When oil was discovered in Ghana in 2008, rural women, in particular, those living in oil-fringe communities had little or no knowledge about the effects of oil exploration on their livelihoods. Six (6) years after the discovery of oil, local populations, majority being women are still grappling with the negative effects on their livelihoods.
The promise of the oil industry creating more jobs is but a mirage. Many local populations have lost their source of regular income through the loss of farmlands to oil companies with fisher folks experiencing lean fish harvest. Fisher folks now travel to neighboring country – Cote D’Ivoire to carry out their fishing expedition while fish mongers mostly women struggle with their fishing trade with some traveling to Cote D’Ivoire to buy fish to sell in order to secure their livelihood. However, their efforts are frustrated by injustices meted out to them as traders by some corrupt migration and custom officers. Women traders in the Jomoro district in the Western Region of Ghana have questioned the usefulness of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS).
These are some of the findings observed in district level engagement with state and non-state actors including local populations to strengthen women’s agency to demand equity, accountability, transparency and greater responsiveness from duty bearers for improved livelihoods for women and socially excluded groups in two oil-fringe districts (Jomoro and Ellembelle) in the Western Region of Ghana.
The Network for Women’s Rights in Ghana (NETRIGHT) in collaboration with three (3) of its member organisations – International Federation of Women Lawyers Ghana (FIDA Ghana), ABANTU for Development (ABANTU) and Women in Law and Development Ghana (WiLDAF Ghana) is working at the district and national level to strengthen women’s agency in the oil and gas communities to interrogate development policies and create a common platform for action. The project proceeded on the premise that development planning in Ghana is conceived within the neo-liberal paradigm which has failed to deliver benefits to the nation as a whole and women in particular. The oil and gas value chain focuses on scientific, technical and economic dimensions utilising experiences of other countries. Thus, losing sight of the fact that there are persistent social and gender related inequalities bordering around power interrelationships, access to resources, increased voice and representation of women.
As a women’s rights and economic justice network, NETRIGHT is interested in contributing to civil society engagement on oil and gas issues in the country from a gender perspective by interrogating how the decision making processes around oil and gas are involving and taking the concerns of women into account and whether the decisions are prioritising national interest and citizens’ rights. NETRIGHT is equally interested in engaging with the process to ensure that oil as a vital energy service becomes easily accessible, reliable and affordable for women. This should happen through increased investment in basic infrastructures that utilise oil and gas to reduce women’s burdens.
As part of interventions to protect women’s livelihoods and ensure that they play a key role in the oil and gas industry, NETRIGHT and its partners have reviewed existing legislations, policies and institutional frameworks governing the energy sector and developed gender-responsive framework to serve as a reference document to address gender concerns within the sector. To ensure effective citizens engagement at the community level, leaders of women and socially excluded groups have been trained on oil and gas legislations and local governance processes to demand the inclusion of gender concerns in the Medium Term Development Plans (MTDPs) of district assemblies. Also, Gender Advocacy Platform (GAP) has been formed to engage local actors to enhance gender-responsive local governance and development planning to promote effective sustainable development which benefits women, girls, men and boys. Submissions have also been made to Parliament to incorporate gender concerns in the ongoing review of the Petroleum Revenue Management Act 2011 (Act 851).
Ghana’s Western Region is known to have a high concentration of natural resources that under gird the national economy. The vast array of natural resources notwithstanding, the region happens to be one of the least developed in the country. The oil and gas discovery brings in its wake a renewed questioning of the benefit of natural resource extraction to the people of this region. Ghanaians are generally alert to the negative social impact wrought by oil and gas discoveries elsewhere in the West African sub-region. Public awareness of the impact of the ‘oil and gas find’ on the rural livelihoods has been heightened thanks to heated debates in the print and electronic media. Mass public support, as a result, has been generated towards the need to protect the livelihoods of women and the poor in oil and gas fringe communities.
Through NETRIGHT’s work, public interest has been generated on gender-responsive development as an avenue to influence the evolution of alternative development paradigms and provided a common platform advocating gender-aware development planning.
In 2008 NETRIGHT carried out a baseline study on oil and gas in the Western Region and followed up with advocacy work on the research findings across the country. The study concluded that there were critical social concerns like the loss of livelihoods, land commercialisation, destruction of farmlands, poor environmental sanitation and high illiteracy. NETRIGHT’s findings were consistent with reports on the Ghana Government’s portal which raised in addition concerns about inadequate knowledge of the socio-economic implications of the oil and gas discovery on the oil fringe communities. There were indications that the emerging oil and gas industry was bound to exacerbate existing gender imbalances if policy and related legislative frameworks were insufficiently gender sensitive.
It is crucial that these gender imbalances are addressed, if the oil and gas industry must deliver on development outcomes in Ghana particularly on issues that relate to the livelihoods of the different groups of women and men that depend directly and indirectly on the industry, then it is crucial that gender imbalances are addressed at all levels. CSOs have contributed community and national level information on the impact of the ‘oil discovery’ on the livelihoods of women and men in some selected oil and gas communities in the Western Region. There has also been some level of policy engagement to mainstream gender in the oil and gas policy frameworks, however, there are as yet no clear gender frameworks set to address gender gaps and achieve concrete benefits for women and men of different social groups.
NETRIGHT identifies gender equality as a means to sustainable development. For development to be effective, it must be inclusive with an equal and conducive playing level field for all, it is only then that we can achieve a sustainable development that benefits all.
Patricia Blankson Akakpo (@TriciaAkakpo) took her Master’s degree in development studies (Human Resources and Employment; Gender Studies) in the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, Netherlands. She has over 15 years of experience in the field of gender & development, human resource management, resource mobilization, labour relations and programme management. Based in Ghana, she currently works as the Programme Manager for the Network for Women’s Rights in Ghana (NETRIGHT). She has a number of published works focusing on feminism, gender, women’s rights and women empowerment. Patricia now serves as the CPDE Co-Chair for Communications and provides guidance to the Communications Working Group.