The oil sector in Uganda has not yet delivered development for women. The country’s government must ensure that going forward, its energy transition plan, launched at COP28, is just and inclusive.
In 2006 the Ugandan government announced discovery of oil beneath and around Lake Albert, a geological region known as the Albertine Graben. The area’s women hoped that they might be among the local beneficiaries of the boom after the government and oil companies committed to offering them employment opportunities.
Oil production is due to start within the next two years, but so far pre-production activity has brought little economic development to women in the Albertine Graben. Among those yet to see benefits from the area’s intensifying industry are women in Buliisa district, located on the shores of lake Albert.
Impacts on women’s daily lives
As in many extractive projects, the few jobs created have confined women to informal labor, in this case cleaning and road traffic signaling around construction sites.
In an unfortunately common paradox, the fossil fuel project has not even increased energy access for women. The Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) and Buliisa Initiative for Rural Development Organization (BIRUDO) recently interviewed more than 70 community stakeholders in the district to ascertain the challenges to gender equity in Uganda’s energy transition. Their findings reveal that, after oil was discovered, the government took over for oil production much of the land that previously served as a source of firewood. This deprived rural women of fuel for cooking, which the authorities didn’t replace.
While the government compensated affected households, such schemes often favor male recipients. Paolyel Onencan, a gender equity campaigner and co-founder of BIRUDO, noted that “although it was a requirement for government compensation to be paid to a joint account, there was no follow-up to ensure that women received the money when it was finally withdrawn.”
Uganda has made significant progress on addressing gender issues in the oil, gas and mining sectors over the last ten years, for example through enhancement of gender and equity planning and budgeting in the energy and mineral development sector. However, as Uganda defines energy transition plans, the government must further consider the specific needs of women.
Funding green ambitions with black gold
On 5 December 2023, Uganda’s energy minister launched the country’senergy transition plan at the COP28 climate conference. The launch signaled Uganda’s commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 and ensuring universal access to electricity by 2040.
Yet, as a prospective oil producer, Uganda has framed the transition as one where oil and gas sector revenues will help finance the move toward green energy. With 80 percent of Uganda’s electricity currently coming from hydropower, the government is now committing to use the revenues generated by the oil and gas sector to support wind, solar and sustainable biomass projects to power isolated off-grid communities.
“We are fully focused on ensuring our energy security, so the oil and gas sector, which we are developing in a sustainable way environmentally, will support us in our energy transition plan by providing the required financing,” said Irene Bateebe, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development.
The government has also committed to equity. According to Ali Ssekatawa, director of legal and corporate affairs at the Petroleum Authority of Uganda, the country’s oil and gas projects will not only create economic prosperity but also showcase the country’s commitment to long-term sustainability by putting people and the planet at the forefront.
Ensuring a just transition in Uganda
Last October, NRGI gathered key stakeholders to discuss requirements for a just, people-centered energy transition in Uganda.
This initial engagement, focused specially on gender and just transition, revealed that while Uganda’s energy transition planning contains general assumptions about gender equity, the government has yet to undertake research to highlight the actual challenges for women living in communities where extractives projects are taking place. What the eventual phase-down of oil and gas projects could mean for them remains unknown.
Nor is much known about how clean energy projects could potentially cause harm to women—or serve as a source of empowerment for them. If the government is to design targeted programs that accelerate a just, inclusive and sustainable energy transition in Uganda, officials must first identify and understand gender equity challenges and opportunities.
Based on our convenings and recent research, we recommend:
Establishing a formal space for inclusive discussion on just transition. The government could establish a working group with representation from civil society and the private sector with the directive to mainstream gender equity in the energy transition. Its work could initially target the national equity guidelines for natural resource management (currently under development by the Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development), as well as the National Energy Transition Plan led by the Ministry of Energy and Minerals Development.
Fostering the participation of women and women organizations in discussions and decisions about energy transition plans and policies. For this, the government must build additional capacities at the national and subnational levels so that officials can better engage in energy transition and gender issues. Such engagement could include encouraging rural women in Uganda to adopt cleaner cooking technologies through support to current initiatives like liquified petroleum gas (LPG) for cooking, spearheaded by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development.
Formulating subnational energy transition plans in oil-rich parts of the country. Such plans, developed with government, would include programs to compensate or support women in informal jobs.
With these recommendations in mind, Ugandan officials can chart an energy future that benefits all members of affected communities.