By Rukiya Makuma
Rodah Bakunda has had to abandon her home located in Nyahaira village and now stays in Nyahaira trading centre. Since relocating she now survives on small loans from her neighbors.
The area she currently occupies is too small for her to cultivate as that has been her major source of livelihood for her family. Until government compensates her, she may have to continue surviving on loans for now yet her children continue looking up to her for provision.
After receiving compensation most of her neighbours moved, the land is now bushy and this has attracted a number of wild animals in the place. Bakunda had to move for safety reasons. She also no longer had a say on her land.
She is one of the 7118 people whose land was reclaimed by the Government for the proposed construction of the oil refinery in Kabaale- Buseruka Sub County.
Bakunda is just one such example of many women whose economic activities have been brought to a standstill by the ongoing activities of the oil and gas sector. Many women have suffered and lost out on compensations and this has impacted negatively on their families, there has been loss of income since their local economic support system of fishing and farming is no longer sustainable, loss of land has made it impossible for women to continue with agriculture, families have been disintegrated after giving out compensations some men went ahead and married other wives leaving the first wives to fend for their families.
A July 2014 publication from International Alert titled “What’s in it for us? Gender issues in Uganda’s oil and gas sector” which was conducted in 2012 with the objective of establishing baseline data needed to measure the degree and quality of change in the livelihoods of communities where oil exploration is taking place also shade more light on the negative impacts of the oil and gas sector. The report focuses on gender specifically, women’s role in decision-making, gender roles in the household, women’s control over assets, and perceived changes in gender roles in relation to the Albertine region.
The report mentions that despite the fact that Uganda is a signatory to a number of national and international elements that seek to promote and protect the rights of women, the country has failed to close the gender gaps and women continue to witness and suffer from the negatives aspects associated with the oil and gas sector.
The report lays down a number of recommendations which include developing a National Action Plan for Gender and the Extractives to help guide government in developing policy, programmes and legislation that will do a better job of addressing challenges facing women affected by – and hoping to benefit from – Uganda’s oil sector, putting in place a strong and transparent monitoring and reporting system – including collection of gender-disaggregated data – will strengthen the likely impact of this plan, protecting women’s property rights should be better protected by national legislation, ensuring that women’s rights and voices are represented at all levels among other things to address the problems identified.
Uganda’s oil and gas is envisioned to boost the country's revenues and development processes. According to the Petroleum production and Exploration department, 21 oil and/ or gas discoveries have been made so far and it is estimated that Uganda has 3.5 billion barrels of oil reserves which are expected to yield at least $2b per year for 30 years once oil production commences.
The sector has undergone a number of development processes which include identifying a prime plot for the construction of the 60,000 barrels per day refinery which will be located in Kabaale Parish Buseruka Sub County in Hoima district, negotiations with two bidders who submitted proposals proposals to the Government of Uganda (GOU) for the role of lead investor for the 60,000 barrels per day (BPD) oil refinery and related downstream infrastructure are underway and a lead investor is yet to be announced, a Memorandum of Understanding with the three major companies China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), Tullow and Total E&P containing a framework on how oil activities will be carried out has been signed and CNOOC was awarded a production license for the King Fisher field and as of now two laws governing the sector the Petroleum (Exploration, Development and Production) Act 2013 and Petroleum (Refining, Conversion, Transmission and Midstream Storage) Act 2013 have been passed. This sector has the potential to significantly impact the already existing sectors and can be an important engine for poverty reduction and sustainable development.
However the gender aspect needs to be addressed because available information on ground indicates that if gender issues are not put into consideration, women will likely suffer negative impacts associated with the oil and gas sector as opposed to their male counterparts.
Available information from Ghana on “The impact of oil and gas discovery and exploration on communities with emphasis on women” also highlights a number of ways in which women can be affected by the sector. Constant exposure to oil leakages and spills and gas flaring leads to dwindling health especially for people living around exploration sites or near oil reserves which increases the risks and dangers associated with women undertaking their reproductive roles and coupled with the lack of access to health facilities will only worsen for women among other effects.
The problems Bakunda is facing will just escalate with time. The time is now for legislators to involve women by ensuring that there are policies and laws in place to protect the rights of women and ensure that they fully enjoy the benefits that will accrue from the sector. Women are the mothers of the nation and we should aim to protect them.
The writer works with Global Rights Alert