GENDER JUSTICE Women of Courage: Gendered Impacts of Resource Extraction


“What befalls the earth, befalls the women of the earth. When the land and water are ravished and poisoned and destroyed, the women are deeply affected. As Indigenous women, the connection to our homeland is not only physical, it is biological and spiritual. We have always been on the frontline when our traditional territories are put at risk.”

Alma Brooks, Maliseet grandmother, St. Mary’s First Nation, New Brunswick

Since 2014, KAIROS works in partnership with women land and water defenders, primarily Indigenous women and organizations in Canada and the Global South, to: 

  1. make visible the impacts of resource extraction on Indigenous women; 
  1. draw attention to Indigenous women’s work in the defense of community rights and the environment; 
  1. press for Indigenous women’s recognition as key policy stakeholders and decision-makers—through mechanisms such as Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) and as stipulated by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and 
  1. advocate for corporate accountability of the Canadian extractive sector operating abroad, primarily through active participation in the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA). The CNCA’s two main campaigns call for an empowered Ombusperson and the enactment of mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence legislation.

In 2019, KAIROS launched the Mother Earth and Resource Extraction: Women Defending Land and Water—MERE Hub, for short. Developed in consultation with women land and water defenders who are at the forefront in the protection of the environment, in Canada and across the globe, the MERE Hub brings together a range of original and existing material to support research, advocacy, information sharing, and movement building around the subject of resource extraction and its gendered implications.  

Indigenous and Afro-descendant women human rights defenders across Turtle Island and Abya Yala emphasize how the Canadian extractive sector engenders violence on various forms of bodies—from the physiological to the geological. 

The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls outlines the various ways that the extractive sector’s labour practices impact women in “Canada.” The use of work camps or man camps, where non-Indigenous men are brought in from outside communities for two-week periods, have dire consequences on Indigenous women working on or living near these camps. Socio-economic disparities between high-paid local, and external, employees and local Indigenous women have been shown to have a range of gendered impacts—higher rates of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and other forms of violence linked to gray markets that emerge because of work camps. 

Extractive companies seem to have little to no labour policies in effect to account for either the systemic reasons for gender disparities in the labour force or the social transformation wrought by the influx of mostly male employees in and around Indigenous communities. As “Reclaiming Power and Place” further discloses, “These camps are also often far from law enforcement, and therefore are largely unpoliced.” It is difficult not to conclude that a climate of male dominance and lawlessness is allowed to flourish within the extractive industry.  

Equal gender representation in the extractive labour force is important. However, as long as the basic tenets of corporate accountability are merely suggestions and the dynamics that support resource extraction simulate a colonial worldview and a paternalistic understanding of gender parity in the extractive sector accomplishes nothing. 

Corporate accountability is a gender justice issue—at home and abroad. 

There are social, economic, health, environmental, and political impacts that women experience due to their proximity to extractive megaprojects. 

The abuses that transpire on the land and water also materialize as violations on women. The Women’s Earth Alliance and the Native Youth Sexual Health Network write how the effects of ecological damage on Indigenous communities and their territories across the globe constitute what they term environmental violence.

“The disproportionate and often devastating impacts that the conscious and deliberate proliferation of environmental toxins and industrial development (including extraction, production, export and release) have on Indigenous women, children and future generations, without regard from States or corporations for their severe and ongoing harm.” 

On the political front, women land and water defenders are stigmatized for their work protecting the environment and collective rights and experience ostracization and multiple forms of violence, from their community, local governments, and actors linked to the extractive sector. They report how law enforcement and private security frequently work together, with the knowledge and sometimes even under the direction of governments and corporations, to harass women land and water protectors. These forces make women the targets of smear campaigns by questioning their morals and behavior, and affecting women’s social status within their communities; other times, women are cast as being anti-development or deemed terrorists. 

All the more appalling, private and state actors have been known to sexually violate, physically attack, and kill women land and water protectors with impunity. 

To consider the differential impacts of resource extraction is to engage with centuries of dispossession intensified in the last decades by shifts in the global economy that overplay speculation and consumption for profits. What women land and water defenders are doing, then, is protecting the environment and upholding an understanding of life based on reciprocal and consensual relationships with Mother Earth. 

For more on the intersection of Indigenous rights, gender and ecological justice, and corporate accountability, please visit Mother Earth and Resource Extraction: Women Defending Land and Water—MERE Hub, for short. MERE Hub is a living digital resource hub that supports women human rights defenders and recognizes both their achievements and the challenges they face in the protection of land and water.