For well over two decades, Kenyans tuned in to KBC to watch Alice Taabu’s popular cooking show, Mke Nyumbani (Swahili for “Wife at Home”), which demonstrated how to make tantalising Kenyan dishes. While the title of the program perpetuates traditional gender roles of women staying at home doing household chores such as cooking, the term has made a transition in modern Kenya as a holistic term which means a working woman who is also a good wife and mother and takes pride in her home. This evolutionary interpretation of mke nyumbani underscores the need to interpret terms or phrases in a way that is meaningful or relevant today.
This article seeks to broaden understanding of the term “gender” and its related concepts or contexts as they are used today, and provide a nuanced lens through which to advance sustainable development of our newly discovered natural resources.
Gender is often misunderstood as being the promotion of only women’s rights or interests. However, gender issues actually focus on the relationship between men and women including their roles, access to and control over resources, division of labour, interests and needs, among others (Omoyibo, 2011). These relationships are socially constructed, context/ time-specific and changeable. Thus, the concept of gender is not interchangeable with women; it refers to both women and men and the relations between them and should be viewed as an overarching socio-cultural variable in the sense that it can also be applied to all other cross-cutting variables such as race, class, age, ethnic group, etc (Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women United Nations, 2001).
Gender is commonly understood as the social and cultural roles, behaviours and activities that a given society considers appropriate for men and women. Gender must be distinguished from ‘sex’, which refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women (Guidelines for Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Clients, 2011).
Understanding the meaning of gender allows us to engage constructively with notion of gender equality, a controversial term that is often misunderstood to suggest that women and men are the same. On the contrary, gender equality refers to women and men having equal value and being accorded equal treatment, rights, responsibilities and opportunities which do not depend on whether they are born male or female (Inglehart and Norris, 2003). Gender equality in essence ensures that the perceptions, interests, needs and priorities of women and men, which can be very different, will be given equal weight in planning and decision-making (World Bank Women, Business and the Law Report 2012).
Gender equality is also a fundamental human right that has a dual quantitative and qualitative aspect. The quantitative aspect refers to the desire to achieve equitable representation of women – to achieve balance, while the qualitative aspect refers to achieving equitable influence on establishing development priorities and outcomes for the women and men in a given community (Omoyibo, 2011).
The term gender mainstreaming refers to efforts made towards ensuring that gender perspectives are mainstreamed in all types of development activities ranging from research, policy development, dialogue, advocacy, legislation, planning and resource allocation, and implementation and monitoring of programmes and projects (UN Women, 2014). It is important to understand that gender mainstreaming is not an end in itself but is simply a means or strategy to achieve the goal of gender equality (UN Women, 2014).
Gender mainstreaming was adopted in the mid 1990s through an intergovernmental mandate in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1999.
A distinction must be made between requiring that attention is given to gender perspectives as an integral part of all development activities or projects, and developing separate women’s projects within work programmes or even women’s components within existing activities in the work programmes. The former encapsulates gender mainstreaming and involves making gender dimensions – what women and men do and the resources and decision-making processes they have access to – more central to all stages of a development project; whereas the latter champions women-specific initiatives and serves as catalyst for the related but separate notion of women empowerment (Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women United Nations, 2001).
Women empowerment essentially refers to the drive to raise awareness, build self-confidence, provide or expand choices as well as increased access to and control over resources so as to ensure that women have the ability to control over their own lives (Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women United Nations, 2001). Women empowerment denotes that it is women who empower themselves to fully participate in all aspects of life, whether politically, socially, culturally and economically etc.
It is crucial to understand that these two strategies – gender mainstreaming and women’s empowerment – are in no way in competition with each other. The endorsement of gender mainstreaming as a strategic tool to accomplish gender equality does not imply that women-targeted activities towards empowerment are irrelevant. The two strategies are complementary in that gender mainstreaming must be carried out in a manner that strengthens the empowerment of women (Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women United Nations, 2001).
The Link between Gender Equality and Sustainable Development in the Extractive Industry
In recent years, considerable research has shown that the sustainability of extractive industry projects is dependent on a social license to operate and a positive relationship between the company and the local communities (UN Guiding Principles, 2011). Women have a key role in creating and maintaining this social license and in facilitating the social and economic development of their communities. Thus, understanding and consideration of how women and men are uniquely impacted by an extractive project can increase the effectiveness and sustainability of the project.
It is submitted that concrete gender equality strategies toward sustainable development of projects in the extractive industry must be based on a clear assessment of the needs, knowledge, contributions or productivity of both women and men. Promoting gender equality this way shall serve a dual purpose: firstly, recognising equality between women and men – equal rights, opportunities and responsibilities – shall advance human rights and notions of social justice; and secondly, achieving greater equality between women and men is a fundamental precondition for, and a goal of, any and all development projects in today’s globalised economy (World Bank Extractive Industries and Development Series, 2009).