Ensuring voice and representation through the 2021 general elections and elected representatives

We are orienting ourselves towards the opportunities in the upcoming 2021 elections, focusing on voice and representation through the elections and elected representatives.

Our work recognizes the intricately interwoven nature of politics and social change and the critical role that women and young people's voices and gender-sensitive political leadership can play in pushing for accountability and socially progressive action within Uganda's extractives industry. We know it is challenging to influence governance and sector outcomes unless ordinary people's voices are represented in political processes. It is essential that young people and women have an opportunity to raise their voice – and be heard and can engage with authorities to influence decision-making day-to-day decision making and action about things that affect their lives.

Through our work, we've learned that political processes are not just about voting and elections, but rather also about what happens in decision- making processes between elections. Many of these decision-making processes at the local government are where citizens are supposed to have a voice ideally; these are spaces that citizens are entitled to participate in but rarely use for various reasons.

Also, when choosing a representative to speak on your behalf, a key consideration is that the person will represent your interests and concerns and not forget about them once the election is over. Again through our work, we've learned that while some candidates run for election because they have a vision or an issue they want to struggle for, are committed to and prepared to act on, others run for power and self-interest.

The upcoming elections for councils, committees, and parliament present a significant opportunity for women and young people to influence important decisions that affect the local communities and provides us with the key to unlocking desired changes. They can become effective agents of change, secure genuine improvements in their everyday lives, and influence the discourse around so many things that we in the extractives sector care about for years to come. Therefore we’ve sought to use what leverage we can to promote their rights to be actively involved in political and civic processes. And bringing communities together around a common agenda they feel comfortable with, committed to, and prepared to act on is a critical first step.

During this quarter, we engaged women and young people living in communities where extraction projects are taking place in several consultative processes and are generating a report ahead of the 2021 elections.

Our primary goal is to support women and youth in redefining the political agenda and carving their role in local government politics and decision-making spaces.  We wanted to ensure their demands, ideas, and aspirations are voiced and heard and that they are high on the political agenda. So, we set out to understand their aspirations and factors that facilitate or limit women and youth participation as the oil sector creates to support them in putting forward their views. Our work also aims to encourage and support a wide range of stakeholders to provide space for women and young people to constructively influence issues related to extractives and cater to their interests and their communities.

This new report from Global Rights Alert is coming at a critical time, in the backdrop of the 2021 election; it helps draw attention to issues to make duty-bearers react. The report takes a more in-depth look at the experiences of women and youth about what is going on in their communities, what their needs and challenges are, and more specifically, and how the oil and gas operations are affecting them, and how they would like to see these change. The report highlights context-specific challenges that the two groups continue to face amid opportunities presented by government programs, including discovering and exploiting oil resources in the region.

Internally, the report is helping us in deciding what to focus on and in developing evidence-based, context-specific arguments for our advocacy work and is informing our policy positions and policy engagements with key actors, including local leaders seeking political offices, technical officials within government structures, private companies in the oil sector, and other relevant actors.

The resultant report's validation process is already generating lots of dialogue and discussion between women, youth, and duty bearers regarding transparency and accountability in implementing various government programs and with private sector entities in the Albertine region.

Hopefully, the report will make it far easier to scale meaningful conversations in the communities we work in and potentially ensure the upcoming elections are issue-driven.