By: Mark Muganga

Africa leads the world in terms of numbers of women business owners. In fact according to the 2020 MasterCard Index of Women Entrepreneurs report, Uganda came on top globally with 39.6% women owned businesses; meaning Ugandan women are highly entrepreneurial. Women in Uganda make up a significant proportion of the business community, with many female entrepreneurs contributing to the country’s economy. However, women in business face several challenges, including legal barriers that restrict their ability to operate and grow their businesses. This essay will explore the legal rights every woman in business should know in Uganda in order to survive and fully realize the potential of their business.

Property Rights: These are rights which relate to ownership of property and land. In Uganda, property rights are governed by several laws, including the 1995 Constitution, Land Act of 1998, the Succession Act of 1906, and the Divorce Act. The Constitution in article 26 stipulates that every person has a right to own property; women therefore have the legal right to own property, including land, buildings, and other assets, either in their own name or jointly with their spouse. The High Court in the case of Otikor & Ors v Anya[1] held that the mere fact that the respondent was a female did not deprive her of her right to inherit and own land. However, in practice, women often face obstacles in acquiring and securing their property rights mainly due to patriarchal tendencies in society that abhor the idea of women owning property. These patriarchal cultural attitudes that often give preference to men in matters of property ownership can result in women being excluded from land inheritance or forced to relinquish their property rights in favor of male relatives, which robs them of their opportunity to own property.

Any female looking to engage in business must therefore be aware of their constitutionally granted right to own property individually since any thriving business is expected to have grounds from which it operates from. To overcome these challenges, women in business must be aware of their legal rights and be prepared to assert them. This may involve seeking legal assistance to ensure that their property rights are recognized and protected, as well as taking proactive steps to ensure that their businesses are adequately financed. Organizations like Uganda Law Society and the Women’s Probono Initiative offer pro bono legal services which can be utilized by women in business to acquire more information about their rights and how to enforce them.

Business Registration: All businesses in Uganda must be registered with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) under the Companies Act, 2012 in order to be legally recognized as such and enjoy the benefits that accrue as a result of registration.

Registering your business gives it legal capacity and a separate personality distinct from the owner, which is very crucial because it gives the business an opportunity to expand and thrive independently. In addition, it gives the business a unique identity that cannot be infringed; this is very crucial when you are promoting, advertising and expanding your business. It also enables a business access funds for example through obtaining loans from a bank. Banks only lend to registered businesses because in case of any issues it is easy for both parties to legally settle them.

Business registration also opens up opportunities which include access to government contracts and bids. Such contracts usually involve provision of certain services to government institutions and government can only contract with legally recognized businesses. In relation to this, other private businesses are also likely to contract with you only if your business is legally registered and recognized as such in Uganda, because it gives them a level of confidence and trustworthiness to work with.

Women entrepreneurs can register their businesses as sole proprietorships, partnerships, or limited liability companies, depending on their preferences and business objectives. The URSB website sets out the steps and requirements necessary for one to register their business. However, it is worth noting that registering a business in Uganda can be a lengthy and bureaucratic process, and women entrepreneurs may encounter challenges such as corruption, inadequate information, and discrimination. Therefore, it is advisable to seek legal advice and support from recognized legal professionals or business development centers for example here at Nabasa & Co Advocates in partnership with the Fidelis Leadership Institute we offer support to small and medium enterprises through provision of discounted legal services and any other assistance in legal matters.

Taxation: Registering a business attracts some obligations which include among others, paying taxes. All businesses in Uganda are required to pay taxes to the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) under the Income Tax Act, 2014. Women entrepreneurs must understand the various taxes they are liable to pay, including income tax, value-added tax (VAT), withholding tax, and local taxes. In addition there are other taxes like pay as you earn (PAYE) and also payment of NSSF contributions for employees. Failure to comply with taxation laws can result in penalties, fines, and legal action. Women entrepreneurs can also benefit from various tax incentives, such as tax holidays, tax exemptions, and investment deductions, aimed at promoting their businesses’ growth and development. It is essential to keep accurate financial records and seek tax advice from qualified professionals to comply with taxation laws and take advantage of tax incentives. Therefore, female entrepreneurs must endeavor to register with URA and acquire tin numbers for their businesses in order to be in position to comply with their legal obligation to pay taxes.

Labor Laws: These laws are put in place to govern how employers and employees are supposed to relate with each other in connection their employment relationship. Women entrepreneurs in Uganda must comply with labor laws that govern employment relationships between employers and employees. The Employment Act, 2006, and the Labor Unions Act, 2006, outline the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees, including minimum wage rates, working hours, leave entitlements, and safety standards. Women entrepreneurs must provide a safe and healthy working environment for their employees and comply with regulations on labor relations, collective bargaining, and dispute resolution. Failure to comply with labor laws can result in legal action, fines, and reputational damage

In addition, Ugandan law provides several protections for women in the workplace, including the Employment Act of 2006, the Labor Unions Act of 2006, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 2006. These laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender and provide for equal pay and working conditions for all employees. Women in business must be aware of their rights as employees and take steps to ensure that they are not being exploited or discriminated against. This may involve negotiating fair salaries and benefits, seeking legal assistance in cases of harassment or discrimination, and advocating for workplace policies that promote gender equality.

Regulatory Compliance: Ugandan law provides for several regulatory requirements that businesses must comply with, including registration with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB), obtaining business licenses, and paying taxes. Women in business must be aware of these requirements and ensure that they are in compliance to avoid legal penalties and other consequences. One significant challenge that women in business face is the lack of access to information and resources necessary for regulatory compliance. This can result in women being unable to navigate the complex regulatory environment, leading to non-compliance and the closure of their businesses.

To overcome these challenges, women in business must seek out information and resources that can help them understand and comply with regulatory requirements. This may involve seeking assistance from legal professionals, business advisors, or government agencies that provide support for small and medium-sized enterprises.

Formal agreements: Female entrepreneurs who acquire loans from friends or relatives as capital to start up business should always endeavor to have such transactions reduced into writing as agreements. Many a times you encounter women who acquired loans from their husbands to start up a business and once the business starts thriving the husband starts claiming ownership or a huge chunk of the profits. In circumstances where such an arrangement was deduced in writing, it is easy to ascertain what cut the other party gets out of the business. Formal agreements create a professional relationship and incase of any complications arising out of the transaction it is easy to legally find a solution due to the fact that the terms of that arrangement have been defined and written down.

Register on national platforms: Platforms like the National Supplier Database of the Petroleum Authority of Uganda and the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority offer a lot of opportunities e.g. bids to businesses which have the capacity to provide the advertised services or goods. Female entrepreneurs should embrace these platforms and get legally registered with them in order to benefit from their services. Due to the technicality involved in getting registered successfully on such platforms, it is advisable that one gets a professional who is well acquainted with the system to lend a helping hand. 

In conclusion, women in business in Uganda face several legal challenges which is hugely due to the fact that many of them are just involved in small informal businesses and never bother to familiarize themselves with the legal regime relating to business. However, by being aware of their legal rights and taking proactive steps to assert them, women in business can overcome these challenges and achieve success in their ventures. It is important for women in business to seek out information and resources that can help them navigate the legal landscape and ensure that they are in compliance with applicable laws and regulations. In the words of basketball legend Michael Jordan, “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”  Female entrepreneurs need to pick themselves up and deal with the challenges they encounter and with the right knowledge and support, women can be empowered to overcome the legal barriers they face and achieve their goals in business.

[1] Civil Appeal 38 of 2012) [2016] UGHCLD 10 (05 May 2016)