Women’s right to decide: why oil, gas, and mining companies aren’t doing enough, and how that can change

Analysis & Opinion, Women's rights article written on the 10 Nov 2015

Women must be included in the community consent process

By Maria Ezpeleta, Gender Advisor for Extractive Industries at Oxfam America and Chris Madden, Mining Advocacy Coordinator at Oxfam Australia

To truly secure community consent, companies need to adopt policies and practices that ensure the whole community — not just half of it — is able to participate.

“There was no consultation or discussion; they just told us the decisions that were taken. We wanted to participate ourselves but we couldn’t,

“For people like me [an older woman], we cannot go to the meetings, we just hear that a group of leaders went and presented some problems, but they never tell us the result or what happened.” — Female community members in Mualadzi, Tete Province, Mozambique, who were resettled to make way for a coal mine.”

Large-scale oil, gas and mining projects — or like projects of almost any kind — affect women and men differently. Women often bear the brunt of the negative impacts while receiving few, if any, of the benefits (such as compensation for land or employment). But it doesn’t have to be this way. These risks can be mitigated if women are more systematically included in consultation and decision-making processes.

Research shows that if companies do not consider the potential impacts of their projects on women, vis-à-vis their particular roles and responsibilities in the household and community, or women’s particular needs and interests, the results can be devastating — not only for women, but for everyone.

For example, as water sources get scarcer and often increasingly polluted, women are not able to meet the needs of their families; as land gets expropriated, so do family farms, which women often manage; and along with mining operations often comes an increased risk to sexually transmitted diseases, family unrest, and a rise in domestic violence.

Why are women left out?

Women face a number of barriers to participation in decision-making processes. Sometimes local leadership structures exclude women, and sometimes information is not shared or presented in accessible ways (women have higher illiteracy rates than men). And sometimes, as research has shown, companies simply do not take enough steps to ensure that consultation processes include both women and men.

The result is that instead of creating opportunities for advancing gender equality, companies end up perpetuating barriers that further disadvantage women. If you’re not considered, you can’t participate. If you can’t participate, you can’t help decide.

Oxfam’s Community Consent Index looks at the public commitments of 38 oil, gas, and mining companies in relation to women’s participation and decision-making in projects. The results are disappointing to say the least. Only nine companies mention any gender-related considerations in their publicly available policy documents or guidelines on consultation.

These companies, however, tend to include women in their broader commitments to engaging with marginalized or vulnerable groups, which is highly problematic. Even when assessed by an external eye as being ‘marginalized’, women make up half — if not more — of the population. Wouldn’t companies want to take into account the interests of this important constituency?

Moreover, where do women’s rights to participate in decisions that affect their lives factor into these processes? Without public commitments that secure this, there is little assurance that companies are doing enough to guarantee that women have an equal say in how project risks are managed and how benefits are shared.

Do policies to safeguard women’s participation exist?

A lot of the companies interviewed for the Community Consent Index claimed that they have internal guidelines for employees on how to engage women in consultation processes. While this may be true, internal policies do very little in the way of promoting accountability. Communities cannot hold companies to account for policies that they cannot access.

Clearly oil, gas, and mining companies aren’t doing enough to make sure women are participating in decision-making processes. We strongly urge companies to establish public commitments to women’s engagement in community consultation processes. These commitments should promote gender equality and a respect for the rights of both women and men by guaranteeing equal opportunity and access to mining benefits.

Oxfam works in partnership with others on women’s rights in the extractive sector including: Publish What You Pay (PWYP), CEPIL, WACAM,and WoMIN. Oxfam’s Gender Impact Assessment Tool helps companies incorporate gender considerations into community assessment and planning processes.