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Gender mainstreaming in Veterinary and Public Health Training: using gender audits to foster capacity building and women´s empowerment in Higher Education

Gender mainstreaming in Veterinary and Public Health Training: using gender audits to foster capacity building and women´s empowerment in Higher Education

Florence Wakoko-Studstill1,&, Juliet Kiguli2, Khamalwa Wotsuna3, Margaret Khaitsa4, David John Kabasa5,6, John Balingwamunsi Kaneene7, David Tendo6, Marvin Apollo Ssemadaali5,6


1Columbus State University, Department of Criminal, Justice & Sociology, 4225 University Avenue, Columbus, Georgia, 31907, USA, 2Makerere University, Department of Community Health & Behavioral Sciences, PO Box 7062, Kampala, Uganda, 3Makerere University, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, PO Box 7062 Kampala, Uganda, East Africa, 4Mississippi State University, Department of Pathobiology and Population Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, Mississippi State, MS, 39762, USA, 5Makerere University, College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources & Bio-security, PO Box 7062, Kampala, Uganda, 6Makerere University, College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources & Bio-security, Africa Institute for Strategic Services and Development (AFRISA). PO Box 7062, Kampala, Uganda, 7Michigan State University, Center for Comparative Epidemiology, Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, 736 Wilson Road, Room A-109, East Lansing, Michigan, 48917, USA



&Corresponding author
Florence Wakoko-Studstill, Columbus State University, Department of Criminal, Justice & Sociology, 4225 University Avenue, Columbus, Georgia, 31907, USA




Introduction: a baseline study conducted earlier by the authors revealed a persistent pattern of gender inequality across academic programs in five veterinary colleges in East Africa. At Makerere University, only 10% of the undergraduate students enrolled in the College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity (COVAB) were female, and 5 out of 42 female students pursued graduate degrees. Efforts to promote gender mainstreaming at Makerere University have not translated into a corresponding increase in admissions and graduation rates for female students despite compelling benefits associated with educating women in the traditionally male dominated fields: science, technology, and mathematics (STEM). Moreover, little is known about the status of women in COVAB. This study examined the gender climate at the COVAB using gender auditing as a potential avenue for addressing institutional gender bias and its subsequent impact on women in the veterinary profession.


Methods: focus-groups with 50 undergraduate and graduate students were conducted based on purposeful sampling; and the data analyzed manually using a thematic mapping scheme.


Results: despite differences in how students perceive gender inequality, the consensus was that integrating gender issues in the college policies was needed. That process will require partnerships in establishing a leadership and mentoring program to empower women in higher education.


Conclusion: this study provided a basis for establishing “Higher Education Resource Services, East Africa” a leadership and management training organization for women in higher education. Lessons learned from the interviews with students are presented.



Introduction    Down

Gender inequality is still an important social problem to human development in Uganda. In 2010, the authors conducted a baseline study to assess challenges, needs, and prospects facing veterinary colleges in East African universities [1]. The challenges found included: lack of laboratory equipment, insufficient and/or, underqualified faculty, and persistent gender disparities throughout the academic programs at Mekelle University, Ethiopia; University of Nairobi, Kenya; University of Rwanda, Rwanda; Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania; and Makerere University (Mak), Uganda. At Mak, women represented 10% of the undergraduate students, and only 5 out the 42 female students pursued graduate degrees at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity (COVAB). Gender disparities were also evident in the academic leadership structures, demonstrating a persistent lack of female mentors for young women aspiring to become veterinary doctors. For instance, out of 11 faculty who taught in the Integrated Disease Management program, only one was female, and COVAB had no female Associate and Full Professors [1]. The limited presence of women in veterinary education is a reflection of the unique disadvantages women face, and is a major source of inequality. Gender equality between women and men necessitates a transformation of attitudes and policy actions at all levels of the development process. Achieving gender equality would therefore require a gender mainstreaming strategy to account for the concerns and experiences of women as well as men, and to ensure that they all benefit equally from any planned projects [2-4].

Gender Concerns at the Global Level: since the United Nations (UN) declaration of the Women´s Decade in 1975, gender concerns have been at the center of the global agenda.In September 2000, the UN adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and encouraged member states to commit to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and hunger by 2015. Given the critical role played by women in food and knowledge production, vision and policy formulation, and contributions to development in their national economies [3, 5], UN member states agreed to pursue 8 MDGs, which also included promoting gender equality and women´s empowerment through elimination of gender disparities at all levels of the education system.

The evolution of gender policy in Uganda: in 1992, the Uganda government published a White Paper stipulating guidelines to create gender parity at the primary and secondary levels of education [6]. The Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Human Rights committed to “empower communities, particularly marginalized groups to realize and harness their potential for sustainable and gender responsive development” [7]. Similarly, the Ministry of Education and Sports (MOE&S) enforced structural changes by introducing the National Strategy for Girls´ Education Scheme to expand the work of the African Girls Education Initiative (AGEI), which the United Nations International Children´s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) had successfully piloted in a number of schools. However, “access” alone without “quality of education” received was insufficient to empower girls. The MOE&S developed the Gender Education Policy (GEP) in 2001 and adopted the Education Act that established the National Council of Higher Education (NCHE) to oversee the quality of education [7]. When the new constitution for Uganda was finally adopted in 2005, its clauses required gender balance and fair representation of men and women in all public sectors [5, 6]. In 2010, the government ratified the Maputo protocol of the African Charter on Human Rights and has committed to integrate gender concerns into national policies and development initiatives [8].

Gender Policy at Makerere University: at the university level, a coalition of university women along with the authors (1 and 4) established Action for Development (ACFODE), a civic organization designed to advocate for affirmative action in student admissions and women´s empowerment. The 1.5 Point Scheme was introduced to increase the number of female students in the undergraduate programs. The scheme added 1.5 additional points to the scores of eligible female candidates when they enrolled into the university [5, 7, 8]. With the design of the 2007-2018 University Strategic Plan, specific provisions were made to align gender balance to the policy mandates of the MOE&S. The School of Women and Gender Studies (SWGS) and the Directorate of Gender Mainstreaming Program (GMP) became responsible for regulating gender with specific objectives to: (a) Reposition the Gender Mainstreaming Division; (b) Formulate and advocate for the enactment of a comprehensive gender policy for the university; (c) Develop and implement guidelines for engendering existing University policies and programmers; (d) Promote gender responsive organizational culture at Mak; (e) Advocate for gender balance in access to university education and contribute to the enhancement of the quality of graduates; and (f) Develop a strategy for sustainability of gender mainstreaming programs and strengthen the capacity of sentinel sites to mainstream gender into their units [8]. Despite these and other efforts, veterinary professions and (STEM) programs in general still have men enrolling and graduating at a higher rate than women. Assie-Lumumba [3] argues that one of the greatest challenges linked to gender inequality in higher education in Africa is the lack of understanding and addressing the social issues embedded in African institutional structures. One of these issues has to do with the African cultural division of domestic roles and perception of animals. Among agriculturalist communities, herding is done by domestic servants who are looked down upon by the community. Even among pastoralist communities, herding is the preserve of men and boys. Women and girls remain home to do home chores. Therefore, girls would not like to be associated with animals. So, the problem is both structural and cultural, calling for sensitization and emancipation. In addition, African universities still harbor colonial legacies in research and instruction agendas; which necessitate a paradigm shift. Like other analysts, Assie-Lumumba [3] maintains that there is a tendency for research to rely heavily on quantitative measures and themes dictated by funding agencies rather than address problems such as gender inequality that remains deeply entrenched in African society [3, 4, 9]. This paper reports the results of a qualitative study conducted in COVAB to assess the students´ experiences and perceptions of gender inequality.



Methods Up    Down

Gender Audit, a participatory assessment tool designed to identify strengths and challenges related to gender integration in organizations [10] was applied through focus group interviews with 4 student groups. The students were organized according to gender with each group consisting of ten people. A purposeful sampling technique was used to identify participants and set up interviews with students from the summer program in July 2012. They included undergraduate and graduate students, men (n = 30), and women (n = 20). Participants´ ages ranged from 21-28 years for women, and 21-30 years for men. In July 2013, follow-up interviews with key informants were conducted with: the Dean, SWGS, Director, GMP, two senior women who had played a historical role in promoting gender equality at Mak, two department chairs, two student leaders, and the Principal and Deputy Principal of COVAB (n = 10). Focus groups were organized on the basis of same sex, and each group was interviewed by a trained team of graduate students and faculty of the same sex. This arrangement was to enable respondents to give honest answers to ensure reliability in the data collection process [11]. Additional information was collected from published and unpublished literature on institutional gender policies to assess how gender equality was articulated and implemented at the university; academic records about student enrollments, course offerings, faculty and staff distribution, as well as staff development opportunities. Data were analyzed manually using interpretative forms including identification and analysis of themes, and common voices from respondents [11].



Results Up    Down

College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity (COVAB) is the oldest and leading veterinary academic institution in the East African region. Established in 1922 as a technical certificate training unit, it grew into a department offering undergraduate degrees (1953-1970) and then into a faculty of veterinary medicine in 1971. Since 2009, graduate and undergraduate programs are offered in two schools and 6 departments, and COVAB is also home to the Africa Institute for Strategic Services and Development (AFRISA) offering fast-track training skills in technology, business and community services through public/private academic partnerships. The college shifted focus in 2011 from a mono-degree institution offering the state sponsored classical Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine (BVM) degree, to a multi-degree and multi-function service institution with diverse demand driven undergraduate and graduate training programs, research, and development services.

Undergraduate enrollments: there were 549 undergraduate students who were enrolled in four academic programs during the study period (2011-2012). Out of these students, 393 (72%) were male and 156 (28%) were female. There was a (26%) decline in the number of students admitted in the undergraduate programs in 2012-2013 compared to the previous year. Male students 314 (77%) still outnumbered women 93 (23%) in 2012-2013 in all programs: Bachelor of Animal Production Technology and Management (BAPTM), Bachelor of Science in Wild Health Medicine (BSCWHM), Bachelor of Laboratory Technology (BLT), and Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine (BVM). The BVM program had the lowest enrollment of women with a slightly 2% increase in enrollment between 2011-2012 and 2012- 2013 (Table 1).

Postgraduate enrollments: a total of 104 students pursued postgraduate degrees in COVAB during the 2012-2013 academic year. From this group, 29% were female and 71% were males. There were 48% more males admitted to the Master´s programs than female students; and males outnumbered females by 24% at the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) level. Of the 20 female students who enrolled in the Masters programs, the largest proportion (55%) pursued the Master of Science degree in Biomedical Sciences (MSBS), and only male students were enrolled in the program during that year. A further analysis found no female students in the Master of Veterinary Preventive Medicine (MVPM) program. However, a good number of the Ph.D. students (39%) were women (Table 2).

Perceptions of gender inequality in COVAB: both groups, men (n=30) and women (n=20) indicated they understood the meaning of gender and they were aware of the university-wide gender policy. They were concerned that the number of female students in veterinary programs was still very low compared to the males, even though the university had a policy which seemed to be working well in other academic fields. Female students specifically stated that 1.5 affirmative action Point Scheme was not practiced at COVAB as it was in the Social Sciences, the School of Law, and the Medical School. Both groups expressed a lack of awareness of a gender policy in COVAB: “I am not aware of any policy in our college besides the gender mainstreaming policy at the School of Women and Gender Studies which awards girls extra 1.5 points when they apply to join the university.”

When probed about a gender policy in COVAB, gender differences emerged. Women overwhelmingly wanted the college to create an office dedicated to gender programming. Most of the male students (21/30) felt differently, and had this to say “I know how being treated differently feels but in Makerere, gender isn´t fair; it´s favoring girls too much...affirmative action is important, it saves girls from marriages, but they should not extend it to academic studies...why should they get favors?” Others still had this to say: “It will be unfair because girls are already getting special treatment from the university...what about us? ...gender issues affect everyone because men also see themselves as different from other men but they don't receive special treatment. I don't think it is right.”

Organizational climate: most respondents indicated that the overall climate in the college was conducive for learning and the faculty were very helpful. About 75% of the females, and all of the male students said they preferred to work under a male boss or department Chair. Some of the reasons they gave demonstrated some deeply ingrained beliefs of the presumed status of women in society and the varying views they held about women in general. Statements such as these were common in all groups “Men are flexible..., men know things more than women..., I would rather have a male boss because we are used to them...., women are short tempered especially when seasons come..., they want to show that they are in control,... they cannot endure, they get tired so quickly and give up...they don´t help you much when they know they are in power.”

One female student expressed herself differently by drawing on the example of the status of women in her ethnic group: “We cannot say that about all women. Women in Karamoja have used their power in a meaningful way, they construct houses...they are responsible for all the work done in a home and they are recognized as great leaders in their own right. I see it from my mother..., women can lead if they are given a chance and if society supports them. I, personally, will not mind having a woman as my boss...actually; we need more women leaders in our college to mentor us.”

Gender mainstreaming in curriculum and college admissions: When asked if it was necessary to create a course focused on gender issues in veterinary training, there was overwhelming support and comments made were: “Definitely, we need courses on gender issues to be taught in our college. But, we should have one course required for everyone”. “I think all other courses should have gender issues incorporated so everyone gets awareness, and hopefully we can have more gender sensitivity in the programs.”; “I would like to take courses to help me find a job. It is hard for us to find jobs when we compete with our colleagues who already know gender issues.”; “One of our requirements is to conduct service learning in communities. It will be very helpful for us to understand gender specific needs and problems before we talk to the farmers about rabies or chicken flu outbreaks. That has been challenging for us male students especially.”; and “The same thing should be applied to the admissions process, we don´t know if women are encouraged to major in Vet studies...some drop out after admission but no one cares to know why...

Establishing a Mentoring Program: participants were first asked if they knew of an individual or office in COVAB which mentors students. There were mixed responses from both groups although most students expressed lack of awareness. Five male students thought the Deputy Principal who happened to be a female was responsible because of her gender. When probed about their understanding of her role, the common expressions in both groups were: “She works on exam schedules.”; “I think she is the one responsible for the curriculum and for girls...she helps them a lot...”; “Dr. Oxygen is very helpful to both women and men especially when we have problems but I don't know if she is responsible for gender issues.” Female students expressed concerns about the lack of mentors in several academic programs and senior administrative positions, which prompted one student to say: “One day I had a crisis on an experiment, and I was the only girl in the lab. I met with Dr. Oxygen the following day, I was crying because I didn't know what to do about my experiment. Dr. Oxygen helped me and encouraged me not to drop out of the program. She was the only person I could talk to. I had family issues and I feared to tell my Professor...he is a male Professor...I wish we had many female Professors like Dr. Oxygen

In-depth discussions with key informants affirmed what most students said about a mentoring program. According to the Principal of COVAB [12], “The recent restructuring of the faculty in Veterinary Medicine has opened avenues for us to be more creative in how we teach students to become problem solvers and real change agents in disease management and food security. However, we don´t have a gender policy and adequate human capacity to coordinate gender activities. Integrating gender issues in the curriculum and expanding opportunities for students in research and leadership training are key areas of the strategic plan of the college. I would like to see these gender audits culminate into sustainable solutions for gender inclusion in all programs”.

Similarly, the Dean, SWGS [13] and the Director, GMP [14] affirmed their positions to support the Principal to integrate gender in the curriculum and other programs. The Dean remarked that enrollments for female students at Mak had increased by 48% since 1991 when the 1.5 Point Scheme was first implemented. Over 1,000 undergraduate students had received degrees in Gender and Development Studies since the starting of the SWGS program in 1991, and since 2000, approximately 100 students had enrolled in research based MSc and Ph.D. degrees that were in progress [13]. The Director, GMP reported that several students had received the Female Scholarship Initiative funds from the Carnegie Foundation for tuition which MAK had committed but not been able to pay since 2006-2007. By 2013, a total of 691 students had received scholarships, and 654 recipients had graduated with undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in various academic programs [14].



Discussion Up    Down

The study highlights important lessons to augment studies concerned about gender inequality in higher education institutions particularly in veterinary training. An innovative model for training veterinary students in gender auditing, and in using gender mainstreaming as a strategy for achieving gender equality is described. Specific lessons include:

The use of Gender Audit as a tool to assess the nature and extent of gender inequality in COVAB along with the gender mainstreaming strategy helped to raise critical consciousness about gender gaps in a traditionally male dominated field, and provide a model for increasing women in veterinary education. For example, the research team comprised graduate students from COVAB: Dr. David Tendo and Marvin Ssemadaali; MAK faculty: Dr. Edith Okiria, School of Women and Gender Studies and Dr. Wotsuna Khamalwa, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Dr. Juliet Kiguli, Department of Community Health; and Dr. Claire Card from the University of Saskatchewan. The research team led by the first author trained in gender sensitive research methodology and participated in the planning and launch of Higher Education Resource Services, East Africa, a leadership and management training organization for women in higher education.

The disproportionate number of female faculty and staff mentors at Mak is a major concern, which reflects the overall paucity of women in higher education institutions in Africa particularly in STEM as cited in many studies [15-17]. Understanding challenges women face from their own standpoint was important for us to recommend gender mainstreaming in academic programs, and administrative structures at COVAB if gender parity was to be achieved in the veterinary profession.

Contribution to literature: One of the most fundamental forms of gender inequality is at the basic level of society where the gender division of roles and expectations determine a woman´s chances in life. For example, female students listed familial constraints as well as structural barriers that hinder their progress in contrast to their male counterparts. These factors have also been widely cited [15-17], and they include: socio-cultural biases; discrimination against women; low self-esteem; inadequate and poor science facilities, professors and fellow students who reject a woman´s role in science; insufficient role modelling and mentoring; poor remuneration of scientific and technological professionals; HIV/AIDS pandemic; internal conflict situation in northern Uganda; insufficient scholarship opportunities; multiple roles played by women; and harassment and undermining at workplaces.

African leaders maintain that agriculture is an engine for overall economic development in sub-Saharan Africa; it contributes 32% of gross domestic product and 65% of employment. Agricultural growth is twice to four times as effective in reducing poverty as other sectors, but is held back by a lack of qualified professionals. This factor remains a significant constraint to move towards growth, poverty reduction, and food security on the continent [14, 15]. As the 2014 World Bank report [15] argues, developing human capital, particularly in science and technology is critical for the economic transformation of Africa, and women play a significant role in this development process.

Establishing possibilities for collaboration between COVAB and the public-school system to bridge gender gaps in the educational “pipeline” as a sustainable measure to increasing women´s participation in veterinary training. For instance, Uganda has the highest school drop-out rate in East Africa, according to a 2010 report by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [16]. The drop-out rate of children from schools in Northern Uganda is even higher; reported at 37%, compared to the national average of 13%. For every 100 pupils who joined Primary One in 1999, only 25% reached Primary Seven in 2006. Data from MOE&S showed that drop-out rates in the country were higher at the primary level than at secondary level. Statistics for STEM graduates from Uganda tertiary institutions reported fewer women qualifying as scientists and engineers as compared to men [17, 18]. The Girls´ enrolment share - the number of females enrolled expressed as a percentage of the total number of pupils enrolled in primary and secondary school was 47.4% and 42.8%, respectively [17, 18]. This problem was compounded by a persistent high attrition rate (13%) estimated as the highest in East Africa [17, 18]. It is important to note that these factors persist in spite of existing conventional mentoring models. Establishing a gender-focused program to take inventory of the existing mentoring models, and train women in leadership and new models of mentoring would clear the pipeline barriers for young women to pursue college education, and increase the women´s participation in the veterinary profession.

Contribution to sociological theory: This study establishes that respondents were aware of gender inequality, and both women and men agreed that men were overwhelmingly represented in the undergraduate and graduate programs than women. With the exception of a few male students who felt that establishing a gender-focused mentoring program would privilege women more, majority felt that women were disadvantaged and such a program was warranted. This observation contributes to Giddens [19] theory of consciousness which maintains that consciousness of inequality includes self-awareness among the subordinate groups, and awareness of inequality from the vantage point of those not disadvantaged. When individuals first perceive that inequality exists they decide that inequality is amply unfair and necessitates intervention, which the respondents in this study concluded.



Conclusion Up    Down

The leadership at COVAB recognizes that women occupy precarious and disadvantaged positions in many spheres of their lives. At the same time, there is a gender policy silence associated with the conventional culture in the veterinary profession, making it difficult for women to pursue degrees in veterinary medicine in large numbers and to advance in their collegiate careers. These challenges coupled with familial obligations compel female applicants to decline their admission offers; and not to complete programs on time. It is clear that achieving greater gender equality in COVAB will require applying gender mainstreaming in policies, projects, and programs; and it will include continuous gender auditing to hold institutions accountable.

What is known about this topic

  • Gender inequality is a human right as well as a development issue of global concern;
  • The benefits of gender equality in higher education in particular outweigh the costs of gender inequality;
  • Various factors (socio-cultural, structural/institutional) which hinder women from pursuing degrees in veterinary medicine.

What this study adds

  • Gives students a voice to discuss their experiences in the college that has a disproportionately low representation of women;
  • Provides lessons from the students´ experiences for establishing gender-focused training;
  • Innovatively applies Gender Audit as Action Research for introducing gender mainstreaming and women´s empowerment in opportunity structures.



Competing interests Up    Down

The authors declare no competing interest.



Authors´ contributions Up    Down

All the authors contributed to writing the article including, drafting and proof reading. All authors have read and agreed to the final version of this manuscript.



Acknowledgments Up    Down

The authors acknowledge faculty, students and staff who contributed to the success of this study in various ways: Dr. Claire Card, University of Saskatchewan, Dr. Edith Okiria, SWGS, and students: Rita Mwima and Paul Sajjakambwe; Mak Human Resource Department; Alison Cook and office of Grants and Sponsored Programs staff, Columbus State University. This study was funded by US Agency for International Development (USAID) through Higher Education for Development (HED).



Tables Up    Down

Table 1: undergraduate enrollments at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and biosecurity, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda (2011-2012 and 2012-2013)

Table 2: Post Graduate Enrollments at College of Veterinary medicine, Animal resources and Biosecurity (COVAB) by Gender and Program of Study (2012-2013)



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