The extractive sector plays a key role in ensuring the long-term viability of Nigeria’s economy. It leads to the discovery and development of mineral deposits, creates jobs – often in remote communities – and attracts significant investment.
But there is often the question about the role of women in the management of the affairs of the sector. Against the backdrop of a general lack of policies and regulatory frameworks aimed at identifying and protecting the rights of women and ensuring equal representation, the Honourable Minister of Finance, Zainab Shamsudeen Ahmed, has sought for quality engagement of women in the sector.
Study suggests that while the benefits of extractive industry projects are enjoyed primarily by men, it is women who bear a disproportionate share of the negative social, economic and environmental impacts. Highlighting the many challenges, in a chat with a few media executives, the minister posits: “The extractive sector has been particularly susceptible to gender bias and systematic discrimination across its value chain,” in spite of the fact that extractive companies with women in leadership positions make 5-20% more profit and more robust corporate governance and transparency, as stated by World Bank.
According to her, the views and interests of women are not considered in shaping the sector and they are less likely to benefit economically. In her words: “There is also an insufficient pipeline of women and girls with the necessary educational background and work experience to enter the sector. At the project level, women are often not consulted by governments and companies during community engagements, in part due to structural barriers such as lack of information.”
Considering also the challenge posed by the lack of credible and readily available data – particularly disaggregated data – she is of the opinion that governments, companies and other stakeholders are by the challenge limited in their ability to make informed decisions and develop gender-responsive policies, programmes and budgets to tackle inequalities. Her take on how data disclosure could help to improve gender inclusion is that data disclosure is critical to necessary interventions and improving gender inclusion because it provides governments, companies and other stakeholders with information needed to identify areas where women are disproportionately underrepresented or marginalised.
Apart from ensuring transparency and accountability, data disclosure, according to her, also allows for citizens to engage with issues affecting the inclusion of women and other vulnerable communities. In her words: “Requiring companies to disclose employment statistics disaggregated by gender, for example, would help inform more inclusive hiring practices. As we consider the importance of data disclosure, we must also ensure that women are given equal opportunities to access data, and that data is disaggregated along gender lines where possible. This will ensure greater transparency and accountability in line with the principles of the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI).”
Speaking on what actions could be taken to make the extractive sector more inclusive for women, since the gender-neutral policies are often applied in ways that exclude and disenfranchise women stakeholders, Ahmed says the Nigerian Government has to develop policies, regulatory frameworks and programmes that target women, so as to remove the socio-economic and cultural barriers that prevent women from participating fully and benefitting economically from the extractive sector. She urges that women must have a seat at the table to participate in decision-making in the sector more generally, as well as contribute to the development of gender-inclusive strategies more specifically.
Her view is that women must also be given the support and tools with which to participate in the management of the sector, and also that the views of the women must be taken into account at the project and community levels.
In her opinion, it is important to develop programmes that encourage women and girls to study engineering and other fields related to the extractive industry, with mentorship and support to ensure their advancement in the field. Speaking further, she says companies should also take responsibility for the status quo by developing strategies and programmes aimed at hiring, promoting and retaining women. Her position is that it is important to promote the participation of women-owned small-medium enterprises (SMEs) in the extractive industry through inclusive financing structures and improved access to information and opportunity across the industry value chain.
Speaking further on how supporting women could benefit the sector as a whole, Ahmed unequivocally states, “By empowering women and ensuring their full participation in leadership and decision-making roles, we can ensure increased transparency and accountability at all levels; more inclusive partnerships at the community level, leading to better protection for the most vulnerable; and stronger emphasis on addressing the industry’s environmental impact.”
A gender-balanced and inclusive approach to the extractive sector, as she succinctly states, will empower women economically, resulting in stronger economy overall. She asserts that supporting women in the extractive sector will lead to improve and more sustainable economic, social and environmental outcomes, in line with the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals.