Ugandan women fight for the Right to Say NO!

Women’s community meeting, Uganda

Women’s community meeting, Uganda

Ugandan women fight for the Right to Say NO!

When Judith Beroirwoth’s piece of land was forcefully acquired for the construction of flowlines to transport crude oil and water to the Oil Central Processing Unit in Buliisa, Uganda, she was forced to co-sign consent forms with her husband’s signature despite being the sole landowner.

Beroirwoth shared, “I bought my land and registered it in my name, no one else has rights to it. I petitioned Total E&P Uganda to sign my compensation without my husband. They agreed. Culturally, women barely have any rights to land, so, I was taken as a land user instead of an owner.” Following this dispute, Beroirwoth formed the Tufanye Pamoja Women’s Group that empowers women to overcome patriarchal norms and intimidation from partners, the state, and oil and gas companies.

In 2006, Uganda discovered an estimated 6.5 billion barrels of oil in Albertine Graben Region. Since then, oil developments have robbed local communities of their land, livelihoods, and natural resources. Development projects supported by the government have been characterised by land degradation, displacement, low compensation rates, forced migrations and increased military presence.  

The ongoing extractivism in East African countries and across the continent has had dire impacts on women, many of whom are forcibly evicted and displaced from the land they work on, inhabit, and own – usually without proper compensation. Despite the recognition of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) by governments and regional bodies which provide the basis for individuals and communities to withhold consent, this is frequently disregarded by government and transnational corporations. 

Confronting patriarchy and the right to own land

Buliisa is a highly patriarchal society where women hardly have any rights to own land. This inequality has been exacerbated by the presence of transnational oil and gas companies’ activities in the Albertine Graben. The influence of large corporations and governments, disputed land deeds and a mix of formal and informal laws combined with entrenched patriarchy further exploits women rights. This leaves women vulnerable and invisibilised having little say in how their land is used, appropriated, and sold, placing them at a high risk of abuse, economic uncertainty, and homelessness.

These land disputes and developments have brought with them specific forms of violence against women, from intimidation to sell their land to the threat of sexual violence by workers at newly developed oil refineries. Aside from this, frequent land grabs have left many rural women who are often responsible for feeding their families and generating livelihoods from small-scale farming, unable to contribute to the household.

Deepening resistance to a destructive development model

WoMin is working together with local women’s rights organisations to deepen resistance to extractives projects on the basis of the Right to Say NO. Across East Africa women are leading this fight and saying NO to the capitalist model of development, and YES to ecofeminism and development alternatives. They are constructing living alternatives through the protection and custodianship of their natural resources, environment and communities.

In Kenya, women are coming together to challenge the government. Save Lamu, a broad coalition of over 40 community, women, youth and environmental organisations are challenging a coal plant and port that would disrupt their lives and livelihoods, and harm their land. In Tanzania, women are saying YES to collective actions to demand for equal opportunities and defend their rights through the Mgusu women miner’s association, one of the country’s miner’s groups.

In Uganda, women like Beroirwoth are building solidarity and leading the defense of their land and the environment despite threats and intimidation and facing increasing pressure from the extractive industries. They are joining communal land associations to acquire land titles and keeping bees and making charcoal briquettes for cooking. Women are standing in solidarity to build power, collective knowledge and crafting strategies that respond to corporate capture.

This International Women’s Day, we celebrate African women’s strength and resistance to patriarchy, corporate capture and destructive models of development to building a future that supports the power and agency of women not only in Africa but across the globe.

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