trueBy Betty Akol
It was a good day for women, when, on October 21, Mary Karoro Okurut, the Minister for Gender, Labour and Social Development, added her voice to the call for justice and equal participation in the oil sector.
In her article in The New Vision on that day, Karooro limited herself to the social and cultural issues which threaten the livelihoods of women during the preparation for extraction and production of oil and gas in Uganda. Key among these is the total disregard of women during compensation for land earmarked for drilling sites, roads and the oil refinery.
Karooro realises that in the oil and gas industry, any agency (government, oil companies, and private contractors) interested in carrying out oil related activities is consulting only men. She makes a strong remark that if gender roles are not addressed, women and children will not benefit from the oil opportunities.
I could not agree with Karooro more. But the exclusion of women from the oil industry is not just about land rights only, it stretches far beyond.
There are various researches gathering dust in boardrooms which highlight these gender disparities.
Take for example the opportunities in oil and gas sector highlighted in the Local Content Survey done by Total E&P, Tullow Oil plc and CNOOC Uganda. The survey notes that between 100,000 to150,000 jobs will be created through direct, indirect and induced employment. The industry will employ engineers, scientists, civil craftsmen, drivers, mechanical technicians, builders and welders.
Worldwide in extractives, less than 10% of women are employed in the formal sector. Yet in artisan and small scale mining, it is women who are doing the labour intensive work which fetches little revenue.
The argument put forward is that, women do not usually have the know-how to work in the oil and gas industry, thus, the pauperisation of the women folk by the seemingly harsh and male dominated economic sphere.
The local women of Kaiso Tonya in Hoima District have been taken up petty jobs/ sub contractions to cook, raise flags at the construction sites or to direct traffic.
In some countries, this is because men have better access to education and, therefore, possess more necessary skills. Mining jobs may also require a certain level of physical strength, or because of potential pregnancies (in terms of time this would take out of work, or the risks of exposure to chemicals) which may force employees to think twice before hiring a woman.
Women employees in Uganda’s oil sector constitute just 9.4% of the total labour unit. This is all because of poor education of women. Yet even available scholarships to improve skills are going mainly to men to fill up not just the labour intensive jobs but also the administrative jobs.
Karooro should highlight the plans the Government will use to ensure equal employment in the oil sector.
Women are also the first victims of environmental pollution; they are the first to suffer from chemical pollution related disease like cancers. They walk for hours looking for water, firewood and food for their families. When oil and gas pollutes the local environment, women often have had to go the extra mile to gather water and find food. In trying to achieve this, however, women and girls often have less time for other activities – such as schooling.
While women continue to suffer these glaring injustices, the Government could consider offering credit finance to enable women start up their own businesses.
The Government would support women’s entrepreneurship by creating opportunities for women, providing training for them in small business skills. The Government could help remove barriers on women’s access to jobs, credit and financial resources.
This way, the Government will have many more local women like Alice Kasimura in Buliisa, who has provided catering services for several events organised by the local government, oil companies and civil society in the district.
The big question remains, is the Gender ministry looking at the bigger picture in the oil region. It is high time the Government found solutions to the gender issues.
Create platforms for women to speak up and voice their concerns and priorities.
The involvement of women will not only leverage their untapped potential in increasing growth, reducing poverty and fostering positive conditions for sustainable development, but can also contribute to improving the development effectiveness of oil, gas and mining operations for communities and countries as a whole.
Ensuring active participation of women in development and community-decision making is good for them, their families and business.
Betty Akol is the assistant projects officer with Global Rights Alert
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Oil: Women’s rights in oil sector go beyond land rights