A group of African scholars recently convened in Johannesburg for the Institute for the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Pan African Thought and Conversation (IPATC) conference. “Women, Gender, and Financial Inclusion” gathered policymakers, academics, and stakeholders to problem-solve current challenges in gender-mainstreamed budgeting in sub-Saharan Africa.

My keynote address spoke to the everyday applicability of women’s roles in global economies. In particular, I emphasized how gender informs our production and consumption of natural resources. Here are a few salient points from my address:

So far, we have been fortunate enough to hear from experts in political economy, urban governance, women’s rights activists, an ambassador, and I hope to be able to contribute just a bit to our collective conversation based on my role as a political ecologist. I study the gender dynamics of environmental change and natural resources. I love what I study because I get to see it at play everywhere I look in the world all the time.

For today, all of us found the information we needed to attend this conference by using our smartphones and laptops. Everyone’s personal electronic device on the planet requires the 3T minerals to work, tin, tantalum, and tungsten, as well as gold to work. An estimated 1/3 of these minerals come from sub-Saharan Africa (South Africa, DRC, and Ghana), and an estimated 20% of those engaged in African mining operations are female. All the plastic products in this room are produced using petroleum, and Africa produces 10% of the world’s oil, with African women playing vital support roles that allow oil companies to function in places like Angola, Nigeria, and Gabon. We all ate pastries for breakfast with wheat and maize and sugar, and African women grew and harvested those crops under increasingly difficult conditions caused by climate change in places like Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya.

I give these examples to underscore how rural African women’s labor, and their relationships with the environment, allow humanity to survive, and that all societies would collapse without these women’s contributions.

For most policy discussions on women and the environment in Africa, the bulk of the narratives focus on how ecological changes impact rural women. How are women affected by mining, by oil, and by climate change? These are really important questions. Admittedly, even my own research has focuses on this question, of women as subjects of the environment. But, what about women as agents of environmental change? And how can the notion of women as environmental agents be wedded to their financial inclusion?

I see on the schedule that we have a remaining morning and afternoon full of expert round tables on financial inclusion and gender quotas, local governance, GBV, those with disabilities, and so on. It would be incredibly powerful if throughout the day we could wed this interrogation of women as environmental agents with all these fore mentioned topics to expand the interdisciplinary discussion. Our goal would be to parse out how we might improve not only the representation of women in environmental dialogue and financial inclusion but also the quality of and support for that female representation in environmental dialogue and financial inclusion.
Thank you so much for your time and consideration.