the envelope of conventional wisdom even if this means putting your reputation on the line.
  • Responsibility and Accountability; Legacy building is about being mindful of the opportunity and the responsibility you have to serve your own advancement by serving others. Only you can set the tone and define the performance standards that you expect for yourself and from others. As such, you must be incredibly self-disciplined to hold yourself accountable to consistently deliver to those standards every day, every step of the way.

Developing an Exit Strategy.
In developing an exit strategy, which means creating a life after politics there are a few aspects that ought to be considered, and mainly if you want to remain relevant and influential.

Building a network of colleagues and collaborators. Loners don’t tend to become influential. Therefore, you need to connect with others in your career or field of interest and earn a reputation for reliability and expertise.

  1. It is of no harm to seize opportunities to be around other people with similar goals or interests. Attend conferences and parties, or become part of a community organization.
  2. We are in an ever growing digital trend, and we need to embrace the use of internet and social media to build your professional and/or social networks as well. If you have a professional profile on LinkedIn, Twitter for instance, use it to build a growing base of contacts within your field.

Therefore, work on being engaging and sociable. A respected person who is outgoing usually has more influence than a quiet person, because they are able and willing to make and use connections. Without these connections, it is difficult to transmit influence.

  • Be hard-working, reliable, and consistent. You’ll earn the trust and respect of those around you and, in turn, become more capable of influencing them, even out of politics or out of leadership positions.
  • Pursue your passions. It’s hard to get other people to believe in you and follow your guidance if they don’t feel your passion for the cause for which you are advocating. To influence others, you have to be inspired to dedicate yourself to expertise and action in your cause.
  • Embrace leadership opportunities. Become useful to people, and soon they will look to you for advice. Being an adviser is being an influencer. Therefore, as a woman in leadership, embrace every opportunity that presents itself, and use it to your advantage.
  • Keep yourself up to date. Remain in the know of what transpires in your community, and be ready and willing to act when called out.

What to watch out for as a leader/ possible pitfall.
Great leadership does not come easily. You have to work at the craft of being a leader for many years before you become good at it. A lot of this process is trial and error, as you see what works and what does not.

Being Inflexible; you’ll need to be flexible in the face of change. Many people fear change, and tend to cling to power or positions, which drain oneself because, as you continuously exert yourself to a position, you run out of ideas hence opening room for mistakes.
Not Seeing the Big Picture; Leaders need to have a long view of the world.
Don’t Fear Mistakes; minor mistakes can be used to build a strong decision, fearing mistakes, means opening room for failing to make any decision.
Demanding Perfection; If you want to be on top of your game, you will need to be a perfectionist, which many do not like; but it builds a brand (an image) that becomes the foundation of becoming an amazing leader. For most people, finding a healthy balance between good performance and some margin of error will be ideal.

As women, we currently have a lot of opportunities at our disposal to enable us push for the gender agenda. We have the Laws and International declarations in place like the Constitution of the republic of Uganda, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) adopted in 1979, Beijing Platform for Action (1995), Organizations like FOWODE, HURINET, WDN and the entire Women’s Movement; and individual role models to give us a shoulder to lean on, to enable us actualize our dream of “no woman left behind” in the transformation agenda.


Winnie Kiiza

Former Leader of Opposition & Kasese District Woman Member of Parliament.