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Women and Natural Resources: Our Experience at the World Bank Conference on Gender and Extractives

Last month I was fortunate to attend the inaugural World Bank Conference on Gender and Extractives. The event attracted attendees from civil society, government, and companies, and was an important forum for these diverse groups to engage in meaningful and valuable dialogue. I welcomed the opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences with others who understand the importance of centering gender in our natural resources work, as this dialogue is critically important to understanding the gaps and identifying promising strategies to realize gender equitable investments.

I was struck by the many commonalities across geographies. I heard, repeatedly, about the resistance people face when working on gender, such as having to make the case for why the issue is important or hearing the worry that working on gender deprioritizes other issues.

One important theme that emerged was the observation that, while we need cultural sensitivity and understanding, we shouldn’t let this be an excuse to not work on these issues. Rural women use land and natural resources to play a critically important economic role within their families and communities, yet extractives projects often exacerbate existing social and economic barriers that leave women less well-off and less able to cope with the changes that such projects bring. It is, therefore, vitally important that we ensure that extractives projects do not replicate these barriers, but find ways to work towards equity and equality.

In many presentations, I heard about policies that are good on paper but not in practice, such as consultation requirements that don’t actually engage all affected groups. The conclusion from these sessions is clear: policies are important, but without more—better assessments to support better-informed implementation, increased capacity, proactive efforts to give women a seat at the table—women are unlikely to share in the benefits of extractive investments and could end up worse off as a result of a project. 

Alongside these lessons, we also heard some inspiring examples of empowerment. I was particularly struck by repeated examples of women’s groups, such as women’s savings groups and women-only cooperatives, offering a space for women to empower themselves and to increase their voice. This is something we have observed in our work on land and have captured in our Starting With Women approach. It was inspiring to see it work in the extractives context as well.

Reflecting back on the conference, two key themes resonate with me particularly strongly: the importance of feminism in natural resources and the importance of land as an issue. At Resource Equity, we are committed to centering women in our work and to actively working to change the patriarchal institutions which replicate inequality. We have also been working to draw out the links among gender, land, and natural resources, which you can read about in Gender, Land, and Extractive Development: Issues and Opportunities for Improved Understanding and Practice. To learn more about our work click here and to learn more about the World Bank’s work on Gender and Extractives click here.

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