Reclaiming women’s rights: Uganda’s eco-feminist movement

Sarah Masters | Mar 08, 2019
Kaiso-Tonya Women's Group

Today is International Women’s Day and our 30th anniversary. In the past 30 years, women’s movements have achieved real changes : from global frameworks to advancing women’s rights and increased political participation to greater control of resources and advocating for laws protecting women from violence, together women’s movements have proven they are a force for change. Yet, despite progress, in every region of the world women and girls’ human rights are still denied and their contributions are not valued, just because they are  women. International Women’s Day is therefore our opportunity to draw attention to this and demand urgent action on women’s rights.

One place where the urgency cannot be ignored is in rural Uganda. Right now, powerful corporations are digging for oil, planting large scale crops, and setting up new factories. In the process, they are violently evicting local people from the land they call home. Homes are being burnt to the ground and human rights are being violated.

Forced from their homes and livelihoods

Currently 300,000 rural women in Northern and Western Uganda have been evicted from their homes, or are facing eviction. Up to a million women are expected to be affected in the next six years. As the land grab takes hold, oil mining and industrial scale farming is forcing rural communities off their land.

In the Hoima and Kikuube districts of Western Uganda, thousands of women and their families have been displaced due to the development of an oil refinery, airport, sugar refinery and sugar plantation. As big businesses carve up their ancestral land for commercial gain, women are being left with little or no compensation and when it comes to decisions about the future of the land, their voices are not being heard.

Resisting eviction: women understanding their rights

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Women make up 76% of all agricultural workers in Uganda. The duty of lookingafter the family is primarily taken on by women due to socially constructed gender roles. Women are therefore held responsible for growing crops to feed their family and selling any excess to raise money for other essentials such as clothes, schooling, and medical bills. The vast majority of women must rely solely on the land to provide for their families so are more affected by the loss of their land. When women are forced from their homes, not only do they lose a home, they lose their livelihoods, incomes and means of supporting themselves and their families.

 

There are provisions protecting women’s land rights in Uganda, yet women face unequal access to, and control over and ownership of land. Women’s formal legal rights only become a reality if women know of their rights and are able to access and enforce them. For many women, this is far from the case. On top of this inequality, there are many cases where only the man receives compensation, or opts to sell his wife’s land without her knowledge and/or consent.

A women’s movement is growing in strength and numbers

In the face of forced evictions, a movement of brave women is coming together to resist the land grabs. Womankind’s partners, National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) and National Association for Women’s Action in Development (NAWAD) are empowering marginalised women to reclaim their rights and rebuild their livelihoods. By joining forces, women in Uganda can reclaim what is rightfully theirs.

Last year we reported on the impact of Uganda’s land grabs on women’s rights and how the eco-feminist movement is responding. The movement has continued to grow in strength and numbers since. To date, NAPE and NAWAD have identified 1,500 Ugandan women who are part of this vibrant eco-feminist movements and expect 5,000 more over the next 2 years. Through consultation and collective action, they aim to influence decision making at a national level as well as promote the feminist livelihoods and energy alternatives in communities affected by the land rush. Growing eco-feminism is enabling women to organise and challenge oppression and claim their rights through collective action, solidarity, respect, safety, care and consent.

This movement is innovative and demonstrates how women coming together in movements have the power to effect real, lasting change. Supporting and strengthening women’s movements is at the core of all we do and today we share learnings from this project in Uganda, as well as two other feminist programmes in Kenya and Zimbabwe, in new learning paper ‘Stronger Together: The power of feminist programmes to strengthen women’s movements in Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe’.

How can I play a part?

Together, we have the opportunity to significantly bolster the Ugandan women’s movement that is resisting land grabs and supporting women experiencing forced, and often violent, evictions. It’s easier to help than you might think:

  1. Donate to our Reclaiming Stolen Livelihoods appeal by May 28th and your donation will be doubled by the UK government. Donations will also support vital Womankind projects in Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Nepal. Matched funding will go directly to helping women who have been forcibly evicted from their homes in Uganda, to fight for compensation, rebuild their livelihoods, and have a stronger voice in decisions that directly affect their land, their community and their lives. 
  2. Get informed. Learn more about the impact of land grabs on the lives of women in Uganda by reading their stories. Deodanta lives lives near the Kigaaga Oil Refinery and has decided to take matters into her own hands while Betty has been able to reclaim her rights by speaking out. You can alsp find out more about women’s experiences of forced evictions in our Digging Deep report.
  3. Spread the word. Talk to your friends, family and colleagues about land grabs and help to raise awareness about impact on women. Only when people are aware can we work together to support change.

Find out more about the Reclaiming Stolen Livelihoods appeal and donate now here.

 


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