Written by William A.Twayigize
African woman has been managing our natural resources such as land, water, crops, forests, and minerals for millions of years. However, her role has remained the same over ages. The one to manage these natural resources without having access to controlling this land. In fact, in some communities a woman is given the rights to manage land only if her husband is still alive. When her husband passes on, the woman’s in-laws are customary allowed to uproot the widow from all that she had access to while her husband was still alive such as children, land, livestock, and other socioeconomic benefits.
Traditionally, in Africa women are the managers of natural resources such as land, water, livestock, forests, and humans as well. Why should I include humans as natural resources? In my own views, in some African communities they see children as assets and wealth. They are valued as investment and capital. In fact, some decades ago humans were the sources of wealth and access to natural resources. It did not matter whether one had access to natural resources as long as he/she had numerous children. They could be valued as natural resources because they are God given and they can be used for economic gain. According to the Oxford Dictionary “materials or substances such as minerals, forests, water, and fertile land that occur in nature and can be used for economic gain.” I would also suggest that human resources should be included among elements of natural resources because they occur in nature though humans are not material or substances such as minerals, water, wood, forests, and land. However, they are involved in wealth creation.
Moving away from the argument of whether humans can be taken as natural resources or not we can now move back to our arguments of women as natural resources managers and conflict prevention. In African community women take care of our land, water, forests, minerals, and other resources that sustain us. We all grow up seeing our mothers waking up very early in the morning to attend to our farms, rivers, forests, and livestock in order for the families to survive and prosper. They account everything that happens in our society. For over centuries women have managed African natural resources effectively and continue to do so without any complaints. They have either directly or indirectly contributed to the stability which our various nations enjoy but are the ones who bear most blunts of conflict minerals that have ravaged our respective counties. Still women have not been fully integrated into the natural resources management jurisdiction, which involves stewardship, decision-making process, and the responsibility of the end results cycle.
What does this means?
It means that African society has left women with the burden to take care of our natural resources but without entrusting them with ability to control the natural resources and making decisions that affect how these natural resources are used, how they are used, when they are used an for what purpose they are used for. This is how the process of natural resources management in African society has been for centuries:
Women as stewards of natural resources: in this capacity a) women work on the farms, attend to the farms and their produce from the farm. They take all the produces to their households to wait for their men to make decisions of how they are used. In some households men prefer to involve their women in decision-making process of how the resources are going to be used, but not all households do that. In fact, some heads of household prefer to decide how the resources are going to be spent without involving their women at all. They can either choose to share the produce all take it all leaving with their families with something little to survive on. This leads us to the next point which the decision-making process.
Women and decision-making process of natural resources management in African society: Though they have been significant changes in the last two decades due to different programs that have been supporting women so that they are empowered to make decisions of how to use their resources, still there are many households where women have no access to decision-making process of how natural resources are spent either in their household or within their communities. The decision-making process is the most important one because it decides how natural resources income is going to be spent, when and how it would be spent. Looking at the level of poverty among rural women in Africa compared to their male counterpart, you could easily understand that women’s plights are violated at this level. This is because, as we said earlier, women are the ones who spend most of their time and energy taking care of family land, but they are not involved at the decision-making level of how these resources that women have been working hard to produce are used. This introduces us to the level three which deals with responsibilities and end results.
Women, responsibilities and end results: at this level we only see those women who are lucky to have caring husbands who value them and involve them in decision-making process. They are involved in sharing responsibilities of how money is going to be shared and what for. I cannot also ignore that men who have skipped level of in involving women in the decision-making process of how the household’s natural resources are going to be spent might involve their women in Level three by letting their women participate in few responsibilities and end-results which includes giving their women to buy things the family needs. A man might want his wife to come up a list of things needed by the family and dictates the priorities of those things for the sake of the family’s survival. However, when a woman is involved later in the process of natural resources management without active participation in all three levels might not be sustainable, because one side might feel being used, which might lead to domestic conflict and low level of motivation in natural resources management demonstrated by low input on a woman’s side. This would increase household poverty.
There are no doubts that, though in Africa, women have been traditional managers of our land there have been so little or nothing to empower women to take control of the management of our natural resources not only taking care of these resources, but also to actively participate in controlling and making decisions that set guidelines on how these resources should be spent. African government should come up with policies that ensure that women have better access to, and control of, natural resources such as land, water, forests and minerals to improve community living conditions, improve public health, and stimulate economic growth. This would facilitate to maintain social stability creating a good environment for long-term sustained peace within the country. Apart from that, where countries have been in civil conflict, women in natural resources management would create an equitable environment for peace recovery process.
Africa has born all blunts of conflicts that the world has known in the last 5 decades. When all this happens African women and children in conflict-torn regions are always the primary victims of war. They lose access to drinking water, food, and energy to cook for or warm their families. When the war is on these women and children are the ones to become refugees, widows, internally displaced people, are mass-raped and even killed. Despite all the above, women remain largely excluded from owning land, benefiting from wealth creation, or participating in decision-making process. In this regard women cannot have access to capital so that they can be involved in financial activities which would allow them to influence both political and policy decisions that are important in governing a country. This also prevents women from participating in deciding how resources are negotiated and are allocated. We have seen that poor and unfair location of natural resources are important to influence the stability of any country. Many conflicts in Africa have been caused by lack of transparency in natural resources management, which lead to some communities to have more access on resources creation than others, which caused community resentment and revolt. When women are involved in managing and deciding how resources are used and where, this would enhance community coexistence and peacebuilding process. A country like Kenya has been on the right track to enhancing community stability by including women in the constitution to grant them rights to land inheritance of which many countries in Africa have not. This will reduce land related conflict and promote self-sufficiency within communities.
African regional organizations such as Southern African Development Community (SADC), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), East African Community (EAC), Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries (CEPGL), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have to implemented policies that empower rural women in order to engage in activities that promote effective natural resources management such as microfinance literacy, modern agriculture, instead of food crops that do not involve economic activities.
For the countries which have been in war, women suffer the brunt of conflicts in many ways. They become widows when their husbands are killed and become refugees. However, when it comes to seeking peace women are not actively involved as agents of peacebuilding and recovery. Effective management of our natural resource remains a cornerstone of community and national development. This is one of the reasons women should be actively involved in both processes natural resources management and peacebuilding. African countries have been blessed with huge and various minerals. Effective management of these natural resources in mineral forms are very important for the sustainable employment opportunities and sustainable peace.
Creating women representatives who are in charge of natural resources management activities within the government is equally important as women empowerment. Women should not be confined in traditional role of natural resources management such as tending to the land, farms, forests among others but be allowed to actively participate in decision-making that allow women to make decisions on how and when these resources are used. This will enhance community-based natural resources management, promote economic growth, and facilitate accountability in our communities. More importantly, it will bring sustainable peace for our future.