From Wilson Okereke, Afikpo
Mining is a major means of livelihood in Ebonyi State, especially at the artisanal level. Several women involved in the industry do the menial job while others reap the gains.
Aware of the systemic discrimination of women in the extractive industry, and Ebonyi being endowed with enormous extractive activities, the African Centre for Leadership Strategy and Development (Centre LSD) has taken it upon itself to push for inclusion of Ebonyi women in every cadre of the extractive sector.
At a two-day sensitization seminar organised for stakeholders drawn from across the 13 council areas of the state, in Abakaliki, the capital, from June 17 to 18, 2021, participants resolved that women deserved greater opportunities in the mining industry.
Executive director of Centre LSD, Monday Osasah, stated that the gender bias in the sector did not only prevent women from engaging in and accessing economic benefits but also rears its ugly head in the areas of mining companies’ and government’s engagement with communities at all stages of extractive activities.
The Mineral and Mining Act, 2007, which guides both processes and procedures in the sector, seems to be gender-blind and as a result company-community consultation and decision-making are done without involving women and their perspectives.
Daily Sun gathered that it was in realisation of the foregoing gap, which has continually increased gender inequality and disempowerment of women, that Centre LSD commissioned a research that formed the basis for advocating women’s inclusion and full participation in the governance of natural resources in Nigeria.
According to the organisers, the project objectives were to build strong and resilient organisations, which would contribute to the elimination of all forms of gender-based violence in the extractive sector and build the capacity of staff to deliver on the grant, among others.
Osasah, in his speech, disclosed that, before now, the centre had implemented projects focusing on natural resource governance but emphasis was not placed on the gender dimensions of the impact and benefits of the extractives on humans as the effects on men varied from the effects on women and children.
He explained that the broad objective of the project was to engage policy and opinion leaders to initiate, generate and sustain responses on issues that affect women and children in the extractive sector. According to him, it was on this note that the centre organised the meeting involving traditional rulers, religious leaders, youth leaders and women leaders from some host communities for proper understanding of the prevalence and dangers of gender-based violence to women and children in the sector.
He noted that past interventions had shown a common factor that robust stakeholder engagement from the outset would build involvement and a sense of continuation, adding that it would equally serve as an avenue for all parties to discuss, understand and internalize every step in the process.
Harping on the centre’s objective, the executive director explained: “We are here for an interface meeting with stakeholders to interrogate system structures and practices, which have put women in disadvantaged positions in extractive industry, we were here before to implement a project called Strengthening Civil Engagement and Advocacy for Effective Use in Natural Resource Governance.
“It was about mobilisation of citizens to participate in natural resource governance because we believe that, if people are participating, the issue of corruption, concerns about transparency and accountability processes will be dealt with.
“But while doing that, there was no deliberate focus on gender dimension. Thus, what we did in the project drew the attention of Ford Foundation that supported and provided us with a grant to look at the intersection of gender.
“To effectively look at it, we need to interrogate the system structures and practices, which had put women outside the process.”
Women’s rights officer of the centre, Betty Ekanem, in her lecture, stated that, following the flaws in the Mining Act, 2007, women faced a lot of discrimination and systemic disadvantages in the extractive industry.
According to her, the project was geared at addressing the issue by proffering solutions to the situation and empowering women to maximise their potential in the sector.
Ekanem said: “When we talk about mainstreaming, when consultations and deliberations are made, we talk about how women are carried along, noting that the activities in the host communities are focusing on women.
“Let the women’s needs be prioritised in the industry. When plans are made, the women are always sidelined, their views are not heard, decisions are taken over them in most cases. The decisions are taken in the absence of women who actually need the service.
“Let both men and women be mainstreamed, each group’s priority be heard while solutions will be proffered.”
She requested that leadership positions should also be given to women, unlike what is prevalent, where men are at the top of the pyramid and women at the bottom; they should be included in decision-making.
Ekanem further described gender mainstreaming as a strategy that requires assessment of any planned action to identity different implications on men and women.
Renowned environmental activist, and executive director of Neighbourhood Environment Watch Foundation (NEW Foundation), Dr. Kelechukwu Okezie, also at the event, said that Ebonyi was chosen for the exercise because it was an extractive state.
He explained ‘extractive activities’ as ventures that include exploration, extraction, processing and transportation, among others, adding that the centre, having found out that the sector was dominated by men while the few women among them were sources of cheap labour said it was high time the trend changed.
Capturing human rights abuse in the industry, Okezie said: “For instance, if one goes to Umuoghara Quarry industry, the person will be able to find out that women can go down into a deep pit where they haul stones from, and at the end of the day, they will be paid around N500 or N600 even when they are doing the hard labour, while men collect the greater chunk of the money.
“However, they are not provided with any protective equipment. Same thing is applicable to Ameka and Ama-Eri or Oshiri community, where women pick pieces of lead with bare hands.
“Based on that, there is gender disparity or inequality; thus, the essence of the enlightenment is for gender equity to be observed. There should be empowerment for women who are the most vulnerable.”
He added that any empowerment given to a woman would enhance her means of livelihood, which would make impact on her family, state and the nation. He appealed that women in the sector should be provided with loans and other tools of enablement.
From the government side, permanent secretary, Ebonyi State Ministry of Mines and Solid Mineral, Sunday Okike, said, “It is simply targeted at bringing out the best in women as it concerns the extractive sector and I am appealing that the women should learn how to indicate their individual interest in whatever cadre they desire.
“For instance, in the administration of Ebonyi State under Governor Umahi, women are given about 40 per cent of appointments.”
Okike advised the women to put their resources together as a cooperative and enter into any business that would enhance their means of livelihood.
A director of Centre LSD, Emenike Umesi, expressed optimism that, at the end of the project, women would also become co-owners of the extractive business to enable them have enough resources to actually contribute to the development of the state.
“If they are properly brought into the system, they will be able to earn money, take care of their families, pay government taxations and also employ other people.
“Bringing them in is akin to empowering the womenfolk, because they are vulnerable and, if anything happens in the society, they always bear the brunt, thus, empowering them means empowering the society.
“Once there is harmony, productivity will be high, therefore, I am advising the participants to take home the key points from this interaction, let them still apply the knowledge in their businesses.
“They can put their forces together and even empower themselves to enable them become equal partners in the sector,” he advised.
At the end of the interaction, women participants could not hide their gratitude to the organisers for the rare opportunity that equipped them.
President, Ebonyi State Women in Mining, Princess Ekwutosi Ogbuinya, said it was an eye-opener, noting that, through the sensitisation programme, her members could access their mining rights, cooperation and other benefits.
She commended the centre for its commitment in engaging stakeholders towards correcting the age-long practices against women in the extractive sector.