We are growing a movement of women

Miremba and her family’s farming was ground to a halt when an oil refinery opened in her district of Hoima, Uganda in 2012. She was poorly compensated for her land and home, and lives in fear of being evicted. Despite this, Miremba stands strong in the face of adversity, ensuring her voice is heard. With support from Womankind partner, National Associations of Professional Environmentalists, Miremba is a women’s group leader, working tirelessly to help other women speak out about forced evictions.

Miremba, NAPE Community Researcher & women's group member, Hoima district

“I went to school until I was 17 and married at 19. I have seven children. Life was okay before the oil refinery, but when it came, everything changed.

We were told not to move on with agriculture or farming as we would have to move out in six months. We had been cultivating maize and groundnuts to earn a small income. This was five years ago and still we’re waiting to hear today – we still haven’t relocated.

At first, we were promised that after our land was taken, we would have a better life. We were given two options: compensation or relocation. We were scared to be relocated as we had heard that the conditions there were bad and that people were living in displacement camps, so everyone opted to be compensated.

When the surveying was taking place, some items of property were not considered or given a very low price, so we are getting a very bad deal. For example, we had a piece of land where we had planned to grow tobacco, but it wasn’t even considered in the compensation. All of our property was given a much lower cost. We own 28 acres but they reduced it to 19. It’s really not fair for us or the community.

Today, we still haven’t relocated. We have been blamed for the delay as we haven’t yet signed the contract, even though we were told at the start not to sign anything if we weren’t happy. I worry so much about what will happen next. I live in fear because now they could come at any time and take our home. I fear that if my husband leaves to work, they will come and evict us. There is no justice. We have lost so much in these last five years and, eventually, they will just come and take our land. The oil refinery has ruined our future happiness and peace.

My daughter was supposed to complete a diploma in accountancy but as we were forced to stop cultivation, we had no money to send her. My son was supposed to complete a diploma in welding too. It’s not just money we’ve lost, but the chance for our children to have a bright future.

Women are particularly affected by the lack of equality and fairness in the compensation process. When men get compensation from the company, they often abandon their wives and children. This causes a lot of poverty, and now, more girls are marrying as early as 12 or 13 so families can get a bride price for them.

Women are most affected as their rights are not considered at all, and it is tradition that women don’t own or inherit land. It has an effect on young girls too, stopping them from going to school. Parents are now saying they should stay home and help as they can’t afford to send all their children to school. Even many who have received compensation from the oil refinery aren’t sending their girls to school. It’s because the men are in charge of the money.

I have taught my daughter about the issues affecting women, especially land issues. I have told her that she must work hard for her rights to land and be strong. I need to find the money to help her get her diploma so she’s not reliant on land like I am. These days, land can be a curse.

NAPE has empowered me to speak up so I am listened to. They have helped me gain confidence to fight for my rights. If my rights are violated, I will stand up. Even if I had to face the President of Uganda, I could speak up. I won’t let my home be taken without proper compensation.

I am in the women’s group as a leader, speaking out about women’s issues in our community. I was then chosen to become a community researcher so I could help document how the oil refinery is affecting women and families here. The training taught me how to do research and how to empower other women to speak up.

I hope the research outcome will be that women are empowered to speak out on issues of land grabbing and our voices are no longer overlooked. NAPE has taught us a lot about our rights and the Community Green Radio has brought us so much, but women still need more of a voice. I hope that, after the research, women will be able to stand up and advocate for their rights and the government will listen. I hope we can make a big change in our lives. In our groups, we are growing a movement of women so that more and more of them can know the rights they should have. We are standing up against these issues that are affecting women.”

*Name changed to protect identity