Joining hands: UN Women and PWYP to fight the resource curse together

ImageThis blog originally appeared on Trust Law Reuters

When we think of the extractive industries, what comes to mind?  A discovery of untold wealth, changing lives overnight? Young male workers, flying in to remote locations to earn big salaries on oil rigs or down mine shafts?

Or instead, corruption, civil war and conflict diamonds – the misery of the resource curse. These images are seared into the public consciousness, but the truth is that the vast majority of people directly affected by extractive industries aren’t Texan billionaires or despots in dark sunglasses. They are women and their children.

Publish What You Pay and UN Women have formed a partnership to address the unique and specific impact of extractives on women. While natural resources can be a blessing, for many women they fail to deliver.

Extractive projects often take up land that was originally used for farming. As women represent over 70 percent of the agricultural workforce in sub-Saharan Africa, they are exceptionally vulnerable to these changes.

This is often exacerbated by a surge in the price of basic products. Many of us have read about how the extractive industry drives up prices in cities, from Luanda to Perth, but the issue takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to communities and families local to extraction. The influx of cash and migrants can increase food prices by up to 300%.  As women tend to be the ones providing food for their families, this new burden falls on their shoulders and has implications for family stability and children’s education. Another vital role for African women is obtaining clean drinking water for their families. When extractive projects launch, water bodies can become polluted and women have to travel further – if they are able to – in order to collect safe water.

The sudden arrival of a transient, overwhelmingly male workforce contributes to another more chilling consequence:  a rise in prostitution, sexually-transmitted disease and sexual violence.

Yet, despite all of this, women are not simply victims to extraction. Extractive Industry isn’t something which happens to women, it is something they engage with in their daily lives. Women are agents in their own lives and where circumstances change, they have adapted. A census of the mining village of Mukungwe (DRC) identifies new income generating activities women have adopted – from catering and food preparation, to laundry services for miners.

But it is this that makes the situation so worthy of attention – natural resources have the power to deliver prosperity and development to millions. Women shouldn’t simply be reacting to change and making the best of a bad lot, they should be actively involved in ensuring that natural resources benefit the whole community.

For years women have been fighting back to change the way in which they interact with the extractive industry.  Recently, grassroots women activists working in Africa have set up a network through which they can exchange stories and work together. You can find out more in their newsletter here.

To amplify our voices UN Women and Publish What You Pay have teamed up to bring together activists and experts working in gender and the extractives. By combining our expertise, we believe we can effect some real change.

The partnership we are announcing begins today with a meeting of ministers, civil society organisations and the United Nations in Tanzania. As well as sharing experiences, a key aim of the workshop is to develop policy, commercial, and human rights frameworks which address implications for women.

We will also be working on developing a gender approach to PWYP’s value chain, the Chain for Change, the first time this has been done. The goal is to include gender as an integral component of natural resource management- not as an add-on or token. PWYP’s work on gender reflects its new Vision 2020 strategy, which expands their focus from revenue transparency to issues all along the value chain.

One of the crucial aspects of natural resource governance we will be addressing is the need to have women at the table. In most instances women are currently excluded from negotiations.

Yet you can’t broker effective or lasting deals if you fail to include half of the population, especially when dealing with public goods, and considering women’s crucial role in families and communities. UN Women have found that including women in peace negotiations improves the success and sustainability of agreements. The logic for extending this to extractives is simple – if the community is to benefit as a whole from a deal, if the risks and benefits of a project are to be equitably shared, then women must have a seat at the negotiating table.

In twenty years’ time, we want people’s first thoughts on the extractive industries not to be of clichés or stories of woe, but of how natural resources delivered prosperity and development to entire generations of women and men equally.

Marinke van Riet, International Director Publish What You Pay

Christine Musisi, Regional Director of UN Women East and Southern Africa

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