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Oil compensation exposes abuse of women in Hoima

Some of the claimants in Rwemutonga resettlement camp

The undertaking of oil exploration typically has profound social, cultural and political impacts – both negative and positive, both in the country at large and in the region of operation.

Oil exploration can have a positive effect on development by creating jobs, catalysing businesses and providing vital infrastructure such as roads, electricity, schools and even better health facilities such as the Buliisa health centre IV.

However, if unchecked, the negative effects can supersede the positive. Moreover, women and children in these areas face higher risks of these consequences. Around the world, inequalities often take on a gender dimension and have a greater impact on women and girls than men and boys.

Whereas there has been progress in the compensation processes, and media has begun to report on the positive impacts of compensation monies, the disheartening impacts and effects of compensation monies on women are accorded little attention. According to testimonials, compensation monies are inflicting more pain than gain for most women in Hoima. 

For instance, since compensation commenced, many of the testimonials gathered detail heads of households using the money to buy cars or boda bodas to start maize mill shops and build semi-permanent houses. Sadly, cases of women benefitting and developing are not existent or, if they are, they are not properly captured. There are no mechanisms or structures that address or provide remedy for these traumatizing issues and abuses that women are subjected to.

Grace Bigabwenkya, a police officer in charge of the Child and Family Unit at Hoima police station, acknowledges that she has received several reports of families being neglected and domestic violence with regards to compensation monies. 

“Police intervened after receiving complaints from two women who alleged that their husbands abandoned them and their children after they received compensation,” she narrates through her police statements.

In an interview with Oil in Uganda, a publication funded by ActionAid, Evelyn Mwambe, 37, a mother of two and resident of Kyapaloni, Buseruka village, said her husband vanished after receiving compensation monies.

“My husband secretly signed for compensation without my consent,” Mwambe, who has since relocated to her parents’ home, reportedly noted in a police statement.

In Nyamasonga village, Rogelin Pachudaga, had been married for five years but now shares the same predicament. Her husband neglected her and took on another wife.

These incidents are revealing, indeed.  From these testimonials, it seems there are limited open spaces for women to practise and enjoy their rights and the weaker institutions and structures available do not effectively reach out to the rural women to engage them in the decision-making processes.

 

SAME CAST, DIFFERENT SCRIPT?

Alewanita Akello, a resident of Bukona and a mother of seven, says she fears her husband will waste money on alcohol once they are compensated. She further says she cannot guide her husband on how to spend the money for fear of being sent back to her home.

These cases present a fraction of the challenges women continue to experience in relation to access and control of natural resources such as land and compensation money. 

In 2012, the government, through a consultant, Strategic Friends International (SFI), implemented the land-acquisition programme for the proposed oil refinery by acquiring a 29 sq. kilometre piece of land in Kabaale, Hoima district. Government set aside about Shs 70bn for the compensation and resettlement component of this project. 

Reportedly, the National Budget Framework Paper for the next financial year 2015/16 reveals that out of 2,615 property owners who opted for cash compensation, a total of 1,945 or 85 per cent of the community have so far been paid as of December 2014. The framework paper also notes that the remaining 670 project-affected persons are scheduled for payment in the next financial year, three years after the project began.

The government is still undertaking a master plan to construct two-bedroomed houses in Kyakaboga parish, Buseruka sub-county in Hoima district for each of the 93 households who opted to be relocated.  

However, it is apparent that the Resettlement Action Plan did not foresee the impacts and negative effects that the compensation pay-outs would have on women. While undertaking the compensation process, the implementing agency did not observe the constituted laws on equal rights and ownership, which would have facilitated more women participating in the process. 

According to a report by International Alert, women were not part of the compensation processes and those who were, were not offered the opportunity to co-sign the forms.  A lack of knowledge and skills related to rights has also played a major role here, leaving many women sidelined during the decision-making process. 

 

SPOUSAL CONSENT

“They do not give consent or sign documents, and the compensation is mostly paid to men. Furthermore, the documents do not have provisions for spousal consent and participation. Bank accounts opened for the compensation process are largely registered in names of men,” Godfrey Nyakahuma, the resident district commissioner for Hoima, was quoted in the media.

Women are the lynchpins of most families and when in control of financial resources, they are more likely to devote resources to developmental activities such as food, education and health unlike men who are more likely to spend it on prostitution and alcohol. It is, therefore, vital that the existing laws are enforced to ensure that women attain support to secure their children’s future. 

According to Wilson Kiiza, an independent researcher on Bagungu culture and its history, the Bugungu culture does not allow women to own land, not even the oil discovery will change the norm. 

“Women did not own land in the past. Bagungu believed that a woman will get her land at her husband's home. However, when they divorce, she had no power of ownership over her farming land,” he notes.

Bagungu land was owned customarily and women had access to land only to collect firewood and cut grass used for thatching. Even though the 1995 constitution, National Land policy and the Land Act 1998 provide for equal rights in as far as ownership of land is concerned, traditionalists argue that the customary form of land tenure does not permit women to own or inherit land.  

This argument may provide one explanation for the misuse of compensation monies, thus widening the poverty gap. Interestingly, it seems that customary practices may continue to override statutory law in recognition and enforcement of women’s land rights, abating unnoticed land grabbing at the family level. 

It is, however, important to note that as Uganda plans for oil production, the oil sector infrastructural developments will have even more negative impacts on women, and that should not be overlooked. 

To move ahead strategically and sustainably, women must be granted the opportunity to access information, participate in decision-making and become more actively involved in the policy and legal formulations and reviews. There should be an institution that protects women and addresses the hopes, fears, expectations, outcomes and abuses related to women and compensation. 

Most importantly, while men are fully integrated into land issues at various levels, specific programs should be introduced to sensitise both men and women on their respective rights. On the longevity perspective, this will reduce the gender inequality over time.

 

The author works with Transparency International as a programs officer, Extractive Governance.

 

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