The Role of Gender in the Extractive Industries
The Role of Gender in the Extractive Industries
Abstract and Keywords
Recognizing that women’s participation is necessary for the achievement of sustainable development, extractives industry companies are increasingly committed to integrating gender equality and women’s economic empowerment into aspects of their operations. This chapter reviews recent literature on gender and the extractive industries and considers the following questions emerging from the scholarship. How is gender understood in the extractives sector and has this changed over time? What are the gendered impacts of the extractive industries? Are women passive victims of the sector rather than active participants or even resisters to industrial expansion? What is the nature of extractives-associated sex work and gender-based violence in various settings? In addition, the chapter evaluates industry efforts towards achieving improved gender balance in the sector.
The extractive industries are a major source of revenue for many resource-rich economies around the world, and are central to their economic growth and social development. Many studies have revealed that the extractive industries have different impacts upon men and women, in a variety of ways. It is important to try to understand those impacts and to determine whether mitigation policies and programmes are needed. Further, the full social benefit of resources development can only be realized if women and girls are able to participate as fully as males in all aspects of resources activity and consequent economic development and social progress. This requires that the principles of gender equality are embedded within policies and practices applied to resources and associated development.
In recognizing that women’s participation and gender equity is a precondition for achieving the best development outcomes, some extractive industries companies have committed to integrating gender equality, inclusion, and women’s economic empowerment into aspects of their operations, but others have not. Examples are provided that demonstrate what leading companies are doing to integrate gender concerns into their corporate and social/community policies. This chapter considers how widespread these practices are and whether they are effective or need improvement.
Research for this chapter encompassed a survey of the wide-ranging literature that discusses matters of gender in the extractives sector over the past (p.443) five years or so. Several themes have emerged from that survey, and these form the basis for the discussion in the rest of the chapter, with a section focusing on each. These main themes are:
1. the understanding of gender in the extractives sector and how this has changed over time
2. the gendered impacts of the extractive industries and whether women are, indeed, passive victims of the sector rather than active participants
3. the nature of extractives-associated sex work and gender-based violence in various settings
4. women’s role in resisting the expansion of extractives projects
5. industry efforts towards achieving gender balance and equity in the sector.
This chapter is not based on primary research, although it is informed by fieldwork and interviews that the author has undertaken for other research over many years. It is primarily a synthesis of the most important evaluations of the situation of gender in the extractives sector as undertaken by an impressive array of scholars and practitioners, many of whom have undertaken primary fieldwork and have also made recommendations for improving women’s status. It includes an assessment of industry efforts and a summary of recommendations for future action.
21.2 The Many Facets of Gender and the Extractive Industries
There is a wealth of literature about women and gender in the extractive industries published over the last five years, and much that goes further back. The more recent articles analyse a variety of different issues and geographical locations and are often unrelated to each other, although a number of common themes emerge from the entirety of the scholarship. Some articles deal with the negative impacts experienced by women in extractive industries project areas; others deal with women’s active engagement in the extractives field and the choices they make to improve their position in life; some focus on informal mining (artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM)), while many are concerned with large-scale industrial extraction projects. Certain analyses demonstrate that the business case for diversity in the workplace is fundamentally harnessed by the industry to perpetuate the status quo—which is of a highly masculinized sector—while presenting a modern and acceptable face to society. Much of the research features statistics and indicators about women’s involvement in extractive industries, both formal and informal, and whether the numbers are increasing towards any semblance of equality; (p.444) still others describe women’s participation in battles against extractive projects in many different countries. Other articles discuss the persistently masculine culture of the extractive industries, which continues to work against gender equity despite efforts to transform it. The disparate nature of the scholarship makes it difficult to distil a clear picture of ‘gender and the extractives’ as a single topic. However, this variety also lends a great richness to the field and reveals the many facets of women’s interactions with and activities in and around the extractive industries.
21.2.1 Women and Gender: What Do We Mean?
Gender is a complex and contested term and tends to be assumed to be ‘natural’, in the sense that men are seen as ‘masculine’ and women as ‘feminine’, and we all think we know what that means.1 In discussions of gender and the extractive industries, the term ‘gender’ is often used synonymously with women. Academics writing about women and the extractive industries prefer to use the term ‘gender’ to indicate that they are referring to a cultural construct, not a biological descriptor; in practice, most of these articles are referring only to women—the gender of men is not considered. A very few scholars (Laplonge 2014, 2016; Mayes and Pini 2014) have recently started to point out that this conflation of the term ‘gender’ with women is enabling the industry to remain highly masculinized in spite of considerable efforts to achieve ‘gender balance’ and ‘gender diversity’.2
It is important to describe the actions of women in and around the extractives sector, both currently and historically. So, much of the discussion in this chapter focuses on women, although the discussion about recommendations for change will return to the discussion about gender, including masculinity.
21.2.2 Aspects of Gender in the Extractives Sector
Although many scholars describe the masculinity of the extractives sector, Lahiri-Dutt (2015) posits the development of a ‘feminization of mining’. She bases this on the increasing presence of women in the formal mining sector, the large numbers of women involved in the growing informal mining sector, and an evolving debate on the nature of sex work associated with mining settlements. All of these are themes that recur throughout the literature and are discussed at greater length below. She makes a strong case for (p.445) recognizing women’s agency in the mining sector, thereby moving beyond the portrayal of women as victims of the negative impacts of mining: an opinion shared by a number of other scholars, such as Mahy (2011), O’Faircheallaigh (2013), and Bryceson et al. (2013a, 2013b). This is an important contribution to the debate about gender in the mining sector.
Women have been active in the mining sector in various ways and in many countries for a very long time. Geographically, the presence of women in the extractives field has varied from place to place. Lahiri-Dutt and Burke (2011) demonstrate the essential roles played by Asian women miners throughout history, specifically in Japan and India. Although they describe the many challenges and obstacles that have existed and continue to exist for women, they nonetheless paint a compelling picture of Asian women’s active role in mining history. Murillo (2013) concludes that women were essential to the development of the Mexican silver industry in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Although she was unable to find evidence that women actually worked in mines, she demonstrates that they were crucial to the supporting economy. It is quite common for observers to comment upon the supportive roles played by women around extractives projects, often because they are not able to be directly involved, but Murillo takes the case further with her conclusion that the historical Mexican silver mining industry would not have been able to exist without women’s actions.
O’Faircheallaigh makes a strong case for the recognition of indigenous women’s influence in the development of agreements with mining companies in both Canada and Australia, especially at the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the current one. However, he notes also that many scholars have tended to overlook this, stating that the ‘dominant view in the academic and activist literature is that women are bypassed in agreement negotiations, and as a result are often excluded from the benefits of mining while continuing to experience its economic, social, and environmental costs’ (O’Faircheallaigh 2013: 1790). Although he concedes that women are sometimes (but not always) excluded from negotiating teams, for a variety of reasons, he contends that they are usually actively involved in processes leading up to the formal negotiations, influencing the shaping of agendas and objectives of negotiations and in the institutional structures that implement the provisions of agreements, thus ensuring that matters of importance to them are not forgotten. In his experience as a legal adviser to various aboriginal groups in Australia and Canada before, during, and after their negotiations with resource developers, he has observed that women exerted significant power over the negotiations and the content of the agreements. He gives examples of how indigenous women have ensured that gender equality provisions were included in agreements, particularly concerning income distribution, and also that sufficient attention and resources were allocated to (p.446) sustainable investments and the recognition of and respect for cultural traditions. He notes that indigenous men did not oppose these measures, but that it was women’s influence that insisted upon them.
Thus, although the extractive industries are very largely masculine, nonetheless women have played and continue to play a wide range of significant roles in the sector. Although there are negative impacts of extractives projects upon women, as noted elsewhere in this chapter, it is important to also acknowledge the strong and active roles taken by women in the mining and oil and gas industries throughout history.
21.2.3 Gendered Impacts
Many discussions of the impacts of the extractive industries state that these effects are differentiated by gender and are more likely to affect women negatively than they do men. For example, the following statement from the World Bank’s 2009 guidance volume on gender and the extractive industries states that:
Men have most access to the benefits, which consist primarily of employment and income, while women and the families they care for are more vulnerable to the risks created by Extractive Industries, which consist of mostly harmful social and environmental impacts.
(Eftimie et al. 2009: 1)
While much of the discussion in this chapter emphasizes the ways in which women are actively engaging with the extractive industries in order to derive benefits from them, it is important to also note that there are detrimental impacts coming from the sector that seem to fall disproportionately upon women.
One of the main ways in which women are negatively affected by extractives projects is in the impacts of involuntary resettlement and also by environmental damage. The loss of land and waters that they rely upon to grow food for their families when they are forced to move by an extractives project will typically have a greater impact upon the women of a community, as they frequently take the greater responsibility for subsistence farming. In a similar way, as women are often the most fully engaged in subsistence farming activities, they are also most affected by any pollution arising from extractives projects, because they are more directly exposed. Men are also affected by displacement and environmental damage but, as noted by the World Bank above, they often have better access to alternative incomes and the ability to move to other locations to seek alternative and often better opportunities.
In the case of an iron-ore mining area of Goa in India, D’Souza et al. (2013) describe the detrimental effects of badly managed physical displacement of subsistence farming families, when men took the little compensation paid by (p.447) the companies but wasted it on short-term personal consumption, while the women lost the land on which they could grow food for their children. They also lost access to clean water, necessitating much more time-intensive efforts to obtain water for the home. These negative impacts, among others, were shown to take a great toll on women’s social and physical well-being, as well as their economic situation. This case study, which focused on the health impacts of mining on women, showed that poorly mitigated impacts of extractives projects can have major deleterious effects upon women and their families.
A number of articles (Mukherjee 2014; Omeire et al. 2014) describe the way in which indigenous women in developing countries (here India and Nigeria) are disproportionately affected by mining and oil and gas projects because they lose access to forest, fields, and fisheries, which they have previously used for food to feed their families. Men may receive compensation and jobs when an extractives project moves into their area, but women generally do not, so there is no replacement for their lost incomes. Articles by Omeire et al. (2014) and Oluduro and Durojaye (2013) assert that in the Niger Delta women are also more affected by pollution and gas flaring because their livelihoods are dependent upon the land and the water, so they are more exposed. They also say that the loss of land-based livelihoods drives more women to sex work in the absence of alternatives. Some of these outcomes are not actually well demonstrated—they are merely stated, but there is clearly some basis for the claims.
Other scholars have researched the varied roles that women have played in the extractives sector in Africa, most often in informal mining, but some have also looked at women in the formal sector. For example, Lauwo (2016) presents an interesting post-structuralist analysis of the essentially masculine mining discourse, even when discussing gender balance, and then relates it to the poor performance of gender equality measures in the Tanzanian mining industry. This theme, of the disconnect between rhetoric and reality, occurs throughout the literature, and is observed from a number of theoretical perspectives. Mayes and Pini (2014) demonstrate that the use of gender equity targets and discussion of the business case for diversity in the Australian extractives industry discourse are actually effective in maintaining the status quo: perhaps an unintended consequence. The business case, central to these efforts, incorporates a normative role for women, namely that of an idealized ‘civilizing’ woman, but fails to mention equality. Instead, women’s difference is used to ensure that the mining space remains male. Indeed, the public efforts at ‘gender balance’ are used as a rationale for resisting regulation and structural change. Lauwo’s effort at radical post-structuralist feminist analysis arrives at the same conclusion—that talk of gender balance in the Tanzanian mining industry bears no significant result (Lauwo 2016).
Much of this section on sexual relationships around extractives projects is concerned with the ASM sector, but not all. Studies by Lockie (2011) in Australia and Cane et al. (2014) in Mongolia focus on large-scale mining projects. Mahy’s (2011) Indonesian research was also concerned with the impacts of a large-scale rather than an artisanal mining project. These examples apart, the cases referred to in this section focus on ASM. That is not surprising, as the informal mining sector is reputed to provide many more opportunities for women than does the formal mining sector, which is heavily masculinized. That is not to say that the ASM sector typically treats women fairly, or that there is any form of gender balance or equality operating there. Just the same, there is much more scope and flexibility for women to participate in the economic benefits associated with informal mining, so it is important to discuss gender relations in the ASM context. Much of the work available for women in mining areas involves sexual aspects, but not all of it. Further, a growing list of scholars is demonstrating that the sex work associated with mining is often a preferential choice for women workers, rather than a case of victimization.
Mahy (2011) and Bashwira et al. (2014) point out that mining-related prostitution can benefit women who choose to earn money in this way and that it is crucial not to assume that all women taking up this profession are ‘victims’ of mining, especially in the ASM sector. Mahy’s research among women sex workers near a large mine in Indonesia revealed that they should be viewed neither as victims nor as heroines, but rather as ‘women who are pursuing a livelihood opportunity within their wider socio-economic context’ (Mahy 2011: 53). She points out that, for many of the women, their income-earning capacity and lifestyle options are greater in the mining town than they would have been in their home villages, and this includes a variety of work possibilities for single women, among which sex work is often the most lucrative, especially for those with limited education. The range of options may be limited, but engaging in sex work in a mining settlement can be a rational livelihood choice rather than a question of force or victimization.
In a far more conflict-ridden setting, that of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), two separate teams of scholars—Bashwira et al. (2014) and Kelly et al. (2014)—criticize the use of the high incidence of gender-based violence (GBV) as a reason for controlling women’s ability to access income in the ASM sector. They particularly oppose the tendency of development programmes, implemented by donor agencies and NGOs, to promote women’s exit from the mining sector as the best means for protecting them from violence and exploitation. They argue instead that programmes to improve women’s situation within the industry would be more beneficial. They agree with Mahy that women’s agency and active engagement in the mining sector need to be (p.449) recognized and understood better by policy makers. Given the paucity of alternative means of income and the choice of many women to become involved in the ASM sector as an attractive livelihood alternative among the limited options available, they claim that legislation aimed at protecting women by excluding them from mining areas is actually counterproductive. They state that ‘instead of serving as an instrument to protect women miners’ health, it is currently being abused as a tool to consolidate the male-dominated nature of the ASM industry in eastern DRC’ (Bashwira et al. 2014: 112). They exhort policy makers to work at empowering women within the industry, tackling gendered power relations and structural inequalities rather than excluding women from the field.
Some of the most interesting recent scholarship documenting the ‘complex interplay of competing sexual desires, emotional needs, social status, daily practicalities, and economic security objectives’ (Bryceson et al. 2013a: 50) of women in informal mining settlements has been produced by Bryceson et al. (2013a, 2013b) in Tanzania. They reject the assumption that most women’s roles in these communities revolve around prostitution, and have instead developed the term ‘wifestyles’ to describe the many different relational forms pursued by women and men in these places. Through their fieldwork, they have concluded that women seek to become steady girlfriends or wives of miners, as this status provides some material and emotional security, in exchange for a range of domestic services. Although many of these relationships are not long term, in the light of the fluid nature of mining work and settlements, some certainly are. This in turn highlights the need to avoid blanket statements about women’s welfare in artisanal mining settings. Another key point they make is that the relationships in ASM communities are financially and emotionally interdependent, and of benefit to both men and women, as long as they last:
What is important to stress is that it is not only women depending on men’s income. Miners, constrained by erratic income-earning, fall back on girlfriends/wives’ income-earning as well. It remains to be seen who provides the bulk of shared income but whatever the case, the income exchange is likely to be vital for continued habitation in the settlement.
(Bryceson et al. 2013a: 51)
Reflecting upon Tanzanian women’s views of themselves and their life choices (‘wifestyles’) is an essential part of understanding the role of gender in the ASM sector. Perhaps the strongest point made about women’s agency and choices by Bryceson et al. is that:
Women in Tanzanian mining settlements generally do not perceive or portray themselves as victims of sexual oppression. No longer subject to the control of their elders, they have migrated to the mining settlements, engaged in sexual relationships, and pursued productive and reproductive paths of self-making in or out of relationships with men.
(Bryceson et al. 2013b: 102)
(p.450) This research demonstrates the inadequacy of statements assuming that women engaged in a range of relationships and activities in communities surrounding mining settlements are victims, as prostitutes or in some other way. Some may be, but many women choose to engage in this sphere as their best chance for self-advancement at a certain stage of their lives.
Bashwira et al. (2014) suggest the mainstreaming efforts of the Mongolian government and the Swiss Agency for Development Co-operation (SDC) in the Sustainable Artisanal Mining Project as a good example of how to improve gender equality in ASM communities. This deliberate approach to include women in training to build their capacity is anticipated to yield better results than the approach of finding alternative income sources as was proposed in the DRC case (Purevjav 2011: 209). The SDC project website (www.sam.mn) notes that more than 40 per cent of Mongolian ASM workers who registered in social and health insurance schemes in 2015 were women, although they accounted for only 30 per cent of registered ASM miners, indicating that women were embracing opportunities to improve their living standards while engaging in artisanal mining. Although the issues are different between the formal and informal sectors, Cane et al. (2014) reported in a study of GBV undertaken in communities in the proximity of two large-scale mines in southern Mongolia, that the Mongolian government and a private mining company entered into a partnership to make the mining area community a safer and more family-friendly place (Cane et al. 2014: 35), thus altering the gendered behaviour status quo.
In-depth studies of GBV in relation to extractives projects are not yet common, but are likely to increase in importance as current campaigns about gendered violence in mining-focused countries like Australia and Canada gain currency, along with rising expectations that companies must act to ensure human rights in their spheres of influence, as promoted by the Ruggie Principles (United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights 2011). Often, all that is available in the public domain are news articles and announcements of company programmes, such as those made by the Canadian gold miner Barrick in response to authenticated allegations of sexual assault against community women perpetrated by its security forces at two of its mines, one in Papua New Guinea and one in Tanzania (Barrick 2011a, 2011b).
One of the limited examples of detailed research was undertaken by Lockie in Queensland; he found that intimate partner violence was no worse in mining towns than in the general population, but that other factors, such as family finances and alcohol and drug use, were far more likely than mining-related elements to exacerbate family and sexual violence (Lockie 2011). By contrast, Cane et al. found that the social changes provoked by the transient populations associated with mine-related transportation and the temporary (p.451) population growth during construction led to an increase of domestic violence and sex work. The preponderance of men spending long rostered periods away from their families contributed to anti-social behaviour and increased GBV (Cane et al. 2014). Both studies conclude that much more work needs to be done on the subject of GBV in mining areas, as their own work is just the beginning. As different results have been found in different contexts, it is certainly clear that additional research is still required and also that generalizations based on what we already know may be misleading.
21.2.5 Women’s Resistance to Extractives Projects
One important sphere in which gendered modes of action seem to predominate is that of environmental activism against extractives projects. Much of the literature discusses the gendered representations that commonly occur among women anti-extractives activists. This is often labelled as ‘eco-maternalism’, or the belief that women, as mothers and nurturers, care more about conserving the planet than do men, and are therefore more prepared to fight for it. In a mining context, the literature reveals the important but previously understudied role of women as anti-mining activists in Andean Peru and Ecuador. Jenkins (2014) highlights the active role played by women in the anti-mining campaigns there, based on their acute concerns about the environmental degradation of the land and waters that they rely upon to grow food for their families. For many women activists, their engagement has entailed great personal sacrifice and risk. They experienced significant opposition from within their own families, especially from senior men, but also intimidation from pro-mining groups, both within their communities and outside, and from mining companies (Jenkins and Rondón 2015).
Andean women continued with their activism in spite of this high level of pressure, as they had become used to ‘experiences of violence, harassment, and intimidation which have become part of their daily lives over a number of years’ (Jenkins and Rondón 2015: 419). This echoes the experiences reported by the US women shale energy activists described below. The Andean women activists also share the ‘eco-maternal’ perspective of their North American sisters. As Jenkins records when discussing the Ecuadorian women activists, in ‘explaining their activism, the women identify themselves with Pachamama, reflecting broader (and by no means unproblematic) eco-feminist maternalist tropes of women as Earthmothers and guardians of nature’ (Jenkins 2014: 451). This use of Pachamama—the indigenous Mother Earth figure of Ecuadorean culture—can be seen as strategic essentialism, appealing to a strong cultural basis as justification for their actions.
Another example of this occurs in the shale energy industry, which has catalysed a high level of resistance among women in the United States. Willow (p.452) and Keefer (2015: 114) observe that women activists opposing hydraulic fracturing in Ohio are ‘fashioning a new (but still highly gendered) relationship to motherhood’. Women activists they interviewed stated that political action had become more important than traditional care-giving tasks in order for women to protect the future of their families. They explained that women were used to being disempowered in their personal lives and therefore having to stand up to authority figures, who no longer impressed them. Having less to lose from the system, they were more likely than men to challenge it. They had come to view activism and care-giving as complementary goals. This self-portrayal of women as ‘eco-warriors’ enables them to represent their non-traditional, even anti-social, behaviour as good mothering, giving strength to their movement (Willow and Keefer 2015). Although clearly an essentialist position, presuming that all women are better than all men in some respects, this self-empowering depiction of women’s abilities to force social and economic change has emerged as a strong gender model in certain extractives contexts.
Similarly, in the Niger Delta, women have played very specific and active roles in the resistance movement fighting the oil and gas extraction industry: roles that prescribe clear limitations for women’s actions, although these actions are crucial for the cultural and practical survival of the male soldiers (Oriola 2012). On one hand, post-menopausal women play an essential spiritual role in performing cleansing rituals for male insurgents in the Delta’s creeks, and supply them with various herbal preparations designed to protect and sanctify the warriors. On the other hand, non-menopausal women are forbidden from entering the creeks as they are believed to defile the area with their presence. Oriola states that the Delta insurgents do not seem to perpetrate sexual violence against women, unlike the Nigerian security forces, so perhaps the strong belief in women’s spiritual potency, for good or evil, has influenced the behaviour of the male insurgents towards women. He also states that female Delta insurgents do not engage in prostitution, although other women ‘for instance, professional prostitutes and girlfriends or sex partners of male insurgents’ (Oriola 2012: 550) are encouraged to undertake ‘soft prostitution’: that is, to befriend oil workers and security service officers in order to gather intelligence. Women insurgents are also active in smuggling arms and ammunition and ‘benefit from the gender stereotypes and chivalry displayed by security operatives’ (Oriola 2012: 549). Although this range of specific gendered roles had given women in the Niger Delta insurgency a range of positive positions, Oriola admits that this freedom disappeared once the insurgents were offered an amnesty by the state. Thereafter, ‘women’s participation in the insurgency and the rehabilitation exercise seems devalued and relegated to the fringes’ (Oriola 2012: 551). Women insurgents were not offered rehabilitation programmes until after their male (p.453) counterparts and were often viewed with suspicion in their home communities, as they had transgressed traditional gender boundaries and no longer behaved in the ways expected of women. So, although the insurgency had provided some women with opportunities for unprecedented freedom of action, they were later punished for this liberty, and not rewarded as heroes like their brothers were.
Presenting a highly critical view of the effects of oil development upon gender equality, Etkind (2014) describes the Russian oil oligarchy as petromachismo and claims that it is gender discriminatory, as well as anti-human rights in many ways. He agrees with Ross’s (2008) finding that oil-fed development decreases women’s employment opportunities, stating that the ‘synergy between the oil and gas trade and security services creates a hypermasculine, cynical, and misogynistic culture: petromachismo, as I prefer to call it’ (Etkind 2014: 161). He also highlights women’s activism:
Promoting archaic values of aggressive masculinity, the post-Soviet overreliance on natural resources and security services denies the role of women as the critical drivers of human capital. Victims of the regime, they become leaders of the resistance. At the turning points of the protest movement, rebellious femininity confronts the overbearing masculine state, with symbols of female sexuality acting as powerful, liberating political messages.
(Etkind 2014: 167)
One of the examples he refers to is that of the radical Russian women’s rock group, Pussy Riot, notoriously jailed for performing a protest song in a Russian Orthodox cathedral in 2012. Etkind demonstrated the inherently anti-feminist stance of the Russian state when he noted that the judge, a woman, commented when making her judgment, that: ‘Though feminism is not a crime, it is incompatible with Orthodoxy, Catholicism, or Islam…Feminists violate the sphere of decency and morality’ (Etkind 2014: 167). Of course, the Pussy Riot ‘Punk Prayer’ does not refer to the oil business, and Etkind does not clearly demonstrate a link between the extractive industries and Russian chauvinism, which may well be cultural as Rorbaek (2016) asserts that chauvinism in oil-rich Muslim countries is. Etkind does, however, emphasize that one of the largest employment sectors in Russia is the security industry (including the armed forces and police), which employs about 10 per cent of the population, almost all male, revealing an inherent ‘hypermasculinity’ already existing in the Russian state. A similar condition certainly seems to exist in Russia’s oil and gas sectors.
By contrast, Rorbaek (2016) has challenged the assertion that a ‘resource curse’ in the Middle East has had a negative influence upon women’s rights by making it easier to confine women to the home—an idea advanced by Ross in 2008. He concludes instead that it is Islamic culture that is detrimental to women’s rights and that although the possession of oil wealth may bolster the degree of (p.454) repression of women, it does not actually cause it. He cites Afghanistan and Pakistan as examples of repressive Islamic regimes which do not possess oil wealth. Thus he concludes that, although the eleven OAPEC3 nations are definitely oil-rich and repressive, so too are many other Muslim countries without similar wealth. So he argues the explanation must be more than economic, and he analyses historical and cultural reasons for his findings.
Whether or not it is possible to prove that the oil industry, whether in the Middle East or in Russia, leads to increased repression of women, it is clear that the presence of large-scale oil development is certainly not bringing about an increase in gender equity and sexual equality in these host countries. This begs the question of whether oil companies should be making greater efforts to bridge the gap by working towards gender equality themselves when host states are clearly not doing so. Although it may be that the cultural subjugation of women in Islamic countries has resulted in less female activism than is apparent elsewhere, which may benefit extractives companies, their human rights policy commitments should lead them to encourage host governments towards greater gender equity. If the industry provided more positive opportunities for women worldwide, it is possible that their motivation to oppose it might be lessened.
21.2.6 Industry Efforts towards Gender Balance
In spite of much research producing general agreement about what needs to be done to make the extractive industries more gender-balanced and equal, and major efforts by a number of resources companies to try to implement the recommended changes, there has not been much visible improvement, with female employment rates still not exceeding 20 per cent even in the more advanced economies. See Macdonald (2017) to view available statistics on women’s participation in the sector and for further detail on the gender pay gap and gender segregation by occupation. Some of the more radical scholars (Laplonge, Mayes, and Pini) claim that industry efforts to date have done little more than perpetuate the status quo while making cosmetic changes around the margins. By frequently restating its commitment to gender equality policies and programmes, the extractives sector arguably can avoid regulation or intervention even if the actual results of its actions to date are negligible.
In Laplonge’s view, gender ‘is not about what men and women are; rather it needs to be seen as what men and women do’ (Laplonge 2014: 36). This then enables a discussion of behaviour rather than nature, which can lead to options for cultural change. His research has shown that women in mining (p.455) ‘often consciously make an effort to not act like girls when on site’ (Laplonge 2014: 70) and women managers in mining do not like to associate their success with feminism or women’s rights for fear of alienating their mostly male colleagues. Williams et al. also found this in the American oil and gas industry when they discovered that women managers were actually subconsciously discriminating against the promotion of women in their departments for fear of appearing gender-biased in favour of women. They observe that in such a situation ‘the only way to prove one is neutral and objective is to hire a white man for a position’ (Williams et al. 2014: 455). Thus, although many of the women geoscientists interviewed stated a preference for having more women and greater opportunities for women in their industry, most of them were opposed to any form of preferential policies for women in case it undermined the positions that they themselves had achieved.
Laplonge and Mayes and Pini both criticize the belief that women will ‘civilize’ the workplace, stating that there is no proof either that this works in practice or that women want this responsibility (Mayes and Pini 2014; Laplonge 2014). Laplonge notes that there is often an assumption that if the numbers of women in the workplace reach an arbitrary ‘critical mass’, often stated to be 30 per cent, then the cultural balance will be tipped. He argues that there has never been any proof that the critical mass assertion is true, therefore women should not bear the sole responsibility for bringing about this cultural change (Laplonge 2014). Mayes and Pini describe the assumption that women will change the workplace and work behaviour by their very presence and innate femininity as an expectation that they will perform ‘unpaid civilizing work’ (Mayes and Pini 2014: 542). Laplonge declares that the only way to truly effect cultural change in the extractives sector that may eventually lead to sexual equality in employment is to challenge both male and female gender stereotypes and the associated sets of behaviour, an approach that would be supported by Mayes and Pini.
For the enhancement of gender equality in the ASM sector, Kelly et al. propose efforts ‘to promote rights and education to ensure safe and fair working conditions for those doing work in and around mining tunnels’ (Kelly et al. 2014: 103). In their view, campaigns and programmes should target the education of government and customary leaders in how to assist women miners to organize and represent themselves, rather than trying to persuade them to leave the industry they have chosen. Better medical services, especially for those engaged in transactional sex, would benefit women workers, as (p.456) would microcredit services. These practical programmes have been recommended to improve women’s status in the ASM sector.
On the formal extractives side, although efforts have been put into increasing the representation of women in leadership positions, especially on boards, these efforts have yet to bear much fruit.4 PWC’s studies over the past three years have produced the following conclusion:
Mining is still perceived by both genders to be a male-dominated industry where women do not possess equality of opportunity to advance. The only way that an organisational culture change of this nature can be effective is if it is led from the top. The boards and executive teams of mining companies need to understand and champion the business imperative to promote and support women within their organisations. They need to drive cultural change within their own companies to create a more profitable and sustainable industry.
(WIM (UK) and PWC 2015: 11)
It is doubtful that sufficient change will emerge from these worthwhile but only advisory research efforts, and the researchers themselves estimated that it would take decades to achieve notable change at the current rate (WIM (UK) and PWC 2015: 10–11). One of the leading movements for corporate gender transformation in Australia is called Male Champions for Change, but only one mining company representative, from Rio Tinto, has become engaged with this group, and even in that case not at CEO level. This demonstrates a general lack of commitment to change from the top of the extractives sector. While it is true that change can only occur if driven by management, change at the top is not necessarily reflected by change throughout an organization, and the expectation of the PWC study that the achievement of 30 per cent women on extractives company boards will bring about a transformation is not supported by evidence (Laplonge 2014). Nor are the common statements by successful women that women themselves must bring about change.
Continuing efforts to recruit more women certainly make the industry more appealing to them. Company efforts to make more positions available to women in the full range of extractives occupations, at equal pay, will surely be of benefit to some women. However, these corporate initiatives can only bring about superficial changes to the masculine nature of the extractives sector without there being a root-and-branch, industry-wide cultural transformation focused on men as much as women. Laplonge accuses the industry of refusing to ‘investigate the practices of masculinity which dominate in the (p.457) business of mining and which continue to ensure that most women…will find it hard to succeed in this industry’ (Laplonge 2014: 70).
Thus, what is needed is change at the top, driving cultural change throughout each extractives organization and primarily focused on the men who make up the majority of the workforce. Some work has been done in this field, and the Western Australian government has sponsored the development of a training course along these lines (Department of Mines and Petroleum 2012). Others may want to follow this example. Fundamentally, unless the men who run the extractive industries decide to make these changes, which will not be easy, there is unlikely to be much improvement in the gender balance of the sector in the foreseeable future.
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(1) See Macdonald (2017: 2–5) for a fuller discussion of the scholarship on gender constructs in the extractives sector.
(2) In this chapter, gender equality is defined as providing equal chances and opportunities to women and men, and gender equity as the process of being fair to both men and women (which might require compensation for past disadvantage in order to level the playing field).
(3) i.e. Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries.
(4) A few women have reached positions at the top of major extractives companies, but very few. Cynthia Carroll was CEO of AngloAmerican plc from 2007 to 2013, when she stepped down, leaving Kay Priestly, CEO of Turquoise Hill Resources, as the only woman CEO in the top 100 resources companies. Cheryl Carolus, of Gold Fields Limited, was the sole female chair of a major resources company in 2015. In the larger group of the top 500 resources companies women fared a little better, with twelve being CEOs, an increase from seven in 2014 (PWC 2015: 11).