Mining, displacement and empowerment: Working with resettled women in Mozambique
One of the poorest countries in the world, Mozambique is extremely rich in natural resources. But while the extractive industry provides important revenues for the country’s economic development, it also creates deep social problems.
We caught up with the Head of Cooperation at the EU Delegation to Mozambique to discuss coal extraction in the Western region of Tete, and how the EU is working for women’s empowerment amid community resettlements.
Being a woman in Mozambique remains a huge challenge. On top of reduced access to education, teenage pregnancies and restrictive cultural norms, women and girls work the land to feed their families, fetch water at wells that are kilometres away and care for children.
The arrival of extractive companies – and the resultant resettlements – have affected these same women disproportionately, compared to men.
Isabel Faria de Almeida on the mining companies' impact on women in Mozambique’s Tete province:
“When companies come to work on extraction, entire communities need to be resettled,” said Isabel Faria de Almeida, Head of Cooperation at the EU Delegation to Mozambique. “It’s a very complex process, in social and economic terms.”
Resettlement, Faria de Almeida explained, exacerbates the vulnerability of local women, compounding many of the challenges they face already – such as high rates of gender-based violence – all the while making access to education and health services ever more difficult.
The ongoing development of the coal sector in Tete province is no exception. In 2015, the project, Empowering Girls and Women in Mining Areas of Moatize, Tete, was initiated to mediate some of the most negative impacts caused by extractive companies in the region.
Funded by the EU, the project was created in partnership with peasant organisation União Provincial de Camponeses de Tete (UPCT) and a district network of organizations Rede das Associações de Moatize para a Boa Governação (RAMBOG), and implemented by the nongovernmental organisation Women and Law in Southern Africa Moçambique (WLSA).
The project, which concluded in March this year, employed a rights-based approach to increase local actors’ sensitivity to women’s rights, while contributing to the strenghtening of women’s associations, community leadership and knowledge sharing affected by the extractive sector.
“We think that when the extractive industry is present, these are the most powerful tools you can provide to support these communities,” said Faria de Almeida.
“It’s important to work with communities; to sensitise them on how they can use what is within their reach.”
While the extractive companies provided some material compensation to local communities, it’s important to look below the surface, Faria de Almeida added. “At first sight, this seems wonderful,” she said, referring to funding for households and the establishment of community health centres. “The reality of it is that if you just give money without the previous preparation and the necessary follow up, it can actually be counterproductive”.
She went on to explain that “if you are not working with the communities to make them aware of how to use the health centres, they won’t achieve their objective. This is why it’s so important to work with communities; to sensitise them on how they can use what is within their reach.”
Indeed, research conducted by WLSA Moçambique and funded by the EU Delegation found that communities were often not properly consulted prior to resettlement. This impacted areas such as food security and access to adequate housing, along with creating inter-community tensions over allocated land.
“The research found that the resettlement process was activated without creating the conditions that would minimise its impact on the populations,” read the report. The report further states that companies were mainly concerned with fulfilling regulatory formalities: “there is no strategy that goes beyond good governance and is concerned to improve the overall well-being of people.”
Muchamba village in Tete province, Mozambique © ILRI/Stevie Mann
Outcomes of the work
The EU-funded project developed 38 women’s and peasants’ associations, bringing together women and girls to learn about their legal rights, share their concerns and build leadership skills. “This is only the outcome of a lot of work and doesn’t come automatically,” said Faria de Almeida.
Exchanges with women facing similar challenges in other areas helped young women understand the issues at stake and provided the impetus for increasing their involvement in the project and taking on leadership roles.
Sexual and reproductive rights formed another major component of the work. Sexual violence was all too often considered the norm, explained Faria de Almeida, making it increasingly important to stress that “life should really be better”.
In the beginning, Faria de Almeida added, “women were extremely reticent to speak up on the problems they face,” but working with WLSA enabled the project to overcome much of this reticence due to the NGO’s role as “an insider.”
Through their extensive knowledge of the challenges women face in Southern Africa, WLSA were able to incrementally build relationships with the communities. “It’s not only money that allows you to solve a situation,” said Faria de Almeida. “Without building trust, you won’t get anywhere.” Indeed, the project’s remarkably small budget (204,587 EUR) indicates as much.
“It's not only money that allows you to solve a situation... without trust, you won't get anywhere.”
Faria de Almeida explained that the political context created substantial challenges in achieving success. The high revenue generating potential of extractives, she said, is often favoured by authorities at the expense of social cohesion – with some families having already been resettled multiple times.
Although the project strengthened the selected communities, Faria de Almeida underlined that addressing root causes and working with local authorities and decision makers to reach socially – and not just economically – beneficial solutions will be key for the longer-term.
“There is a dynamic that isn’t positive and we are trying to support the Mozambican authorities and civil society alike on empowering women and girls,” she said. But support alone will not be enough, she acknowledged. “It’s the mindset of the authorities and the investments of the private sector; a common will is what will help sort out the situation in a sustainable way.”
This article was written by Aylin Elci, with input from the Capacity4dev Team.