Deep in Nzorobi village in Buseruka Sub County, near Hoima’s proposed oil refinery land, sits Arombi Gipatho on a mat besides a two roomed house, owned by her mother. Holding her chick in a blissful evening, Aromb has just retired from her daily routine as a casual labor and she is pondering on what she could cook for supper.

Arombi and her 8 children have spent 3 years with her widowed aging mother after they were forced out their land when government compulsorily acquired it. Before that tragic incident, Arombi had been married to Ovoyo Etien for 20 years. The couple was staying in Nyahaira, one of the villages affected by the oil refinery in Kabaale parish in Buseruka Sub County in Hoima district. But after compensation in 2013, Etien, took off with the compensation money, whose amount she dint know, leaving the homeless family at the mercy of God.

“Etien was claiming that he inherited land from his father and that I had no share. That land was my source of livelihood but i was surprised when my husband told me he does not know me after receiving the money. I had no chance to harvest my crops, so I had to go back to my mother empty handed; instead with another burden of 8 children.” Narrated Arombi.

Arombi had no option but to go back to her widowed mother with the 8 children. Because her livelihood was disrupted, she is grappling with abject poverty and the children have since dropped out of school with the 17 year old daughter opting for early marriage to get the necessities.

Rural women like Arombi largely depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. However, the legislature in Uganda has been reluctant on enacting helpful laws that can protect the suffering widows, divorced, separated and cohabiting women in accessing land and according them rights to inherit and own property.

According to documents obtained from Global Rights Alert, most women faced discrimination during compensation in Kabaale parish Buseruka Sub County in Hoima district after government acquired 29 square kilometers of land from these victims to put up an oil refinery. Of the 2615 people affected by the project, 1945 opted for cash compensation as of January 2015 according to Global Rights Alert. This cash, that was rather a miracle to most of the rural people, became a turning point; some to a better life while others to unending suffering especially women and children.

Arombo’s case does not differ from Rojeline Pacudaga’s. She was a resident of Nyamasoga, another oil refinery affected village and was married to a one Ajaruva. After compensation, the husband took off with the money and married another woman, leaving her with 8 children and other dependents.

She was left with no source of livelihood and had nowhere to run to. However, with the intervention of police, the husband was forced to give her some money and has now bought her own piece of land in Nyamasoga. Notwithstanding, she still carries the burden of taking care of the children alone and is starting from scratch for her livelihood.

“I used to grow a variety of crops like maize, ground nuts, beans, rice among others on my husband’s land. I used to think the land was for us and our children. But I was disappointed the day he received money. From the bank I did not see him again. I regret why oil was discovered here! It disintegrated my family!” she cried!

The discovery and the exploration of oil have prompted activities that require more land, thus displacing thousands of people in the Albertine Graben. Speculators who rush to the oil-rich graben for lucrative ventures have also not spared the already impaired women and children for they connive with some agencies that would protect these vulnerable groups to mercilessly force them out of Godly endowed natural resource- the land!

Evictions in Kigyayo and Rwamutonga villages in Hoima district as a result of oil activities have also dragged people in state of chronic want. About 4000 people were evicted in the former to pave way for the sugar cane plantation while about 250 families were evicted in the latter to pave way for an oil waste treatment plant.

Even though, both men and women are grappling with poverty and hunger in Rwamutonga and Kigyayo camps for the internally displaced people, women still carry the burden due to their traditional roles of providing food for their families. This was because their livelihoods were disrupted by the eviction.

“We were used to cultivating for our livelihood but now we have nowhere to dig. We depend on casual labor but it does not help at all.” Says Jolly Kabonesa, who lives in Rwamutonga camp

Bunyoro official calls for action

The Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom Health Minister, Catherine Byenkya says the government needs to set affirmative action programs for women whose livelihoods have been affected by the oil activities and also addresses the issue of women’s rights on land especially in the Albertine region where land is on high demand.

“We have no peace as a result of oil in Bunyoro and land conflicts which have fuelled domestic violence. Gender issues have been completely ignored, the vulnerable communities; the women, children, widows have continued to suffer and we seem to be sitting on a timing bomb because we do not know what the future holds. The government should come up for an alternative activity for these affected women.”

Atich Nelson, a local councilor for Katanga parish in Bugambe sub county calls upon government to provide income generating activities for people in camps as court determines their fate.

“Evictions have left people suffering especially women and children. Children nolonger go to school and women have to move up and down looking for what they can eat. The government need to provide income generation activities for these people in camps as court determines their fate.” Nelson says

According to the Gender Baseline Study: Land Sector, 2004, land is a critical resource of 90% of the households in Uganda, and women own 16% of the registered land. Apart from a few economically advantaged, majority of women have only user rights determined by the relationship they have with a male- father, husband or brother.

Women empowered

With the intervention of Non-Governmental Organizations like National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), communities have been sensitized and women are empowered and some steps have been taken for women to benefit on land.

Alice Kazimura, the Executive Director of Kakindo Orphans care in Buliisa district who is also a woman activist says women too faced gross challenges as a result of lack of land ownership. She says even now some women have nowhere to cultivate for their livelihood.

“When oil exploration came in, land became so precious that men had to sell land and live the women and children landless. Even now some women have nowhere to cultivate.”

She says as activists they tabled a land ordinance in the district council to allow girl child to inherit property from their parents. She says once approved, the girls will use their property to be empowered economically.

“In Buliisa, women do not own land and are not considered during inheritance. Even the wealth of bride price they bring at home goes to boys. So in that draft, we want parents to consider giving a share to girls when giving out property.”

Abigaba Esther, one of the people affected by the oil refinery project who opted for compensation says they have formed women saving groups to help them buy their own land.

“We got a lesson from what happened to our fellow women whose husbands opted for cash compensation. Most of them suffered. So we have formed a group to ensure women buy their land. I have personally bought my land near the refinery”

In Butimba and Kigaaga villages that neighbor the oil refinery, the communities have applied for customary land certificates. The women have made sure that on the certificates there is a provision for women to sign so that in case the land is sold, women can also benefit.

This article was Compiled by Precious Naturinda, journalist with support from International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF)