Nigeria’s economy is heavily dependent on the extractive sector and apart from the oil environment, the country is, also blessed with untapped solid minerals, most of which are being extracted and traded illegally. Employment at these two sectors favours able-bodied men while women and women with disabilities who are often displaced by extractive activities, continually experience marginalization and deprivation with no real records of their plight.
As world attention is now beamed on the promotion of inclusion and equitable distribution of opportunities for development as a more sustainable means of improving society, Arden and Newton, a strategy consultancy committed to social development and impact, in partnership with Ford Foundation, held a validation forum on a research on Gender and Disability in Resource Producing Communities tagged, ‘EnCompass,’ October 14, 2021 at De Edge Hotel, Port Harcourt.
While welcoming participants, Mr EzeWordu, the organization’s programme officer,said the objective of the forum was to bring together,carefully selected civil society members, women, and persons with disability, to examine the findings of a study conducted by City Economics on the resilience of women with disability in resource producing communities across eight states from five geopolitical zones in the country.
According to him, focus is on how to ensure that women’s livelihood interests are included in mineral extractionactivities in line with global campaigns for gender inclusivity.
Eze explained that the study comessecond in reports put together by Arden and Newton, which, he said has been beaming its light on gender and visibility in resource producing communities explaining, that a Nollywood film has been produced to highlight the representation of women with disabilities in such communities.
Programme officer of Ford Foundation, Dabesaki Mac-Kemenjima, in his remarks, lamented that gains from natural resources don’t often get to communities but are siphoned abroad with limited checks of flows of illicit finances.
He said Ford Foundation is interested in getting the voices of the people in the middle (resource communities) to be heard; noting that the Niger Delta community environment has experienced environmental damage with serious implications for farming and fishing livelihoods as the fall-outs of oil extraction.
“Women voices are suppressed by cultural norms, the expectations of the youth are not being met, there are not enough schools; disability is not given enough thought. Ford Foundation is interested in addressing these, identifying those in the intersection and how disadvantage manifests in communities,’’ he pointed out.
According to Mac-Kemenjima, the Encompass study looks at how women with disability experience fallouts from resource extractions like gas flare, soot, etc. ‘How do women experience fall-out from resource producing like gas flaring, soot? How does this disadvantagethem as well as ways of raising women’s voices?” he pointed out.
He raised concern over the absence of ‘an agency for women’ recalling that with a united voice in the country’s colonial days, the Aba Women’s Riot was able to bring issues bothering women to the center and effect change. He therefore, called for issues around women with disability to be given optimum visibility; warning, ‘If we don’t get this right many other things will not fall in place.”
A major finding of the study is that women with disability are rarely part of commercial life in their communities attributed to a variety of factors such as cultural beliefs, neglect by the government and the patriarchal nature of the communities as well as the nature of the business.
“From the study, none of the WWD are employed in the extractive industry across the LGAs surveyed in all the states. From the focus group discussion (FGD), it is gathered that WWD are mostly unemployed (also highlighted as a challenge for many women across these communities), a high level of unemployment across the group. Other challenges identified as causes of this high level of unemployment among women and WWD are lack of opportunities, disability, lack of support from government/oil companies, corruption, unfair employment practices, lack of education, societal neglect, inconclusive skill acquisition programmes, remoteness of the location and lack of finance. The study finds that conflict, cultural factors, wrong perception of women leading to stigmatization and discriminatory practices; labour laws and conflict, also play a role in the non-inclusion of women with disability in mining activities at the community level. In the focus group discussions with respondents in these communities, they mention that besides religious and cultural barriers, one of the reasons why women with disability are not involved in the extractive activities in the communities is due to insecurity’’.
The educational attainment of respondents may also have added to their exclusion from participation in extractive activities as “34 percent (most frequency response) of the respondents have a secondary school certificate, while 24 percent have no formal education”. “Educational attainment across this population is low, as about 74 percent attained only secondary school certificates and below. This could indicate a barrier to gainful employment across society’’, the study revealed.
“The findings also reveal that the perception of the respondents differ on the challenges faced by women with disability. While 48 percent of the respondents agree that they are highly discriminated against because of the patriarchal nature of the Nigerian society which considers women as inferior to men and their contributions are usually not taken into consideration, 43 percent state that the difficult nature of the extractive industry is their major challenge.”
From the study, 91 percent of the respondents indicate that it is very difficult for women to gain entry into the sector. The general perception, therefore, is that it is considerably difficult for WWD to enter the extractive sector across all the LGAs surveyed, a finding also corroborated by the KII interviews. The difficulty experienced can be a result of lack of needed skills required to work in the sector.
Support appears to come more from family and civil society groups than government.
“Other factors that also hinder the involvement of women in the extractive industry are the culture, traditions, corruption and unfair government policies. On the coping strategy adopted by WWD to manage the challenges they face in society, majority of the respondents agree that they usually receive support from relatives.
‘’Other strategies highlighted are involvement in communal labour, assistance from NGOs, trading or subsistence farming and reliance on God for helps. These are further corroborated by responses from the KII participants. On how they cope with these challenges, WWD usually join social groups and NGOs to assist them in getting over discrimination and problems of non-inclusion’’.
Arguing that promoting gender equality of opportunities for, and inclusion of, people with disability is central to the social and economic development of communities and the nation at large, and is consistent with the achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs), the study made some recommendations:
*The study concludes that men are usually described as the head of the patriarchal society, while the women are described as the neck. The head cannot sit on the body or effectively perform its functions without the neck. The contribution of every woman, therefore, whether disabled or otherwise, is important if any society is to achieve sustainable development. The government and other stakeholders in the extractive industry must, therefore, institute policies that will specifically promote the inclusion of women, most especially WWD, in the extractive sector. This will help make a reality the prediction of Nigeria’s GDP growing by 23 percent by 2025 achievable.
*The study recommends that the government should develop the extractive industry towards the use of more advanced technology, to encourage and allow more women with disability to participate in the sector.
‘*There should be an enabling environment for the inclusion of women with disability in the economic, commercial, social and political activities in resource-producing communities.
*The federal and state governments should implement a quota system that mandates all mining and oil companies to employ a certain number of women with disability. Incentives at all levels of the value chain should be provided for WWD to encourage them participate in the extractive industry. The government should pass legislation outlawing discrimination against disabled women in any manner. It should then follow up with education on equitable chances in education, employment and involvement in resource extraction and exploitation.
*The private sector should adopt policies that promote the inclusion of women living with disability in resource-producing communities in the form of equal employment opportunity, equal access to other social and economic benefits in the sector, e.g., incorporate gender and social inclusion (GESI) impact assessment into all new and ongoing projects. They should also prioritize the inclusion of persons with disability, most especially women, in the activities that strengthen social capital and economic empowerment programmes.
*The government should also strengthen advocacy on the rights of people affected by crisis and conflicts, particularly women and girls, by raising awareness about refugees and displaced persons in organizations for persons with disability. Civil society organizations (CSOs) should prioritize evidence-based lobbying in order to persuade governments and businesses to implement policies that promote the participation of women with disability in the resource extraction, exploitation and other benefits that the sector provides.
*They should engage in public awareness campaigns on the need for communities to improve their attitudes about people with disability in general, and women with disability, in particular. Disability should not be regarded as a significant impediment to progress. They should purposely invite women with disability to programmes, and collaborate with disability rights organizations to guarantee that the concerns of women with disability are frequently addressed.
According to the World Disability Report of 2011, over 25 million Nigerians have at least one disability or the other and more than 50 percent of these 25 million Nigerians are female.
The study used a variety of data collection techniques including observation, focus groups andsurveys and examined data from community leaders, dwellers, persons with disabilities and civil society organizations working within the study communities.
After a very robust discussion of the findings by the participants who came fromall the extractive resource communities, it was agreed that the research outcomes were in consonance with the experiences of WWD. However, there were calls for the engagement of more female respondents in future studies working in collaboration with organizations for persons with disability like the Joint National Association of Persons With Disability, JONAPWD,for easier access to women with disability.