In commemoration of the 2023 International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, Spaces for Change| S4C embarked on a community sensitization drive targeting women in oil-rich communities such as Ilile, Ezi-Orsu, and Assa, all in Imo State. The March 14 community outreach with the theme, “Fostering Inclusion in Extractive Communities“, brought together 18 women from the three communities to begin the process of exploring solutions that bring social, economic, and political empowerment for women in the extractive communities.

Five decades of oil and gas exploration and extraction in the resource-rich regions of Nigeria have left communities poorer and devastated by environmental pollution, land degradation, loss of biodiversity and traditional livelihoods, diseases, death, etc. Women are disproportionately affected by these negative impacts of extractive activities. Despite some recent attempts at legal and policy reform, women are still largely excluded from natural resource governance and management processes, making it harder for them to be at the table where solutions to the negative impacts arising from extractive operations can be demanded, developed, and implemented.

The outreach began with a survey designed to assess participants’ understanding of gender inequality,  gender roles,  and gender-based discrimination within the extractive industries. The survey revealed that gender inequality and discrimination in these communities have deep roots in colonial, cultural, and social practices and continue to be perpetuated by extractive industry practices. It dates back to when the colonial authorities extracted mineral resources while enforcing discriminatory policies and practices that particularly excluded female members of the communities from decision-making processes. Mineral extraction was then carried on as an all-male affair. Present-day corporations extracting minerals in their locales have not done very differently, resulting in the industry being male-dominated till date. The fault lines that manifested in colonial days are still obvious today.

Through participatory exercises,  participants identified the cultural and systematic barriers inhibiting their participation in the extractives value chain. The notable barriers identified include gender stereotypes, limited access to information and resources on extractive activities, traditional norms, and limited opportunities for participation and representation.  Addressing these barriers requires a multifaceted approach that involves creating policies and programs that promote gender equality, increasing access to education and resources, and empowering women to participate in decision-making processes. Along these lines, participants benefitted from learning sessions focusing on self-organization, self-mobilization, and partnership-building to maintain power, select and pursue issues that impact women and young people, and to implement decisions correctly.

There have been national efforts to address gender inequality and exclusion in extractive communities in Nigeria. Policies like the National Gender Policy promote gender equality and women’s participation in decision-making processes. However, implementation lags behind especially in rural communities. Recent statutes like the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) contain provisions for the establishment of host community development trusts but lack explicit provisions that address the under-representation of women in natural resource decision-making at the local levels. As the global clamor for a transition from fossil fuels to renewable gains momentum, the women received empowering information for demanding early inclusion in the national transition plans. Some of the major priorities they listed are the provision of alternative livelihoods, clean-up of their land, and their involvement in contract negotiations, policy design, and implementation.

The program concluded with an action plan designed by participants for fostering women’s participation in decision-making processes in extractive communities. The plan includes courtesy visits to traditional rulers to advocate for the uprooting of cultural norms and barriers that hinder participation and capacity-building to address the knowledge deficit of extractive activities among women using the Community-Investor Guidelines developed by Spaces for Change to support host communities in engaging meaningfully throughout the life cycle of an extractives project.

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