With some of the characters from Hoima and Buliisa, the documentary, Women Hold Up the Sky tells the story of how women activists affected by mining and other forms of large-scale extractives in Uganda, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are deeply engaged in resistance and active struggle to take back the control of their land, rights, bodies and their lives.
“Now that we are back on the land, nobody should interfere with our rights as women. If they come to evict us again, we will die to the last person standing,” said Lucy Ongiera a community group leader for Rwamutonga women savings group in Hoima district in the film.
It reveals the experience and activism of women in the three African countries but tells a much bigger story of the ongoing exploitation of natural resources and marginalization of poor communities, particularly women.
“The oil companies destroyed our crops, driving through with the tractors, graders, wires and trucks. When they came to pay, I realized the money they brought was not the right amount, so I rejected it. When I complained, they said they don’t care. I went to court to sue them. And the case has been in the high court since 2011, motionless. We are like squirrels against an elephant because the elephant is huge and can run over you and squash you,” said Margaret Kagole, the chairperson of the TulimeHamu Mbibo Zikadde Women’s group in Buliisa, another character in the film.
The film that was done with support from the WoMIN-an, African Gender and Extractives Alliance, in partnership with the National Association of professional Environmentalists (NAPE) The Uganda film launch was attended by women affected by oil developments, women activists, government leaders who pledged to unite together to strongly hold up their struggles on land and their rights in the era of oil development.
“I have heard in the documentary one women saying that her husband was beaten and left unconscious during eviction in Rwamutonga. What if it was my husband, me who has no eyes, who can’t see? How would I have looked for him? Some of these real-life stories make us emotional but it’s a lesson for us as women to stand up and fight for our land. We need to come together as women,” said Joy Nalongo Rufunda, the Chairperson of Blind women association.
Margret Kagole from Buliisa said women should not give up in fighting for their rights on land and be organized in groups to be able to have one strong collective voice.
“I thank NAPE for empowering me. I have been empowered to stand up and fight for what belongs to me. Like for my land case that has been in court since 2011, I think the people I am battling with have now feared me. They have started calling me for peace talks but I refused because I have my lawyer. I have heard it in corridors that I will be compensated. This is what we need as women. We hold on, we don’t give up,” Kagole said.
Bernadette Plan, the Secretary for Gender for Hoima District asked women to work hard and hold up to their struggles against the injustices that have come with oil development in the district with the sky being the limit.
Catherine Byenkya, the Minister for Health in Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom hailed NAPE for going on ground to bring out the untold stories of women. She asked women to work together as women and build a platform where the voices from the grassroots to national level can be heard.
“Thank you, NAPE, for loving women. Let’s work together as women to build ourselves. Let’s stand bold and speak up in defending our rights on land,” said Catherine Byenkya.
Sostine Namanya, the Gender and Food Security Officer at NAPE applauded women who took part in the documentary. She said land issues, environmental degradation and climate displacements affect women most and the documentary gives a lesson on what women face in other countries compared to Uganda and how they are taking on their resistance struggles.
She added that ‘’ Women hold up the sky’’ is a character-driven film about African women who are deeply engaged in struggles to take back control of their land, their rights, their bodies and their lives. The film tells us about women’s experiences and their dreams for development.
The film will be used by allies in the global North will use it for training, political education, lobbying and advocacy. The film will also be the centrepiece of a women-led women’s rights African campaign on fossil fuels, energy and climate justice.
The film will cultivate greater awareness of the costs of extractives-driven development, and its gendered costs, amongst civil society organisations and the wider public, and it will be used to advocate and campaign for the needed development alternatives to governments and multilateral bodies, like the African Union and the United Nations.
Co-written by Precious Naturinda & Namanya Sostine
November 25 marks the International Day of elimination of violence against women, which begins the 16 world wide activism campaign against gender-based violence that goes up to December 10. The day is observed every year to raise awareness on the fact that women are subject to rape, domestic violence and other forms of violence around the world. Following on from last year, this year’s global theme once again focuses on violence and harassment in the world of work.
As one of the activities to raise awareness campaigns, NAPE organized media interactions with Women human rights Defenders (WHRD’s) in Bunyoro region to share experiences, strategies and struggles in the face of violence against women.
The women expressed concern over the rising over rising cases of gender based- violence that often go unreported fear to speak out, impunity by perpetrators and gender inequality.
Peninah Ruhindi, a woman activist from Kigaaga in Kabaale Sub County in Hoima says the compensation of persons affected by oil developments has triggered violence in the oil-rich region as men want to take control all the compensation money.
Harriet Kemirembe, the chairperson of Kijayo camp of people who were evicted for Sugarcane growing in Kijayo Kikuube district says many women who have undergone sexual harassment and rape in the camp have suffered in silence due to fear to break their marriages and shame. She says women are instead freeing their homes in the camps due to the psychological torture they undergo. “Women fear to pass through the sugar plantations because they have been raped and sexually harassed by the employees in the sugar factory but they can’t speak. Where do you start from? Even back in the camp, we are sexually harassed by our husbands in the face of our children due to the nature of the makeshift huts we sleep in. A man wants to have sex with you when the children are listening. It hurts,” she said.
Jenipher Beitwamaswa, from Navigators of Development Association (NAVODA), a community Based Organization in Hoima says efforts to take up legal actions on sexual harassment and rape have become hard because the victims fear to speak out to give evidence.
“There is a case of rape from Kijayo camp that we were following where a man pushed the woman out of the house only to be raped by the sugarcane workers. However, we failed to take it on because the victim has failed to speak out,” she said.
Despite the challenges, women activists who have been empowered by NAPE are coming up together as a collective power to mobilize other women in communities to speak up in the face of violence. They say through their women groups, they talk about the challenges affecting them including gender-based violence and how to find solutions.
Evas Katusiime, a resident of Kakindo in Buliisa says violence is used as a mechanism that suppresses women yet women have equal access to resources, opportunities and services as men. She said women should join groups to be able to stand together to fight the challenges.
“I thank NAPE for empowering us, it has opened our eyes. Gone are the days when women were violated against and remained silent because there is widespread advocacy through trainings and forming groups. I believe together, we can speak up and fight for our rights,” Katusiime said.
WHRD’s urged the government leaders to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace by putting in place and implementing sexual harassment policies by regularly and promoting the policies, translate into relevant community languages. Put in place reporting mechanisms and promote gender equality. Provide regular trainings and information to women workers and activists.
Women human rights defenders like Evas face many risks to protect their rights, NAPE and its allies will continue standing in solidarity with women in addressing violence through sensitization, amplifying their voice and bring out the untold stories that women and girls face.
Co-written by Precious Naturinda & Namanya Sostine
By NAPE Editorial Team
Buliisa District Council has unanimously passed a resolution to legally recognise the Customary/Earth Laws of the Bagungu indigenous communities which had been documented with the support of the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE).
The council session presided over by the Deputy Speaker Joyce Mbabazi Kadogori, passed a motion to recognize and customize the earth laws on Wednesday, 6th November 2019. The motion to recognize customary laws was moved by Gilbert Tibasimwa the district youth councilor and was seconded by Yofes Mudaaki, councilor for Buliisa sub-county before members unanimously passed it pending procedures to formulate these customary laws into an ordinance.
After the recognition by the government, these customary laws will guide the 26 custodial clans to lead all the other 56 indigenous clans in Buliisa district to protect their traditional food systems, ancestral land and ecosystems referred to as territories in which the Sacred Natural Sites are embedded as spiritual energy spores of the Mother Earth.
These Community Ecological Governance laws will also help the communities to rejuvenate their indigenous knowledge systems, thus reweaving the basket of life; both terrestrial and aquatic.
The customary laws for Bagungu first went through, the district Technical Planning Committee headed by the Buliisa Chief Administrative Officer Chrezostom Kayizi which approved them and forwarded them to the District Executive Committee (DEC) headed by District chairman Agaba Simon Kinene who also approved them and forwarded them to the district Speaker for council plenary.
During council session, the custodians of Sacred Natural Sites led by their chairperson Robert Mukitare defended their resolution to have the customary laws documented because they would guide them in conserving their natural heritage and in defending their food and land rights.
Robert Katemburura, the Head of Community Ecological Governance program at the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) told councilors that once passed, these customary laws will supplement the implementation of Section 4 of the National Environment Act (2019) that recognizes rights of nature to exist, persist, and regenerate its vital cycles in the processes of evolution.
Sacred Natural Sites are included within conservation areas for which Rights of Nature law applies.
The Bagungu Communities in Western Uganda are now the first indigenous communities in Africa and on the globe to successfully push their governments to integrate customary laws into their existing legal frameworks.
With the help of the European Union, the African Biodiversity Network, and the Gaia Foundation, NAPE has been leading this process in Hoima and Buliisa districts through community dialogues that saw the formation and registration of the Custodial clans Association.
NAPE and her partners facilitated the process to ensure that elders and custodians of indigenous knowledge documented these laws in cognizant to the Treaties and conventions to which Uganda is a signatory. Example is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which recognizes one’s right to freely participate in cultural life without discrimination. Sacred Natural Sites and Territories could be recognized under this section, and their protection from destruction by industrial development required full legal recognition by the Local Governments.
The African Commission on Peoples’ Rights which had earlier recognized custodians of Sacred Natural Sites in Buliisa has welcomed this pronouncement by the Ugandan District Local Governments.
The Buliisa District Chairman Simon Kinene hailed NAPE and partners for supporting this milestone achievement towards conservation of nature.
He asked the custodians of sacred natural sites not to condone some acts and practices which contravene the existing laws on environment and natural heritage in general.
Frank Muramuzi, the NAPE Executive Director says his organization will be working with partners like Buliisa Local Government to develop these laws into an ordinance. He says as the process enters into the legal domain, it requires drawing on experiences elsewhere, especially within the Earth Jurisprudence and indigenous networks.
Early this year, NAPE, Gaia Foundation and Advocates for Natural Resources &Development (ANARDE) in a joint campaign, successfully pushed parliament to amend the National Environment Act and included Section 4- “Rights of Nature”. This is means that a tree or Lake Albert through their custodians can sue anybody or company degrading them and perpetrators be forced to pay heavily for the damages.
In early April, the Executive Director, NAPE and the Netherlands Ambassador to Uganda went on a multi-stakeholder tour to the Oil Pal mill in Kalangala. The tour was aimed at getting key lessons for expansion of palm oil growing in other parts of the country. Palm oil is grown on a large scale on Bugala, Bubembe and Bunyama Islands in Kalangala district, and in Buvuma island in Mukono district. Now Uganda Government plans to extend the oil palm project beyond the Islands on Lake Victoria. Oilseed development around four hubs (Lira, Eastern Uganda, Gulu and West Nile) covering 43 districts, including Mpigi, Masaka, Kalungu, and Bunyoro region is in the offing.
This sounds very good in ears of government, especially when the venture has to do with increase on the country’s GDP. But to biodiversity conservationists including NAPE, the move sends chilling shock-waves especially in this error of climate uncertainty. Large monocultural establishments are associated with a host of short-comings ranging from social to ecological. Studies on impacts of Palm Oil on communities and the environment across the globe revel untold suffering of the host communities. The main issue around large-scale palm oil projects are its impact on the rural communities. Poorly xxxxx land-laws and regulations to protect the communities worsens the bad situation leading to increased social and environmental injustices.
For the case of Uganda, communities in Kalangala and its enviros were fisher folks previously, and they depended entirely on fishing for their livelihoods. With the introduction of palm oil growing, many households have been persuaded to switch from fishing and subsistence farming to growing palm oil trees. Small-holder farmers are encouraged to devote the largest portion of their farmland to palm oil gardens. This has resulted in shortage of food as households cannot grow enough food to feed their families.
To address food shortage in Kalangala, government has developed a policy on food, where every small-holder farmer is manded to reserve two acres of their land for growing food. We are yet to see if this will help to increase food production in the palm-oil growing areas of Kalangala. The stakeholder tour aimed to hear experiences of the communities on oil pal project to inform the plan for expansion of growing palm trees beyond Kalangala. The tour included representative from IFAD, Government of Uganda, representatives from the Dutch Embassy and OPUL.
November 25 is marked as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women whichis an important date slated to begin the 16 Days of Activism, culminating in Human Rights Day on December 10.
However, women at grassroots still face violence but remain silent about it due to factors like illiteracy, poverty and vast information gap which can be sealed through sensitization.
This grassroots idea has translated into more than 5,167 organizations worldwide organizing around the 16 Days of Activism campaign in over 187 countries.
The 16 Days of Activism is all about getting involved in the community in which we live by coming together on this important issue then we begin moving forward.
It was then, that 23 female civil society leaders from all over the world decided they want to spark international action on the issue and build connections that would enable countries to work together to eliminate gender violence worldwide.
This year’s International theme is “in Uganda, the 2018 National theme is “From peace in a Home to peace in the Nation” and in Eastern, Central and Southern Africa, the activists have adopted the theme “Everyone; Everyday; Everyway-Prevent violence against women; your way.”
Under the above theme, the “UNiTE” partners are encouraged to host events with local,national,regional and global women’s movements, survivor advocates and women human rights defenders and create opportunities for dialogue between activists, policy makers and the public.
National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) Gender officer Sostine Namanya explains that the 16 days of activism is a global annual campaign challenging violence against women and girls.
Namanya says women need to be sensitized on their rights because it’s all about gender based violence including women and girls and the seed of the idea to raise awareness about violence against women and girls at the Women’s Global Leadership Institute.
“The event is vital to participate in because it enables women to be in solidarity through collective participation through responding and taking action to fight violence against women” says Namanya.
In 2017, over 700 Organizations from 92 countries took part in global campaign and at regional level, the gender based violence Prevention Network focused on the retention of women and girls in the education system and explored discrimination and experiences of violence constrain girls’ ability to remain in and benefit from the current education system.
However, members of the network urged leaders and community members to ensure girls remain in school and complete their education.
For Uganda as a country, the theme sheds light on a widespread culture that promotes acts of violence against women particularly sexual harassment and assault.
The 16 days of activism of 2018 campaign emphasizes on the prevalence of sexual violence in places of work and education institutions as circulated in the media which are deeply distressing but it calls for long-overdue reflection on the social and institutional structures that promote these acts as well as on our own actions.
This requires answers to many questions like;does sexual harassment occur in schools, Community?How can young people challenge sexist attitudes and promote equality between the sexes at school and in the community?
Why do victims of gender-based violence often remain silent about the abuse they have experienced? What can be done to help victims feel more comfortableand speak out?
Are young people equipped to deal with gender-based violence and sexual harassment? Do they have access to enough support and tools?
The questions are answered through the alliance exhibited in collective participation to fight for the rights of women during the 16 days of activism to eliminate violence against women and girlsby:-
However, the rural women are in solidarity with other women who want to fight for their rights given that there is collective power to mobilize in the face of violence because most women are empowered through advocacy to speak up against violence.
Lucy Ongera from Rwamutonga village in Bugambe sub-county, Hoima district says many women face violence in their homes but still remain silent due to poverty, illiteracy and lack of information channels to seek help in the fight against violence.
According to Esther Abigaba from kitegwa village in Buseruka sub-county, one of the areas affected by the Oil refinery project in Hoima district, women at the grassroots really need empowerment because there are some women within the communities who cannot speak up despite existence of programs that advocate for their rights.
“Gone are the days when women were violated against and remain silent but there is widespread advocacy through emancipation hence together, we can speak up and fight for our rights”says Abigaba.
Beatrice Rukanyangaa National Feminist steering committee member clarifies that women and girls are discriminated and violated against because there are weak laws governing the vice but emphasis should be put on creating Laws that protect discrimination and violence against them.
“There are existing laws against violent acts like rape, assault, verbal abuse, torture and others need to be enforced because the laws are very weak” Rukanyanga said.
Regarding the 2018 Activism campaign, Human rights defenders believe that, Gender based violence and discrimination can be eliminated though encouraging women to participate in the political process and educating the public about the value of women’s votes.
Apart from the above, raising public awareness of the poor conditions’ grassroots women face in rural areas is vital and also highlighting the value of girls’ education and women’s participation in economic development.
Story Compiled by Dorcus Drijaru
Assistant News Editor, Community Green Radio