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Tanzania Meeting Focuses on Protecting Women from Natural Resource 'Curse'

  • Gabe Joselow

Women and their children walk to the river in the locust infested area in the Vakinankaratra region of central Madagascar, March 30, 2013.

Women and their children walk to the river in the locust infested area in the Vakinankaratra region of central Madagascar, March 30, 2013.

As many African nations experience new oil and mineral discoveries, and the process of extracting those resources gets underway, the effect on women often gets overlooked - and they tend to suffer the most from the so-called "resource curse." Society groups and government officials are now meeting in Tanzania to discuss a new way forward.

When waterways are polluted near mining and oil projects, women have to travel further to collect water. When land is seized to make room for a new mining project, women farmers frequently suffer the loss.

The premise of the two-day meeting that opened Thursday in Dar es Salaam is that women are disproportionately affected by the corruption, pollution and mismanagement that often goes along with the resource curse.

Making transformative improvements

Christine Musisi, the regional director for UN Women, one of the organizers of the event, said she hopes the meeting of minds will help open up a discussion that could improve lives across the continent.

“It’s quite a mix of people who are here to dialogue and consult on how we can make the extractive industry a more gender-responsive industry, which we believe will in turn transform extraction in Africa from a curse to a blessing,” said Musisi.

The meeting has brought together officials and activists from Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, South Sudan and other countries.

Faith Nwadishi is the Nigerian national coordinator for the civil society organization Publish What You Pay, which advocates for greater transparency in the industries. She said the negative impact of the oil business in her country “has a woman’s face.”

While Nigeria has made billions of dollars in the last two decades from oil production, it also has suffered extreme environmental degradation from spills and sabotaged pipelines, as well as massive corruption.

Getting community involvement

Nwadishi said the government has made efforts to include the communities more in the decision-making process, but she said even on the local level, the conversation is dominated by men.

She hopes this week’s meeting will encourage governments to rewrite laws to mandate the inclusion of women.

“What we have, we have 10 people around the table, nine of them are men, just one woman, just to have a woman’s face there, that’s not helping us. So if our laws are reformed along those lines you [can] have directives or plans that ensure that you [include women],” said Nwadishi.

The international director for Publish What You Pay, Marienke van Riet, said that with oil and minerals in high demand around the world, African governments have a strong hand to play when pushing the issue of gender rights.

“The West is in need of energy and raw materials, and if the African governments really play the contract negotiations well, make sure there is an equitable representation at those negotiation tables, it could really change and transform entire societies,” she said.

Van Riet said there is not much data available on women’s roles in the extractive industry, in terms of the impact on their lives, as well as their inclusion at the corporate level.

Participants at the meeting hope to agree on a plan of action to advocate for gender equality and to promote more research on the topic.