On the 12th of June 2023, women, chiefs, youths, media and civil society groups from the host communities in Akwa Ibom State met at the instance of frontline Women’s right organization, Kebetkache Women Development & Resource Centre in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State to carefully discuss the existing socio ecological issues in the oil impacted communities in the State, especially how it affects the womenfolk. The 50 participants took a keen examination and interrogation of the over six decades of oil extraction and its attendant impact on the people of the Niger Delta region and particularly women. At the meeting, participants shared sad stories and lamented how their lives have been adversely impacted by oil extraction, and how they have observed the steady decline and deterioration of their lives and environment.
(The first oil well in Nigeria, located at Otuabagi community in Bayelsa State)
The meeting noted that women are often more directly affected by environmental devastation as a result of their status and gendered role in society. In the Niger Delta, women clearly suffer the deprivations engendered by oil exploitation more than the menfolk. Traditionally, women in the region are saddled with social and economic responsibilities and which define their status in society. These include roles as wives, caregivers, and home keepers, as farmers, fishers and also breadwinners. The meeting equally noted that women are not only expected to play a significant role in earning the family’s subsistence through agricultural engagements, but they are also required to process farm produce for meals and trade the balance for income. These gendered engagements with the environment forces women to traverse ecologically degraded and oil-soaked swamps to gather periwinkles, collect firewood, fetch water, fish, etc. Crop yields have also been seriously impacted, with steady decline in the harvest of crops like yams, cassava, and plantain. On some occasions, harvested tuber crops have been found to contain crude oil deposits in them. The intensity of pollution from oil extraction activities has directly affected the productivity of women’s income-generating activities and engendered an alarming rate of poverty.
The meeting also noted that beyond the livelihood and ecological effects of oil extraction, women also suffer health challenges such as miscarriages, still-birth, high rate of birth through ceasarian section among others. During pregnancy for instance, women experience heightened levels of nausea and significant increases in other pregnancy symptoms. Particularly, they note the poisonous effect of gas flaring which has been routine in their community for the last 62 years on account of the activities of ExxonMobil, Shell, AGIP, Total E & P among others.
Despite the disproportionate impacts of pollution and environmental degradation, women are excluded from the systems of benefit transfer or compensation from the sector. Very few women are employed in the oil sector or in any way empowered by the oil companies or the few government interventions. In the few instances where opportunities for skills development or capacity enhancement activities are extended to women, they are expected to only gain skills within the sectors that reinforce their domestication and gender roles. For instance, women are still expected to learn crafts like bead making, sewing and hairdressing as ‘empowerment’; while men acquire high selling engineering skills and capture contracts from the companies and the government. Similarly, in scholarship opportunities, women are neglected, even when women constitute the bulk of the population.
The meeting also noted that historically, benefits sharing programmes created by the Federal and State Governments, as well as those by the Oil Companies, have always been captured and administered by men unequally, further reinforcing the deprivation of women and their poverty. Government interventions over the years including setting up of Commissions and Boards and have little impact because such measures do not provide platforms for communities to address their issues.
The meeting equally noted and discussed ongoing plans by ExxonMobil, Shell, and other corporations to divest its assets and the communities after over 6 decades of oil extraction with devastating consequences. In particular, consideration was given to the current demand by the community, the Local Government and the State Government to each play a role in negotiating how divestment should happen and the need for consultations. The meeting noted the plans being established to kick start the implementation of the Host Communities Component of the Petroleum Industry Act. It expressed profound concern that in all these conversations, women should be included in the negotiations, neither have their peculiar interests been mainstreamed in the several demands. They expressed fear that divestment efforts and the PIA will progress in the same manner other similar processes have evolved- dominated by men and without due inclusion of women.
Based on the following, the participants resolve to make the following demands to secure their future, assert stake and ensure their survival;
On the PIA
1. The PIA should be amended to reflect the interests of the community members, particularly the women.
2. That women must be included in all the leadership structures of the Petroleum Industry Act Host Communities Fund in a 50-50 manner.
3. Women must participate fully in all needs assessment activities as stipulated in the PIA, and their needs must be adequately captured in all the development plans adopted and implemented.
1. That women must be consulted on an equal basis by ExxonMobil, Shell and other corporations seeking to divest and whoever desires to buy the oil assets before any divestment takes place.
2. That there must be a detailed livelihood, health and social impact assessment of the impact of 62 years of oil and gas extraction on the women of these communities.
3. Where ecological, livelihood and health impacts have been established through an assessment process, the company MUST embark on thorough remediation and restoration processes.
4. That the successor company to ExxonMobil and/or Shell must consult and discuss Corporate Social Responsibility benefits directly with women, using systems and methods created, established, and trusted by the women. For the purposes of empowering women on an equal basis, this must include the establishment of a distinct fund for women concerns and targeted at addressing the development needs of women.
5. That the successor companies must accept to buy both assets and liabilities left behind by the divesting companies.
6. The Nigerian Government must ensure that the divesting companies owns up and pay up for all environmental damages and human rights violations caused by the divesting companies during their years of operations before they are allowed to completely divest from onshore communities.
This Communique is endorsed by 50 community women and men representatives that participated in the meeting in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State on the 12th of June 2023.