Why look at gender? The impact of extractives on women

This article was written following several interviews with Publish What You Pay activists from all around the world. These included: Maryati Abdullah (Indonesia), Cielo Magno (Philippines), Faith Nwadishi (Nigeria), Kady Seguin (Canada), Claire Spoors (Australia) and Aminata Barry Toure (Mali).

“The pressure is on the women – they are the ones who have to take care of their homes and their children, in the hope that their children will live better lives than they have lived.” (Faith Nwadishi)

The potential negative impacts of extractive projects on communities are clear – pollution, loss of land, social conflict etc…  What is also increasingly apparent is that women are often the first to be affected by these, bearing the brunt of the negative effects of mining.

Our coordinators, who have worked with communities on these issues – and witnessed the fall out first hand – talked us through some of the ways in which these effects manifest themselves.

Aminata spoke of the work her coalition had done on mining and the impact on women. ‘According to studies we have carried out, one of the essential problems is that as workers and outsiders flood in with their money, life becomes expensive in mining cities. Products triple in price and women – whose role it is to purchase all the household goods – struggle to feed their families and purchase basic food products.’

This issue is compounded by the fact that women are the first to lose their livelihood. In Mali and Nigeria for instance, women tend to be farmers. When land is given to an extractive project, women lose the land on which they work. Conversely, as Claire  points out, while women lose their jobs, men are likely to gain jobs from the arrival of a mine and this often leads to or reinforces gendered power imbalances. Although Community Development Agreements often include some type of provision on employment at the local level, Faith explained that – at least in Nigeria – this employment very rarely translated into opportunities for women.

Another task which traditionally goes to women is fetching water for their families. However, when water bodies become polluted – as is often the case near extractive projects – women have to go further to get this water. Faith described women having to ‘wade through spillages, through scrap metals, through crude oil’ in order to get water for their families, all at the detriment to their own health. They are also, as Maryati pointed out, at higher risk of being exposed to dangerous chemicals, such as mercury or surfactant materials.

Cielo explained that the increase of transient works can increase the likelihood that women will be exposed to violence. The influx of disposable cash and increased prostitution also contributes to the spread of STDs including HIV/AIDS.

There has already been a lot of interesting work done on this question. Oxfam Australia conducted a study in 2009 on the gender impacts of mining and on the role of gender impact assessments. The World Bank has a number of resources on the gender dimension to the extractives. These are just the tip of the iceberg, but a good place to start if you are looking to find out more.

We’ll also soon be publishing an article by one of our members in DRC, who visited the mining city of Mukungwe in South Kivu. In the piece, she talks about the different ways women have found to generate income, the structure of the city and generally what life is like for women near these extractive projects.

Although examining the impact of extractives on women is not wholly new, there is still a lot of work to be done. As Kady stated, the ‘social and economic implications the extractive industry entails for women need to be better understood, if we are to identify ways in which we can amplify positive opportunities  for women and minimise the negative impacts that we find.’

By Alice Powell 

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