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Women, decision-making and the extractive industries

Women, decision-making and the extractive industries
Published 13 Jun 2014 

Members of the Publish What You Pay network at a meeting in Jakarta. Photo courtesy of author.

For the last three years I have been lucky enough to coordinate the Publish What You Pay (PWYP) campaign in Australia for transparency and accountability in the extractive industries (oil, gas and mining). The premise of the campaign is that if there is good governance in countries rich in natural resources, citizens will benefit from this natural wealth rather than fall victim to what is known as the 'resource curse', the paradox that sees countries with large extractive industries often having lower economic growth, greater poverty and inequality, and more conflict and instability, than countries with fewer natural resources.

To deal with the systemic causes of poverty and inequality in such countries, the extractives sector is a good place to start. Oil, gas and mining companies need to be accountable, not just regarding the use of money flowing to host countries but also their impacts on human rights, the environment and society.

Transparency is not the whole answer but it is certainly part of the solution. It is about pulling back the curtain to find out what's happening, expose it to the world and thereby improve the lives of people. [fold]

In Australia, PWYP is focused on bringing about greater transparency and accountability in the local mining sector, which is extensive — there are around 250 Australian mining companies operating in Africa alone. The campaign here is supported by 30 civil society organisations working with a global network of 800 organisations, in both developed and developing countries.

There is strong female leadership within Publish What You Pay. The international director is a woman and many of the coalitions in other countries are led by women. Those most likely to be affected by the negative impacts of extractive projects (pollution, loss of land, social conflict) tend to be women and children in the communities located close to extractive projects. 

In resource-rich developing countries such as Mali many women are farmers. When land is given to a mining project their livelihoods are lost. Men can find jobs from the arrival of a mine and this often leads to or reinforces gendered power imbalances. The increase in transient workers with disposable cash can not only increase the price of everyday goods that women need to provide for their families but can also lead to an increase in prostitution, sexually transmitted diseases and the likelihood that women will be exposed to violence.

Another task which traditionally falls to women is fetching water for their families. However, when water bodies become polluted (as this video on oil spills in the Niger Delta demonstrates) women have to go further to get water.

In order to address these issues, Publish What You Pay has partnered with UN Women to work towards ensuring women have a place at the table when extractive projects are being negotiated so that the risks of a project are minimised and benefits shared more equitably.

It is crucial for women to be able to participate in and influence decision-making processes. Studies have shown that the inclusion of women in peacemaking processes strongly contributes to a more effective and lasting peace. Could something similar be said for when an oil, gas or mining company and a community sit down to negotiate? If women are excluded from these dealings, they cannot voice their needs or problems. When women are excluded inequality worsens.

There is clearly a long way to go if governance in oil, gas and mining is to stop being a man's game. That's why it is so important that more young women, as well as young men, are empowered to speak out and hold power to account, not only in the extractive industries but all industries.

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