Women and Natural Resource Governance in West Africa
The Assemblée Parlementaire de la Francophonie, an association of the parliaments of Francophone countries, recently revealed in a study entitled ‘The role of women in the French-speaking world’s extractive sector’ that a third of the world’s mineral reserves comes from Africa, including more than half of all rare minerals. For example, Guinea is home to the world’s largest open-cast bauxite mine, Burkina Faso is Africa’s fourth-largest gold producer, while Senegal is one of the main producers of phosphates and zircon.
Unfortunately, this abundance of resources fails to translate into sufficient growth for these countries, and therefore their citizens, who continue to live in poverty – and women remain worst affected.
It is clear that the extractive industries sector leaves women in an unenviable position: dominated by men and scarred by gender inequality, women are heavily under-represented. Today, the challenge remains for governments to remedy these disparities by improving how their natural resources are exploited in a transparent and equitable manner, taking gender equality into account.
Gender equality: what has been achieved so far?
The provisions on gender equality in the 2019 Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) Standard are starting to facilitate more inclusive decision-making, but there is still a long way to go. The Standard now incorporates provisions on gender, which is a good start. These provisions are designed to improve female participation in the way extractive resources are managed.
Now, EITI multi-stakeholder groups (MSG) are obliged to take gender balance into account in their composition and to disclose employment data by company, gender and level of occupation. For example, in Burkina Faso, female representation within the MSG has undergone a significant evolution, increasing from 16 to 32 per cent, or 8 women out of 25 members, according to a Publish What You Pay (PWYP) survey carried out in West Africa.
In Guinea, during the EITI report dissemination campaign carried out in 2021, women’s organisations enjoyed greater prominence and their voices were encouraged, although the number of women involved has not exceeded 10 per cent, according to another PWYP survey.
If communities are to truly benefit from extractive resources, both women and men must be involved in the management and governance of the extractive sector so that they can ultimately benefit from equal access to employment.
Another important issue is sharing and accessing information. Zainab Ahmed, the Nigerian Minister of Finance, Budget and Planning, has said:
“Data disclosure is essential for improving the inclusion of women, as it provides governments, businesses and other stakeholders with the information they need to identify the areas where women are disproportionately under-represented or marginalised, so they can intervene and apply the necessary measures”.
She believes data sharing is also a way of guaranteeing respect for transparency and accountability.
“For example, forcing companies to disclose employment statistics, disaggregated by sex, would lead to more inclusive hiring practices”.
Major challenges persist for women in the extractive industries
To what extent are women represented?
The extractive industries are disproportionately operated and governed by men, and policies within the sector that are sensitive to gender are relatively rare. Typically, between 80–90 per cent of jobs on natural resource exploitation sites are held by men, according to figures in a World Bank study entitled ‘Mining in Africa: Are Local Communities Better Off?’.
In the case of Senegal, women working in the extractive industries represent less than 25 per cent of the workforce, as reported by the country’s Publish What You Pay national coalition. Figures on formal employment in Senegal’s 2019 EITI Report shed further light on female representation in the extractive sector. The report shows that women represent 5 per cent of senior executives at 25 big companies in Senegal’s mining and oil sectors. However, overall, it is worth noting that when women and men are combined, Senegalese executives only represent 48 per cent of this professional class.
“Our data on gender representation in the extractive industries forms the basis of the debate and initiatives aimed at empowering women to play a greater role in activities within the sector and better contribute to Senegal’s economy”, explains Awa Marie Coll Seck, President of Senegal’s National EITI Committee.
Who benefits from profits?
Are women benefiting from the financial rewards that come from extractive resources? According to an analysis by the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) of the ‘2017 Resource Governance Index’, women living in countries that depend on mineral resources often experience greater inequality in terms of the distribution of wealth and respect for their rights.
In some countries, the socio-cultural factors that give women distinct status, restricting them to the home and marginal roles, as well as high rates of illiteracy in rural areas, are all obstacles to women’s economic development. This often leads to assigning women marginal roles in the value chain, which are typically exercised under highly unfavourable conditions.
Women rarely hold operating licences or permits and hardly ever own land or property. This is mainly due to a lack of financial empowerment because, in order to own an operating site, buy a permit or even go into business, you need investment capital.
When extractive projects arrive, women lose their land. Traditional livelihoods are lost. Some women engage in sex work to support themselves, increasing their risk of becoming victims of sexual and gender-based violence.
A pillar of socio-economic stability and a source of income in West Africa, paradoxically, women remain the weak link in the extractive industries sector. While it is true significant efforts have been made, there are still many challenges to overcome for women to have privileged status in the extractive sector. To achieve this objective, some key strategies conducive to establishing inclusive extractive industries need to be introduced, such as:
- Incorporating a gender dimension in local content policies.
- Equitable sharing of extractive resource profits between women and men.
- Improving training and skill development for girls and women.
- Encouraging investment in shared infrastructure in extractive resource mining areas.
- Defining instruments for governing artisanal and small-scale mining in order to reduce forms of violence of which women are the victims.
- Reducing the loss of women’s livelihoods to a minimum through due diligence in order to mitigate social and environmental effects, and to create more jobs.
- Prompting and encouraging female involvement and female leadership in civil society organisations and decision-making bodies in the sector, such as the EITI.
- Strengthening female participation in multi-stakeholder groups and consolidating the role of the EITI in promoting women’s rights.
This is a translation of an article first published in French on the website of the media Droit dans ses bottes.