Women lead the way in our oil sector

Elison Karuhanga

What you need to know:

  • The impact of having women in charge of Uganda’s oil sector can’t be overstated.    

International Women’s Day is not a public holiday in most countries. While Uganda declared March 8 a public holiday to celebrate Women’s Day, most countries do not officially recognise it as a public holiday.

So, in line with our unique Women’s Day in Uganda, I decided to dedicate this week’s column to recognising the unique and significant contributions that women have made in the oil and gas sector in Uganda. Despite facing many challenges, women have continued to break barriers and excel in a historically male-dominated industry.

There is no question that many African societies are patriarchal. In Uganda, there has been a strong commitment to raising a generation of women leaders through affirmative action. 

In the interest of oil and gas projects in Uganda, some land has to be acquired for the Eacop, for the oil fields and for the refinery and all attendant infrastructure. In the process of purchasing these properties, how can rural women be protected? There is a legal requirement that land cannot be sold, or otherwise dealt in, without spousal consent being obtained. 

In the oil industry, a further step has been taken; compensation will be paid on joint accounts of spouses in order to protect matrimonial property. In many households women have basic responsibility for needs like firewood, water, sanitation and healthcare. As Eacop seeks to acquire land and provide livelihood restoration programmes for those who will be impacted, a gender analysis is also being done to ensure women are left better off than the project found them.

Increasing the representation of women in the oil and gas sector in Africa is not just important from a social justice perspective, but it is also important for promoting sustainable economic growth and development on the continent. By creating opportunities for women to build successful careers in the sector, we can help to ensure that the benefits of the industry are shared more widely across society, empowering women and promoting gender equality. 

Education and training have been key to the success of women in the oil and gas sector in Africa. By investing in education and training programmes that are specifically targeted at women, we can ensure that women have the technical skills and knowledge that are required to succeed in the industry. These programmes also provide important opportunities for networking and professional development, helping women to build successful careers and become leaders in the sector.

In Uganda, it is fair to say that at the heart of our oil and gas industry are a number of powerful women who are in charge of policy. The minister in-charge is Ruth Nankabirwa, a woman who has proved her credentials in the industry. During the minister’s tenure we had the final investment decision being taken and new legislation being passed in Parliament. 

The permanent secretary, Irene Batebe, has been at the heart of the sector for a number of years, and has provided an incredibly skilful hand in guiding government and the sector. The CEO of the National Oil Company is Proscovia Nabbanja, an incredibly talented geologist who was instrumental in mapping Uganda’s oil blocks and now leads the National Oil Company. 

The chairperson of the Petroleum Authority, the industry regulator, is Jane Mulemwa. Even in the private sector, the deputy general manager of TotalEnergies Uganda is Mariam Nampeera, one of the most experienced oil and gas professionals in the country. 

The CEO of the Uganda Chamber of Mines and Petroleum has, until recently, been Catherine Wabomba. Time and space will not permit us to list the ladies running drilling programmes, coordinating campaigns, resettling communities, promoting local content etc. These ladies have lead through changes in the law, pressure from poverty conservationists and their Western backers, tough negotiations with sector players and regulation of big corporate entities. 

The impact of having women in charge of Uganda’s oil sector cannot be overstated. The sector is flourishing and thriving under their leadership. The future looks bright, and we can expect great things to come from this dynamic and innovative leadership.

*Elison Karuhanga is an advocate and partner at Kampala Associated Advocates.