Ugandan women raising their voice to reclaim stolen livelihoods

Louise Millward | Jun 20, 2019

We’ve got some great news! Thanks to your help, we’ll be able to stand even firmer with women affected by land grabs in Uganda because we’ve beaten our fundraising target for our ‘Reclaiming Stolen Livelihoods’ appeal! Generous supporters like you have helped us raise over £330,000 (and counting!) in just three months – and the UK Government will double that total! Here, Trusts & Grants Manager Louise Millward reflects on the women she met on a visit to the Hoima district in Western Uganda and what the money raised will mean for the community.

NAPE drama group members, Kigaaga, Hoima County, Uganda.
Kigaaga village in Hoima district is a beautiful village set in the forested hills of western Uganda. I travelled there in December 2018 with Precious Nahurinda, Programme Manager for our partner, the National Association for Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), to meet with women affected by forced evictions and land grabs.

Development of parts of northern and western Uganda for oil exploration, monoculture and big infrastructure projects has pushed women, their families and communities from their land. Due to societal prescribed gender roles, women all over the world disproportionately do the unpaid and domestic work to care for their families and communities. It is even worse in remote rural communities like in Hoima District where, women carry almost all  the responsibility for caring for their families and working the agricultural fields. Food security is vital and cash crops provide money for essential services such as school fees. Despite this, women often do not have land titles which denies them the right to own and control the land. Majority of the women in this community are unaware of avenues to claim their rights. When big business come knocking, they are at risk of eviction, land sales without permission and little or no compensation is made to women

Together, we sat under the shade of a very old and magnificent mango tree outside Peninah Ruhindi’s home. Mango trees are traditionally a place for people to gather and talk because of the shade they provide. As all was quiet, calm and the mid-morning sunshine streamed through the tree canopy, I listened to Peninah share her worries about development of the land around her village.

“The pipeline is coming and I am … not comfortable. I feel tension, I don’t know that it is coming past my land or not.”

Kigaaga neighbours an area where 7,118 people from 13 villages have already been displaced due to the development of oil refinery and airport (Hoima International Airport). Some were her new neighbours, trying to start again, build homes and cultivate gardens. Peninah introduced us to Norah Bahongye, who woke one morning to find strips of plastic tape tied to the trees and vegetation in her garden – the route of the new oil pipeline. Evicted once already, at 54, Norah had thought that she would rebuild her life in Kigaaga, and stay. A grandmother, she had shared out her compensation with her children to help their families and now only has a small plot of land to cultivate to support herself. She can’t believe it might be happening again.

But Peninah is not to be intimidated. With NAPE’s support, Peninah has brought the women of the village, including Norah, together to form the Kigaaga Oil Refinery Women’s Development Association. Peninah ensures that group members remain informed of local developments through distributing information and chairing meetings so that the women can speak with one voice. The day we visited, Peninah was distributing the latest leaflet produced by the oil company to her neighbours and setting a date for a group meeting to discuss it.

“After NAPE came we can now stand and refuse. When rich people come to buy my land I can stand and say: no, you will not take my land.  We come together – I can call a meeting and the women will come.”

With the money raised from the appeal NAPE can continue their work strengthening the eco-feminist movement in Uganda. Movements such as these amplify women’s voices and ensure that they are heard at local and national levels. Planning is already underway for the project that will reinforce the growing movement of women rising up to resist land grabs. 

Although the future is uncertain for Peninah, Norah and their neighbours, as a united movement of women who know their rights, they have a stronger voice in the future of their village.

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