On the 25th of August 2022, women from the 26 gazetted villages of Ibeno community met at the instance of frontline Women’s right organization, Kebetkache Women Development & Resource Centre and its partners, to carefully discuss the existing socio ecological issues in the community, especially how it affects womenfolk. The discussion 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, women relayed sad and gory tales of how their lives have been adversely impacted by the impacts of oil extraction, and how they have observed the steady decline and deterioration of their collective lot.
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 certain gender assigned roles that govern 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, 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.
Faced with the disproportionate impacts of oil extraction, men are often at liberty to leave the community and seek lucrative income generating activities elsewhere from the polluted community. Unfortunately, women do not have the same luxury. Women are culturally and socially expected to remain connected to the home and rely on the same devastated environment for most of their survival.
The meeting also noted that beyond the livelihood and ecological effects of oil extraction, women also suffer health challenges caused by the reckless activities of oil companies. 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. During pregnancy for instance, women experience heightened levels of nausea and significant increases in other pregnancy symptoms.
Related to the above is the fact that the biological make-up of women in the community is experiencing strange alterations that have become a major source of concern. Women experience menopause much earlier than normal, experience irregular and unpredictable menstrual cycles, as well as unusual difficulties in conception and childbirth.
Despite the disproportionate impacts of pollution and environmental degradation, women are not ‘carried along’ in systems of benefit transfer or compensation from the sector. They are not 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 in favour of men, even when women constitute the bulk of the population of Ibeno.
The meeting also noted that historically, benefits sharing programmes created by the federal and state government, 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. In particular, the meeting noted the sharing of contracts and other benefits from the Niger Delta Development Commission, community MoU with the oil companies, etc. that have been traditionally tilted to favour men.
The meeting equally noted and discussed ongoing plans by ExxonMobil to divest its assets and leave the Ibeno community after 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 both these conversations, women have not been included in the negotiations, neither have their peculiar interests been mainstreamed in the 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 the inclusion of women.
Based on the following, the women of Ibeno Community resolve to make the following demands to secure their future, assert stake and ensure their survival;
On the PIA
1. That women must be included in all the leadership structures of the Petroleum Industry Act Host Communities Fund in a 50-50 manner.
2. 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 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 Ibeno.
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 must consult and discuss Corporate Social Responsibility benefits directly with Ibeno 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.
This Communique is endorsed by over 40 Ibeno Women representatives on the 25th of August, 2022.