International women’s day in Uganda should reflect on the concept of “household head” relating to women’s land and property rights, in the context of oil and gas discovery in Hoima and Buliisa districts.

By Mugabo Rogers CESCRA Editorial team

Published in Daily Monitor Newspaper of 2015 (Old is Gold)

Gender equality worth its name should aim at libeating women from all forms of enslavement. It should also emphasise and instill positive constitutional values in women especially the grassroots rural women to enable them appreciate values such as recogonition of specific rights of women includind the right to full and equal dignity with men as well as equal treatment with men, the protection of women’s land and property rights because land is very key for especially the rural women’s day-today survival, guarantee women’s right of access to information in the process of state or any of its agencies as well as women’s right to justice, respect for the international agreements signed by Uganda with a vision of empowerment of women such as the Maputo protocal that requires states to combat all forms of discrimination against women, among others. Rights and Equity are key to attaining this.
Unfortunately, the current govenment systems and action plans do not adqately, and accountably incorperate rights and equity concerns of women in the implementation of critical government programs, and this is a ground for concern. In Hoima and Buliisa districts, for example, the govenment has failed to adquately address the question of women in the context of the Ressetlement Action plan (RAP) which was/is to form the basis for compansation and ressettlement for the inhabitants of Kabaale village in Buseruka sub-county and Ngwedo sub-county in Buliisa district, following the legal land evictions due to Oil and Gas discovery in the region.
Following the discovery of comercial Oil and Gas reserves in Uganda, the government resolved to build an Oil refinery in Kabaale parish, Buseruka sub-county- Hoima district, as part of the preperations for exploration and production. In 2012 and 2013, the government contracted a local company called Strategic Friends International (SFI) which completed a Resstlement Action Plan (RAP) report, and the RAP implementation has been going on since early June 2013. The RAP report provided information regarding the social economic and envoroment espects of the planned refinery, and the project will be built on a 29.34 SQ KM, displacing 7,118 people in only one sub-county.
It is this implementation process of the Ressettlement Action Plan that is violating the rights of refinary project affected people; women being the worsed victims. Out of 7,118 people affected by the refinery project, 3,514 are women. The Ressettlement Action Plan implementation is marred by irregularities and threatening to further abuse women’s rights of the host communities; for example, number of women have not been allowed to sign on a number of documents such as the compansation and transfer forms, and opening bank accounts with their spouses since the evaluation process focused on the household heads who are mainly men. The implemention of the Ressettlement Action Plan therefore, is not only threatening women’s land and property rights, but their families survival as well. Speculation on oil economic gains has seen hyped land sales and land grabbing in the Bunyoro region. Men as head of households have sold family customary land thus denying women the right to even use the land and women have also not benefited from the funds from sales. The cash compensation on crops excluded women by focusing on household head who are majorly men. Women have faced domestic violence, family breakdown and abandonment and most important lost their right to access land for cultivation.
Although Article 244 of the 1995 constitution of Uganda allows the government to compulsorily acquire land in specific cases where such property is required say for public interest, the same constitution requires that such affected people must be given prompt, fair and adequate compensation or acquisition of the property; women in Hoima and Buliisa being part of this as full citizen of this country. Despite positive changes gained in the Uganda Constitution of 1995, the Land Act 1998, and the National Land Policy 2013, the Government has failed to address structural discrimination against women in the area of land, housing and property rights by legislating on critical family laws in regard to succession, marriage and divorce statutory laws which would greatly reinforce protection of women’s land, housing and property rights.

Reflection Of “Head Of The Household” Concept

It is not the government policy to hand over land or houses under the “Head of the household” concept. It is merely a cultural and traditional practice that has been followed without question. There should be an explicit rejection of the “Head of the Household” concept; i mean, in order to attain certain levels of human rights especially for women, certain negative cultural beliefs must change. Household and families should be seen as being “run” or administered jointly. There should be no head of the household; and govenment is key in determining this. Each family unit has its own unique way of distributing family responsibilities and this should be taken into account in distributing land, housing, crops and other household property.
Injustice has has occured in some situations where mother to daughter property inheritance has been negated as a result of the “head of household” concept being adopted. Where women have owned the land or property previously, new allocations should be given in their names. Similarly, where property was owned jointly, then new allocations of land, housing and property should be given in both their names.
Gender issues in the Ressettlement Action Plan (RAP) cannot be adquately addressed, unless Rights and Equity concerns are identified, confronted and tackled. Rights and Equity are very important for Uganda as a first step towards promoting and advancing the rights of women. For women to meaningfully and equally benefit from the countrys’ gwowing extractive industry, their right to information and participation must be enjoyed and exercised. Gender sensitivity must apply and be adhered to in critical government programs such as the Ressettlent Action Plan, because the vulnarability that men and women face in relation to Oil and Gas , is determined by one’s economic status in society and influenced by access to and control over productive resources such as land and property, education, and the ability or lack of ability of decision making in the household and in society.

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