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It is time for a gender policy for the extractives industry

Ms.Winnie Ngabiirwe

Ms.Winnie Ngabiirwe

By Winfred Ngabiirwe

The discussions regarding oil sector management seemed to have taken a nosedive over the past four months, following the passing of the Upstream Bill by parliament.

Since then, the discussion appears to have shifted to other issues that are targeting women’s wellbeing such as the legislation on miniskirts, and the now deceased Marriage and Divorce Bill. Now that the latter has been buried, maybe we should go back to other more salient issues such as the oil debate, but this time questioning where the women come in, or are left out.

The discovery of commercially viable oil deposits in the Albertine region provides an opportunity to accelerate Uganda’s development and improve access to basic necessities of life for citizens, that is if the industry’s development processes and revenues from therein are well managed.

As the oil legislation processes have gone on for the past four years and still continue, we need to start asking whether women have been involved right from community consultations to national debates in parliament, and if their issues have been taken care of.

The discussion should look at economic opportunities and challenges the industry is pausing, attend to environmental issues that will have, among other things, impact on community livelihoods, as well as social dimensions ranging from ownership, access and utilization of land in Uganda’s oil region.

History shows that in all developments, whether positive or negative, women are usually the greatest victims.

If it is grabbing land for development, it is women who will suffer as they look for the next plot of land to till for survival. And even then in positive developments, we have seen marginalization of women amidst a developing community lead to high levels of prostitution and other vices.

In rural Hoima and Buliisa today, women are anxious, partly because they do not know what is going on or they have been misinformed of what is happening or coming.

They are struggling to understand how the compensation and resettlement is being implemented. They want to know what economic opportunities are available and how they can tap into that, albeit with limited skills and resource.

Then there is the issue of men ‘misusing’ compensation money, especially for the gardens that were cultivated by women. How will women feed their families? Will they all get a share of the compensation money?

Can men and women discuss comfortably about these realties the industry is bringing to their communities?

Do we know how many Ugandan women are employed by oil companies and what their ranks are? Do we know how many Ugandan women own a company that supplies goods or services to the oil industry? Or those employed by these companies?

One may argue that there are not many skilled women to be employed by the oil and gas sector currently. So, can the government give us figures of the boys and girls currently studying at the Uganda Petroleum Institute? Are we balancing numbers to the best possible extent?

If our government appreciates that gender equality and women’s rights are important in the struggle against poverty, disease and conflict, then the time is now to pay attention and provide a platform to the millions of women yearning to take part in shaping Uganda’s extractive industry.

Women are entitled to know what natural resources we have and whether we are getting a fair deal for their extraction, what the money from these resources will do and all the other issues in between. I think it is time for a gender policy in the extractives industry.

Winfred Ngabiirwe is the Executive Director, Global Rights Alert