Inclusivity can positively impact all elements of an extractive project – reinforcing a respectful and equitable work environment, supporting the ability of all community members to communicate their concerns and interests, and promoting a respectful relationship between company employees (or contractors) and the community.
It is important that companies proactively and accessibly engage with different groups of women and men, including young people – not just community leaders – in order to avoid issues of “elite capture,” gender disparities, or unintended impacts on unrepresented or underrepresented groups within a community.
What Considerations are Important?
Sometimes company efforts to respect and promote traditional culture in a community make it hard to advance inclusivity. However, sometimes major projects carry risks of negative impacts or marginalization of those who are already disenfranchised. If a company does not recognize internal community concerns or conflicts, they may escalate into social protest. It is particularly important to be aware of the existing elements of power reflected in how (and for whom) local land rights are recognized, how (and by whom) household finances and resources are managed or owned, and how impacts and benefits associated with industrial development may be refracted throughout the community.
Companies must realize that their very presence will have some cultural impacts. Industrial projects bring environmental, social, and economic changes, impacts, and opportunities. But unless the social context and dynamics are well understood, “opportunities” for some may actually exacerbate pre-existing inequities or vulnerabilities within communities.
At the same time, promoting inclusion does not necessarily need to begin with an explicit conversation about why companies or governments should “change how things are done here.” Companies can encourage inclusive behaviors by modeling it in their own workplaces and processes, by recognizing all parts of the community as neighbors, and by actively seeking to engage with and generate benefits for all.
Companies and governments know they should not negatively impact human rights. Rather than aiming for an impractical target of “no impact,” companies must commit to a baseline of doing no harm, and a goal of doing good. A company committing to “do no harm” should translate this objective into its community engagement planning.
What are the Risks of Ignoring Inclusivity?
Equity can positively impact all elements of an extractive project – reinforcing a respectful and equitable work environment, supporting the ability of all community members to communicate their concerns and interests, and promoting a respectful relationship between company employees (or contractors) and the community.
Inclusion – of women, youth, and minority or marginalized groups – remains an important concern, especially in communities where they may not obviously participate in decision making.
Incorporating inclusivity considerations throughout internal and external corporate practices can be a challenge for numerous reasons. However, a failure to fully incorporate – or “mainstream” these considerations within corporate practice can bring significant risks. A failure to protect against sexual harassment and abuse – both within the company and by employees or contractors operating in the community – also compromises the safety of the community and the workforce. Similarly, any agreement that reflects disenfranchisement by women (or youth, or the elderly, or other marginalized groups within a community) is a potential vulnerability for companies. If a significant population group within a community is dissatisfied, a company will encounter challenges, protests, and other obstacles to productive operations. Such dissatisfaction is prime for visible damage to a company’s reputation.
While most countries have laws that that guarantee gender equality, in practice, women are often disadvantaged. When an understanding of the ways in which women or marginalized communities are or may be impacted is included in social impact analysis, projects are in a stronger position to ensure that everyone’s human rights are reflected in FPIC processes.
“Gender” can sometimes be an easy concession in a negotiation, and projects like vegetable gardens or weaving projects can be mistaken for sufficiently addressing these considerations. The extractive sector workforce is still largely male, and corporate cultures often largely view gender or intra-community dynamics as a “social” issue within the purview of Human or Communities Relations Departments.
In addition to understanding potential dynamics related to gender or inclusivity within communities, companies can examine their own role in gender impacts and opportunities to improve practices, both in their own workforce and in community engagement and including through the development and adherence to solid policies on inclusivity and respectful behaviors.
Unintended impacts to women’s physical and economic livelihoods due to failure to consider gender can create further vulnerabilities. However, according to Dr. Ciaran O’Faircheallaigh’s quantitative research on negotiation conditions, content, and community outcomes from 40+ company-community agreements in Australia, good outcomes for women appear to be correlated with good outcomes for the full community. Companies should therefore seek to bring a gender- and vulnerability-sensitive lens to social impact assessments, consultation practices, and agreements.
Some considerations include:
- Differing relationships to land: while men and women may both have responsibilities around food production, men may be more likely to produce cash crops where women are responsible for subsistence farming and family nutrition. The latter may be undervalued – both by companies and by male representatives in the community – when deals are made to support community relocation. Women often must access land through patriarchal systems in which a husband is the formal land owner; she may receive little or no compensation for land sales but will still have responsibility for providing family nutrition. Use of community land for subsistence farming is common, but this is rarely factored into the award of concessions or compensation packages. Even where employment opportunities are offered as a means of compensation, low-pay positions are unlikely to offset the increased burden of food provision.
- Women are often disproportionally affected by family disruption.
- Gender, racial, or other inequalities may exist across a range of areas: access to information, compensation, livelihood restoration, community decision making, and assets and finance.
- Across all societies, an increase in gender-based violence is correlated with family stress, changes in power structures, and increased access to cash.
- Women and marginalized communities often have less access to remedy.
- Some well-intended efforts have unintended consequences. For instance, gender neutral language can often allow for indirect exclusion of women. Similarly, quotas or rules for quorum without requirements for meaningful participation by women or marginalized groups can preserve a status quo in which those groups are underrepresented.
- Impacts and agency can differ from culture to culture and even site to site; companies should not see women as homogenous “victims.”
- Gender-based traditions exist in various cultures, and there is a need to both understand the respective rights and responsibilities of the genders within a household and to take these into consideration during any change, disruption, resettlement, or other event. Specifically, it is important to understand through careful analysis whether customs actively promote inequality (or if they are simply innocuous cultural differences), and the appropriateness of brokering changes in local practices (sensitively, only where it’s truly needed, and with forethought about potential unintended consequences). Working within a pre-existing cultural context can be a tricky proposition, particularly when Western companies enter cultural spaces with differing traditions and perspectives (e.g., where the role of women is lacking or limited). Though companies and NGOs do not want to be seen as attacking regional cultures, they may wish to create opportunities for women to play new roles or lead decision-making, or to expand the potential roles that men can play. Companies can help communities to embrace inclusion over the long-term by demonstrating the benefit of gaining input from a range of perspectives, not by setting dictates for local culture.
What are good practices?
It is important that companies proactively and accessibly engage with different groups of women and men, including young people – not just community leaders, particularly in relation to:
- Information dissemination
- Consulting settings and mechanisms
- Agreement-making mechanisms
- Benefit arrangements
Some good practices for companies applying an inclusivity lens to community engagement include:
- Hosting women-only, youth-only, or similar kinds of meetings for groups that may be marginalized to ensure that these voices can be heard.
- Hosting community events in such a way as to enable participation from groups that may be marginalized (e.g., enabling women’s participation by holding meetings at times that do not compete with family responsibilities, providing child care, etc.). Community consultation meetings could also have a standing agenda item for women’s, youth, or other groups’ concerns to be raised.
- Creating mechanisms and measures that specifically address women’s concerns, e.g. using electronic banking tools or mobile phone-based money transfer and banking services to pay women directly; and prioritizing access to essential resources, such as land for subsistence farming, water, and other household activities for which women may be primarily responsible.
- Establishing and socializing engagement mechanisms (as well as grievance mechanisms), and ensuring they are accessible – in a practical way – to women in a community. This can include hiring more women for community liaison teams, gender-sensitive trainings for community liaison teams, and placing community liaison offices in convenient places for women to access them.
- Targeted informational campaigns to women, men, youth, elderly, or other minority communities to seek and affirm buy-in from all quarters.
- Gathering sex-disaggregated data can contribute to better understanding of impacts and benefits and support better decision-making and agreements.
- In the course of environmental, social, and health impact assessments, a land-mapping exercise with women and men, as well as a “responsibility mapping” at a household level, can be a useful tool for understanding issues associated with women’s land rights, land use, economic responsibilities and potential vulnerabilities linked to land; as well as potential considerations for gender-sensitive planning.
- Companies should be explicit about how projects will differently impact women and men (and subgroups like youth, elderly, etc.)– and pay attention to how power structures around engagement, benefits, land rights, and financial management may influence women’s abilities to provide useful information, share concerns, and understand project effects. Women need to be both properly informed and be involved in decision-making processes.
- In many situations, it can be important to socialize men and others in leadership positions to the co-benefit they will receive from ensuring that other group’s needs are also met through methods like rights and responsibilities awareness and informational campaigns; for example, the family as a whole will benefit from an increase in its earning capacity.
- While there can be challenges around creating opportunities for women, youth, and others to play new roles, there may similarly be opportunities to offset community concerns by also creating new opportunities for those currently in leadership.
- A good company philosophy is “those who are most impacted by operations should be the ones that most benefit”.