Demba Seydi, West Africa coordinator for Publish What You Pay. Crédit photo : Demba Seydi/ Oxfam

Our Partners’ Corner: Economic recovery remains a priority over all other concerns, including equality and equity

One third of the world's mineral reserves are in Africa and their extraction is the main source of revenues for most African countries. However, the people of the continent are still struggling to reap the benefits. For girls and women, the situation is even more worrying. Extractive sector projects jeopardise their livelihoods, health, safety and deteriorate their status in their households and communities. 

The global Publish What You Pay movement advocates for the inclusion of women in decision-making, from the community to the international level, and for women to benefit from extractive industries on an equal basis to men. We spoke with their West Africa coordinator, Demba Seydi.  

Question: How can the extractive industries benefit women and girls living in the communities where they operate?  

Demba Seydi : It is important to remember that extractive activities have a significant impact on women, often negatively affecting their well-being, health and environment. For example, women farmers are strongly affected by these extractive activities, which hijack agricultural land, divert it from its traditional uses, deteriorate the environment and make domestic work, often carried out by women, harder by limiting access to water, food and firewood. 

Paradoxically, there are no institutional mechanisms to allow women and girls to benefit from the exploitation of mineral resources. To address this situation, stakeholders in the extractive industry sector could consider a number of measures, including but not limited to the following:

  • During the exploration phase, companies, the government and communities should conduct a gender analysis to understand how extractive activities might impact women and girls in ways that are different from men.  
  • Women must be sufficiently and independently consulted to give their consent to the extractive project. This consent must be based on full and fair information on all possible future consequences of extractive activities in the region concerned. 
  • Extractive activities often lead to the relocation of living spaces and areas of economic activity of communities who live around the extraction sites. Relocation forces the private promoter and the government to take steps to compensate or reimburse the affected people. In most cases, in a highly patriarchal system, women do not have access or control of land and therefore do not benefit from such compensation, although they may be heads of the households. In order to address this issue, fair and equitable compensation that takes into account the situation of the population as a whole is needed, without discrimination based on gender.   
  • Most countries with natural resources have established legal framework for sharing revenues. However, very few of them take women and girls into consideration. Governments should make clear provisions in laws to ensure that women benefit equally from earnings. This can be done through financing their needs in terms of basic social services, through financing women's economic initiatives (community projects, women's businesses), through the funding of girls' education and their social protection, among others.  

Question: How can our regional governance bodies (e.g. ECOWAS) contribute to the greater inclusion of women in this industry?  

Demba Seydi : In June 2019, ECOWAS adopted its "Model Law on Mining and Mineral Resources Development". This law includes a range of provisions to improve women's rights, particularly in the extractive industry. Alongside these stipulations, ECOWAS has recently undertaken a project to develop a Charter on Gender Inclusion in the Geo-Extractive Sector, to implement the legal provisions of the Model Law and the proposals that the various stakeholders have developed to this effect.  

ECOWAS must now compel its member states to ensure effective implementation of both the provisions of the Act and the Charter through clearly defined operational and monitoring-evaluation plans. Each country should integrate these provisions into their legal and policy framework.  

Question: Can the recovery post-Covid-19 set back or delay these progresses in gender equality?  

Demba Seydi :  In 2019, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which seeks to promote transparent and accountable governance of natural resources, introduced new requirements related to gender. The initiative requires the 52 implementing countries to publish gender-specific data on employment and encourages the availability, accessibility and understandability of the information to all stakeholders, including women. In 2021, we conducted a study to assess the implementation of these EITI Standard requirements in West Africa. The study found that considerable efforts have been made, although progress is still slow. Worldwide, only 5-10% of those working in the extractive industry are women. Yet they are exposed to some of the most dangerous working conditions, making up 40-50% of the workforce in the artisanal mining sector.  

COVID-19 has been identified as a factor that has significantly slowed this progress. And the curve has yet to be reversed in the post-COVID recovery. Indeed, economic recovery continues to take precedence over all other concerns, including equality and equity. Governments are still focused on mobilising resources for their budgets and development projects, and they are turning a blind eye to the needs of women and girls.  

Question: Is there a 'good example' of equality and equity in the extractive industry in West Africa?  

Demba Seydi : We have yet to conduct a comparative study by country to establish a ranking of best practices. However, between 2018 and now, our efforts in West Africa through our project "Gender and the EITI Standard" have helped advance women's rights in the extractive industries at several stages in Guinea, Burkina Faso and Senegal. In Senegal, the release of gender-disaggregated employment data remains an example to follow. Similarly, the dissemination of EITI data to the public is done in a way that is suitable for women and in formats that are appropriate for them. Easy-to-understand reports are translated into local languages and discussion sessions are held with women's organisations in the extractive zones. Understanding the varying effects of extractive activities on men and women helps design effective solutions.