Extractivist orientation of the global economy deepens inequalities, including gender inequality

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Gatj

This week, the Global Alliance for Tax Justice (GATJ), its members and partner organisations are hosting the Global Days of Action for Tax Justice in the Extractive Industry 2022. Social movements, particularly in climate, labour and gender justice, have been raising proposals for the extractive sector to operate responsibly with communities and the environment. Building connections with these demands, the campaign brings the perspectives of tax justice and the broader economic justice movement, calling for a rights-based economy that puts people and the planet at the centre of discussions and decision-making. 

The GATJ team interviewed Hibist Kassa *, Research Coordinator at WoMin Alliance, who explained the impact of extractivism on women and girls, and how tax justice could help advance gender equality. “Extractivist orientation of the global economy deepens inequalities on the intersections of gender, economic, social, ecological lines. These have bearing on persons differently abled, sexual and gender, ethnic, racial minorities, among others, whose livelihoods, wellbeing, labour and bodily autonomy are eroded”, she said.

Check out the interview:

What’s the current status of gender equality in the extractives industries? 

A narrow and limited interpretation would presume that gender equality enables us to think about fairness between men and women within the industries. WoMin takes a different approach to frame feminist analysis of extractivism. We adopt an ecofeminist lens that integrates an intersectional approach to examine how the activities, and more broadly, extractivist orientation of the global economy, deepens inequalities on the intersections of gender, economic, social, ecological lines. These have bearing on persons differently abled, sexual and gender, ethnic, racial minorities, among others, whose livelihoods, wellbeing, labour and bodily autonomy are eroded. 

To add, the extractives industries are inclusive of oil and gas, mining, energy, major infrastructure projects and fisheries. In these sectors, there have been expansion of operations, while wide scale retrenchment became justifiable attributed to force majeure of the covid pandemic. While civic rights were suspended, it was more likely to subvert environmental regulations and required consultations prior to projects being implemented (Bonokwane and Kassa, 2022). 

Drawing on the above, after the initial wave of lockdowns from the COVID-19 pandemic, and economic stagnation, debt and inflationary crisis, have combined to deepen inequalities. Amid economic decline, in the aftermath of the pandemic, we have been faced with State collusion with corporates to facilitate a ‘mining pandemic’ in Africa (and other parts of the world), as was conveyed in the Africa Synthesis report of the Coalition Against Mining Pandemic (Bonokwane and Kassa, 2022). Further entrenching a development strategy focused on Foreign Direct Investment oriented to the extractivist development strategy, has deepened the debt trap, which imposes austerity on social sectors. This increases the social reproduction burden on women who undertake unpaid care work and have to secure the energy, food, clothing and housing needs of households. A prime examples of this have been Ghana, Zambia and Chad. 

From your experience, what are the main global challenges that women face in these industries? 

Working women and peasants, in all their diversity and spectrum of gender identities, are confronted with the impacts on their labour, livelihoods, land and bodies. These impacts function as a form of subsidy or mechanisms through which extractivism becomes worthwhile and profitable. Dispossession is an important precondition of extractivist projects, centring struggles on control and access to land and natural resources, including water. WoMin drew focus on this theme in #GunsPower and politics, a WoMin research series that exposes how violence is inborn to the dominant extractivist development system and challenges us to reimagine development for a better life for all. 

This is inherently violent with rape becoming the prime instrument of disciplining women and entire communities by degrading victims and imposing a veil of shame that is maintained in place through social sanctions, prejudice and discrimination. The isolation and paralysis that results effectively de-mobilises women and the communities they are a part of, shifting focus away from the structural roots of violence. WoMin has created a platform for convergence through the riseagainstrepression.org to remember, make visible and honour environmental rights activists and communities, especially women, who have died and face repression. It is also a space that documents testimonies of struggles of resistance against extractivism. 

The degradation or devaluation of women’s livelihoods and labour is also linked to the violations of the environment. Pollution of freshwater bodies, loss of farmlands, pasture areas for livestock, forests and displacement of artisanal miners and fisherfolks, has an immediate impact on communities who can trace historical periods of harmony with nature. The violence inherent in the manner that Africa has been inserted into the orbit of capitalist development has disrupted patterns of consumption that were focused on local needs, and instead reoriented it towards unrelenting and endless consumption driven largely by the Global North. This model of ‘progress’ is one that even gets replicated when we dare to conceive of ways of using our own resources. Hence this fetishization of mega projects that serve elite interests, while neglecting those of the peasantry and working class. It is this understanding that guided our campaign work against the Inga Dam project. 

These unrestrained and uneven consumption patterns have produced the greatest challenge facing humanity today, the climate crisis. This has informed demands for reparations for climate debt as part of a push for constructivist vision for reparations for over four centuries of oppression, exploitation, and subjugation taking inspiration from Olufemi Taiwo and Keston Perry. 

How can we move towards the change that the Women in Mining Alliance seeks? 

One strategic area of work WoMin has been taking forward to internalise the cost of extractivism, to begin to reframe an understanding of the actual true costs borne by the environment and focusing on the burdens borne by working women and peasants. In the immediate term, this will inform concrete demands for compensation and, in the long-term, inform climate debt demands through legal contestations and in broader campaigns of the movement. 

Another strategic area of vital importance is to centre healing and trauma as part of a broader initiative aimed at communities for restorative justice. The purpose of this is to build communities that can imagine and defend a world without rape and where shame no longer silences women and anyone else who is abused. WoMin, through the leadership of Winnet Shamuyarira, is already implementing projects with our partners in Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Mozambique that are building spaces for women who are on a journey of healing. 

An important campaign that builds on the right for Free Prior and Informed Consent, is the Right to Say No Campaign, led by Georgine Kengne. Communities across Africa are organising to STOP large destructive extractive activities that are part of a destructive economic system communities are resisting as well as understanding the laws and instruments communities can draw on to support their Right to Say NO, and more!

In your opinion, what could tax justice bring to the gender justice movement? 

Extractivism is fundamentally a question of uneven relations structured through economic, trade and financial systems for the transfer of surplus value subsidised by ecology, labour (including care work) and mechanisms of violence. One primary vector ensures that profits are extracted out of economies in Africa are licit and illicit financial flows. The burden of sovereign debt and even more substantial, climate debt owed to the Global South can be redressed through stopping these financial flows that have been detrimental to economies, ecologies and inequalities in the global South. Significant investments in social infrastructure as a public good for which quality is a priority will be crucial to reduce the burden of care work and create more equitable societies.  Investments in public health and education infrastructure, alongside ensuring access to energy, potable water, public transportation systems, public housing will radically transform the conditions of poverty and immiseration that has been the legacy of colonialism, and its extreme form, apartheid. These investments need to be guided by using locally/regionally sourced sustainable materials that are culturally appropriate and integrate indigenous knowledge systems across the board of health, education, construction and in social provisioning.

What inspires you to work for feminist justice in extractives? 

To reimagine the world we live in that has been structured by an inherently violent process of extractivism rooted in dispossession, degradation and disposability of black women in particular requires a radical philosophy rooted in anticapitalism, Pan Africanism and Ecological Justice. Towards this end, an Ecofeminism rooted in the African condition offers the tools to recentre black women at the core of this system of exploitation and degradation. It also offers the means to radically imagine and chart pathways to transform and restructure economic, social and ecological relations on a path of equity and justice and to restore harmonious relations with nature. Its also a way of reclaiming Sovereignty, Self- Reliance and Autonomy from below, therefore grounding a feminist Bandung of Social Movements. 

* Dr Hibist Kassa is a Research Coordinator at WoMin Alliance. She is also an Associate with the Centre for African Studies and the Chair in Land Reform and Democracy in South Africa at the University of Cape Town and a member of the Economics Association of Ethiopia. She was previously Senior Researcher in the Institute for African Alternatives (IFAA) and Postdoctoral fellow at the Southern Centre for Inequality Studies in the University of the Witwatersrand. Hibist has published on academic and popular platforms on Land, Social Reproduction, Imperialism and Conflict in Africa and Political Economy of Natural Resources in Africa. Hibist is focused on understanding how to locate an African ecofeminist thought and practice in relation to these themes in a tricontinental perspective rooted in sovereignty, autonomy, self-determination, and self-reliance.

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