DEI – The Uganda National Oil Company (UNOC) is leading efforts to establish the Women in Energy and Extractives Network (WEEN) – an initiative that aims at promoting the participation of women in the oil and gas, mining and energy sectors.
WEEN, which will run as a non-governmental organization once it is fully instituted, held its inaugural meeting in Kampala recently where a number of its objectives were shared including advancing female leadership, elevating the profile of women and removing barriers to their advancement in the energy and extractives sectors.
The initiative will also encourage mentorship, trainings, networking and capacity building for women while inspiring girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through scholarships.
Proscovia Nabbanja, UNOC’s chief executive officer (CEO) says the WEEN idea was inspired by her company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) plan that was started in 2021 to help address various challenges that mainly stifle women’s growth in the workspace.
These, she said, included unconscious bias, which implicitly extended to selection of contractors, a lack of information on available opportunities, a lack of data to inform decision making and track progress plus limited access to finance. In the long run, these suppressed women’s development from the small and medium enterprise level.
Speaking to over 200 women executives and leaders from the private sector, civil society and public service, Nabbanja also decried the historic traditional tendencies that allow the men to lead and women to take a back seat.
There was also a limited number of role models to motivate and mentor young women, she said, besides a prevalent exclusion of women from networks since females are often in the minority which “affects their confidence, as they are constantly overlooked.”
“As a young girl joining a male dominated industry 22 years ago, I know firsthand what it feels like to be an in a less inclusive environment,” Nabbanja noted.
Adding, “The energy and extractive sector is fundamental in economic development. But also importantly, women are the ones who are most vulnerable and impacted. From energy access at household level, to the workplace, to the quality of jobs to opportunities in decision making.”
In-house, UNOC had started the She-to-She and He-to-He programs as open spaces for female and male staff to address the issues that affect them respectively.
The company had also offered books, sports equipment and provided mentorship to over 500 girls in six schools in the Albertine region, sponsored 10 girls in welding at the Petroleum Institute, Kigumba and has plans to provide sanitary towels to 200 girls in Hoima. UNOC has also sponsored female staff to attend women leadership conferences and apprenticeships.
Like UNOC, TotalEnergies, CNOOC, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development and the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) have similarly implemented female-focused initiatives and WEEN is intended to align all such efforts within one channel in the long-term.
Irene Bateebe, the Permanent Secretary at the Energy Ministry, says the ministry’s regulations and policies are guided by Article 33 of the Uganda Constitution, which calls for according women equal dignity, facilities and opportunities as those rendered to men.
“As a ministry we have been very categorical in our Gender Strategy and Action Plan to provide for clear policies and strategies that recognize the need to support women and engage them at a central level,” she said.
For example, while women were often overlooked when it came to compensating for land acquired for projects, the ministry currently insists that they are consulted and become co-signatories on any land agreements beforehand.
Bateebe, however, noted that access to affordable energy remained a challenge with women and children – in rural communities especially – forced to take long walks seeking firewood and charcoal.
Dr Jane Nambakire Mulemwa, the chairperson of the Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PAU), shared her challenging journey towards becoming one of the first female chemists and educators in the country in the 1970s; noting that excellence – whether at school or in the workspace – would always be rewarded.
However, she added, it was important that only those that qualified were appointed – no matter their gender.
“We need qualified people in this extractive industry because it has the potential to make or break Uganda. You might be my friend or son; but if you are not fit to head an institution, I will not appoint or vouch for you,” she said.
Dr Oladunni Owo, the national president of Nigeria’s Women in Energy, Oil and Gas association, said WEEN will in the long run have a strong impact on Uganda’s economy because women would be involved equitably in the lucrative sectors.
Ahead of its official launch in May this year, an interim committee will be elected to conduct follow-up meetings to define WEEN’s goals and objectives plus define its governance structure.