UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_7bLast week, the Center for Conflict Management (CCM) at the University of Rwanda hosted my seminar, “Gender, Natural Resources, and the Law: A Socio-Legal Analysis of Women and Extractive Economies in Africa”. It brought together three bodies of literature, that on natural resources, gender, and legal anthropology. Because I am just beginning my long-term research project on women in the Rwandan mining industry, I drew on my understandings of Nigerian oil to make comparisons to Rwandan minerals, as the comparisons applied to the status of women. These comparisons between Nigerian oil and Rwandan minerals ran along two themes:

Nigeria findings on gender that could apply to Rwanda:

  1. Because of socially constructed gender roles, men and women use land differently. Thus, environmental conflicts impact them differently. Niger Delta women are likely to use rivers to collect protein when Rwandan women are more likely to mainly farm. Nigerian men are more likely to sail out to fish in the sea and Rwandan men are more likely to hunt.
  2. Marginalization of women economically translates into their marginalization politically and socially as well. Nigerian women are more likely to have women’s councils are part of traditional law, whereas the Rwandan state is more centralized.
  3. In a weak state, traditional law is usually the best avenue for women’s (environmental) conflict resolution, e.g. Nigeria. In a strong state, formal law is usually women’s best avenue for (environmental) conflict resolution, e.g. Rwanda.

Nigeria findings on “hard” and “soft” law that could apply to Rwanda:

  1. Postcolonial environments have “legal pluralism”, e.g. Nigerian Native Courts and Rwandan abunzi. In rural Nigeria, traditional law has a greater impact on daily behavior and enforcement than formal state law, but I would hypothesize this is less true for Rwanda.
  2. When it comes to natural resources, there is gender-based inequality in soft or traditional law when it comes to community decision-making, fair distribution of compensation and assets; and information access. The nature of oil omits women altogether while informal mining brings women in, so the types of inequalities are likely to be different between Nigeria and Rwanda.
  3. Women navigate different legal planes as subjects of and agents in environmental disputes. The differences in Nigerian and Rwanda legal institutions mean these legal planes vary between the two countries.

Audience members asked well-informed questions about how the resource curse could apply to Rwanda and about solutions for women who are left out of mining operations and environmental considerations. To the former, my answer was that the resource curse literature wouldn’t really apply to Rwanda. Rwanda was a strong state before the discovery of the minerals that are now its largest exporter. The paradox of plenty plagues newly independent states that didn’t engage in strong state-building independent of resource revenue.

The second question led to a vibrant discussion of the role of cooperatives in women’s economic lives. Cooperatives are the backbone of bottom-up economic development in Rwanda. There are local cooperatives for everything—agriculture, dairy farming, and informal mining. Some research in DRC indicates that mining cooperatives reproduce gender inequalities found in society at large and that the male elites who run them simply use cooperatives to reinforce power imbalances (Jonsson and Bryson 2014). However, perhaps because no other African country has gender mainstreamed to the degree that Rwanda has, Rwanda mining cooperatives could be an exception to this. Here, cooperatives could give women miners the structures and space to make their voices heard. That is one of my research questions for 2020.


Here are the PPT slides from the presentation: CCM Mining Talk

Here is the audio recording of the talk: