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Stop ignoring women, urges Gender Don

Dr. Consolate Kabonesa

Dr. Consolate Kabonesa

Dr. Consolate Kabonesa is the Head of Makerere University’s Gender Department.  She carried out a study in the Bunyoro Region of the Albertine Region in 2010, which discovered that women were missing out on jobs and other benefits in the oil and gas industry because of their low education, inadequate skills, as well as their demanding roles as mothers and wives.

Oil in Uganda caught up with her at her office at Makerere University, where she urged government to empower women in order for them to cash in on the oil industry.

She explained that corruption in the oil sector would hinder the delivery of social services, and the impact would ultimately be felt mostly by the women .

Oil in Uganda: Is gender an issue in the oil sector in Uganda?

Dr. Consolate Kabonesa: I think, generally, while talking about gender issues, we look at perceptions, roles, laws, labour and benefits. All these go hand in hand.

So you ask questions like who is going to benefit or who is benefiting now from that oil? When we are looking at who is benefiting, we have to look at the bigger picture. Who is benefiting among the poor?

The poorest of the poor are the women and children. But when you look at where they live and work, then you start to wonder if they really stand a chance to benefit from this oil.

Secondly, is the infrastructure. What so far has been put up by government in terms of projects that benefit the women and children?

Roads play a major role in addressing gender issues. Look at women who are going for deliveries at health centres, or where they pass when fetching water, is there a proper channel for them to use? Is there any transport means that eases their daily chores as mothers? So there is need for roads to support women activities.

The next major issue is employment. Who is being employed from the grassroots and where are they getting employed?

All these questions give you an idea of where the women lie when it comes to oil matters.

We need to repeatedly ask questions like, is oil going to become a contentious issue? Will it turn into conflicts? If we are looking at issues of conflicts, in most cases it is the women and children who are affected (most) during conflict.

It is women who carry their property on their heads and children on their backs searching for new homes after displacement. If you go to resettlement camps, they are majorly characterised by women.

So you see that the gender issues are not being addressed as far as this oil is concerned.

From the qualitative study we did in 2010, we discovered that women are being left out of this oil business. They are left out because they lack training and their education is very low. They do not have the skills required to work in the oil wells.

Also because of their other feminine roles and the perception held about the oil sector, which is considered to be for the men and not women.

Did your research results indicate that employment in the oil sector is not gender sensitive?

Yes, it is believed that most of the work in the oil sector can only be done by men and not women. It has to do with engineering, working with machines and technology. It is also viewed as a dirty job. This dirtiness scares away women. You are working in oil, your hands are oily, your clothes are soaked in oil- things that deserve to be done by men, and not women.

On land dispossession and compensation…

Women do not own land. Compensation should be looked at in the frame of who owns and controls the land, and not only ownership. In gender, we look at it differently. As a woman I may own land but I may not have control over it because I am married. I live under my husband’s roof and therefore cannot decide on matters of property.

I cannot wake up and sell the land to utilise the money because my husband will come and say he is the head of the house so he decides on property matters. He takes the money as the head of the family and apportions it.

At the end of the day, me the land owner, will not benefit directly from this land because I cannot take a decision over it.

Of course you have the issue of people who have lost land.  There are many who have lost land and have nowhere to go.  So we must ask if oil is really alleviating poverty, or is it sending more people into abject poverty.

These questions must be addressed so that in twenty years to come, we are not asking the same questions but instead providing answers. (In future), we must be able to provide answers as to how the oil has helped us move forward. This is only possible if they (government) begin acting now.

But when we think about the broader picture, you ask yourself if we are so corrupt now, before oil production starts, how are we going to benefit from this oil with the kind of corruption we have in Uganda?

Those who will not benefit will become even poorer and as they become poorer, the rich people become even richer.

All these areas must be looked at because they are all gender issues that directly affect the women.

How can land compensation be handled to promote fairness?

I think it is awareness raising and sensitisation that must be handled first. And it must be concerted efforts from the government, church leaders, NGOs and community leaders. They should sensitise the masses that what the man owns, she (the woman) owns.

If the issue of compensation is not handled well, it will not yield any results. It is as if women are part of the property that the man owns and so we (women) are not supposed to own anything.

The land policy should be implemented. People have to be sensitised so that they know what is in the policy, what is entailed. People need to know basics like while paying (money) for land to the man, his wife should be present to see how much the husband is getting and how then the money is going to be utilised. It should be a decision of the two.

What is your view on the emerging business activities by women in the oil producing areas, like sex work, for example?

The issue of sex work in very vital. This depends on the way you look at it, but it is already increasing in some areas of Hoima District.

This means that you are going to have an area with increased (commercial) sex activities resulting into increased spread of HIV/AIDS.

The women are affected the most because they easily pick these diseases and they suffer most when anyone in the family is infected. The married women and children will be affected indirectly (when a husband/father is infected).

When anyone in the family is infected, it is the mothers who nurse them, who suffer to look for finances for treatment and to buy food. And when it is the husband that gets infected, the role of family care goes to the woman, hence a burden to her.

Worse, HIV/Aids may lead to early deaths among the women, leaving orphans behind.

Whereas the sex workers benefit through the money they get from the trade, the impact is worse, there are more negative results than the positives. The benefits are few. There is a whole load on the less privileged.

With all that, there will be increased gender based violence, increased rape, increased death because of the new group of people infiltrating the “oil city”.  Even the children will be affected in their behaviour and style of living.

What is your department doing to improve the welfare of women in the oil-producing areas?

The school has put in a proposal to the Norwegian Programme for Capacity Building in Higher Education and Research (NORHED), where we are most likely to work in the Albertine region, to do research on issues of mobility, i.e. people moving in and out of the Albertine, aspects of gender, health and climate change.

We cannot afford to go through what other countries have suffered. Nigeria for instance went through the same problem of the environment because of the emissions to the atmosphere.  In most cases, these emissions affect women when they are pregnant so these are the factors we are considering to do research in. However, we are limited because we do not have funds.

In the United States, the (oil) spillage affected women. Even in South Sudan, it has affected people there by causing a gap, between the haves and have-nots. North Sudan is richer than the South and wanted to control the South which resulted into conflicts and war, and thereafter, the division of the country into two.

Conflicts reduce the money coming into the public, and going to the social services. Usually it is the women who suffer, whether it is health or education.

And this also applies to Uganda. If we can be able to use the money from oil to provide social services, that will be good. But if we do not, it will be the women to suffer.

Little things like providing clean water are key to people’s lives.  If this money is used to bring the water nearer to homesteads and improve health services, then that will be good.

Of course these social services like hospitals have been put up in some areas through corporate social responsibility (of the oil companies), but we need to ensure that these services are operational.

How come it has taken you so long to influence government to come to the rescue of women in the oil producing areas?

We did not have the resources, but also because the Ministry of Gender is handicapped. It is very big but not well funded. This sector is one of the biggest-covering women, culture, children, social development and labour, but with a limited budget.

It is only civil society organisations that can cause change, even more than the Ministry. We work together with the ministry but we need support from civil society organisations.

We have the expertise in research and sensitisation but lack the funds, if we get funding, we can go on ground and do this work.


Questions put by FN