Kenya: Women acutely feel the negative impacts of oil discovery in Turkana, says columnist

Author: Professor Kennedy Mkutu, in The East African (Kenya), Published on: 13 August 2018

"Oil discoveries in Turkana still to fuel women's emancipation"

Turkana is a vast dry, remote county in northwest Kenya, home to around 1.5 million nomadic livestock keepers. The discovery of commercially viable oil deposits six years ago brought with it great expectations of economic transformation of the historically marginalised area. The discovery of oil has indeed had major implications for communities in the area. But not all the changes have been positive. We have been conducting research in Turkana over the past four years with the aim of understanding how the extractive industry affects communities and triggers conflict...

But the impact of the extractive industry is felt particularly acutely by women...There is gender bias at all stages of project activities. Limited by illiteracy, workloads, resources and position, women are even less involved than men in the initial stages of impact assessment and consultation by companies. Men are the biggest beneficiaries when it comes to salaried jobs and are usually more likely to be the ones compensated for any disturbances. Women also often lack the capacity to negotiate for better contractual deals and are sometimes subjected to sexual exploitation.

In Lokichar in Turkana County, local women have been employed by the oil company as community liaison officers or traffic marshals, while others are in camp and catering services. But some of these women are staying in camps for several weeks without going home, putting a strain on families... Women have turned to other sources of income. With new roads and migrant workers, the sex industry is growing. In times of drought in particular, adolescent girls are forced to help their families in this way. This has led to an inevitable rise in HIV/Aids cases in Turkana towns like Lokichar and Lodwar, placing enormous burdens on poor families. And in a society characterised by polygamy, low condom use and high breastfeeding rates, HIV can easily spread to other family members. Finally, if the tensions continue to rise, conflict and displacement will make it more challenging for women to run and provide food for their households.

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