INTERVIEWS

How Women Organizations Can Successfully Navigate Resource Governance, Climate Change Space – Omolara Balogun

Omolara Balogun
Omolara Balogun

Omolara Balogun is the Head, Policy Influencing and Advocacy Unit at the Accra based West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). In this interview, she speaks exclusively with Extractive360 on the sidelines of a 3-day regional workshop in Accra, organized by her organization for women working at the intersection of natural resource governance, environment, climate change and gender equality across West Africa. She highlights the challenges facing women in this sector, what they can do to successfully navigate the space and the role of WASCI in supporting them. Excerpts  

 

About WACSI

The West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) was established to strengthen the capacity of civil society organisations in the region to be independent, dynamic, responsive, resilient, and influential in policymaking processes, and actively contributes to its integration and sustainable development. Since it became operational in 2007, the institute has responded significantly to the prevailing capacity and knowledge gaps within civil society by offering series of customised training and technical assistance programmes that seeks to improve the intervention of the civil society organisations and actors, across all levels. The institute is keen on strengthening civil society development effectiveness and sustainability in West Africa. Its interventions include facilitating sectoral collaboration and ownership building among all actors within the ecosystem; using indigenous knowledge and resources to enhance civil society capacities; adopting an indigenous approach to development interventions. The institute also grooms new leaders through its rich internship and fellowship programmes – called the Next Generation Internship Programme. And just before the intrusion of COVID-19 pandemic, the institute began to shape long-term programme around civil society sustainability and resilience building. As stated in our current strategic plan (2018-2022), the institute envisions a civil society sector that is independent, dynamic, well-resourced and relevant enough to influence policy actors and their decisions; consistently promote democratic governance and demand for accountability, and committed to the regional integration agenda. We are particularly concerned about the pace at which civic space is shrinking across the region; the threats that social justice advocates, civil society activists, human rights defenders and indeed women (feminists) are grappling with, especially under anti-civil society regimes. It is a desire for us to support civil society with requisite capacity, skills, knowledge and data to not only change the shrinking civic space narratives, but actually keep it open, active and responsive. This is ideal for both nascent and thriving democracies. We are also a voice in the global ‘Shift the Power’ conversation. Here, we are pushing for a shift in power, capacity, resources, data from CSOs in the global North to the global South. This is one viable way in which we can accelerate African development, and create a sustainable balance.

 

What informed the need to specifically target capacity building for women at this workshop?

Since inception, WACSI has always had a strategic interest in supporting the women agency in West Africa. Years ago, we collaborated with few women organisations to establish a forum called, ‘West African Women’s Policy Forum’. The forum focused on assessing and addressing policy limitations to women’s advancement in political spaces, considering the fact they make up more than 50% of the population in every ECOWAS member states. The platform was also used to advocate for women’s rights issues at the ECOWAS level; it challenged policy inefficiency around gender issues locally; and advocated for the domestication of major gender instruments endorsed by ECOWAS members, including ECOWAS gender protocol, Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA)+25, CEDAW, UNHCR 1325, Affirmative action, political party quota system among others. In addition to supporting female candidates during elections, the platform also engendered a gender sensitive observation process in about 5 countries, through the establishment of the first West Africa Women’s Election Observer Team (WAWEO), which was soon adopted into ECOWAS observer mission across the region. This platform offered massive support to the re-election of Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia in 2011. Thereafter, WACSI continues to create series of opportunities to promote intergenerational dialogue within women’s movement, facilitate collective actions between urban-based (elites) and grassroot women, and engage in mentoring programme for young people. Coming back to your question on this workshop; our agenda was to identify women working in the intersection of natural resource governance, climate change and environment in West Africa. There is no doubt that this particular space is male dominated and this was evident in our mapping exercise. Like I said, the goal was to identify the women in this space, learn about their work and associated challenges including contextual, technical and institutional capacities, resourcing and sustainability. We also took interest in how they are connecting with one and another—before this workshop if any, both within their countries and across the region. And most importantly, to learn about the strategy that can be used to bring more women into the space. Our intention was clear from the on-set. How can we assist to bridge the different layers of capacity gaps? How can the organisations be more sustainable and resilience, especially in a post-pandemic era, and how can they work more collaboratively in and across countries to amplify advocacy? How can we make the space more fascinating to younger women, and so on. We indeed believed that this workshop is a perfect platform to provide answers to these questions. Need I mention its timeliness too, just few days to the COP26 on climate change conference holding in Glasgow. We are certain, that world leaders will give issues of gender disparity in climate change the attention it deserves, 26 years after.

 

Having listened to these women what can you sum as the major challenges in terms of leadership and governance to women organizations in West Africa?

Having engaged directly with these women in the past few days, it clear that the challenges are multifaceted; and so, should the response approach be. First, the sector is gender exclusive. It is predominantly male-dominated with very few female participation—across the value chain. Women are largely excluded in the sector’s governance and lack equal access to employment opportunities. This has to change; the number matters and we must put in the right effort to get it. Secondly, there is a huge policy gap to be filled. The sector-specific policies rarely take gender into account, and you heard the frustrations of all speakers from the Gambia, to Cote D’Ivoire, Nigeria and Burkina Faso, even comments from online participants. Our natural resource policies are silent on women (gender equality), and where they exist, the political will to implement is scarce. This also has to change. For instance, Women must lead the advocacy for countries to comply with 2019 introduced EITI gender reporting requirements to reveal gender employment data, information access and participation in implementation.

Thirdly, there is a glaring disconnect between the very few women within the space and the younger women coming in. I listened keenly to the women when they shared their frustrations on sustainability, generational gaps and succession. How the percentage of girls enrolling into relevant courses keeps dropping daily and how this trend may jeopadise the strides made by women in the sector thus far, for lack of continuity. With this, we need to be more deliberate about identifying (recruiting if you like), mentoring and coaching of younger women. Else, we risk having the space void of women in few years to come. Despite fewer representation, the women also complained about how challenging it has been to network and work more collaboratively, even to push an advocacy agenda. In my experience in the sector, working in silos has no benefit whatsoever. If anything, It is expensive, wastes limited resources due to duplications, and most importantly weakens our ability to coalesce or have a common voice to engage government or even leverage on our strengths to maximise impact. There is beauty and strength in our collective effort and this should be our mantra. Since the participants confirmed that there is no exiting regional platform (network) for women working in this intersection, we are excited to support the women if they decide to create one, and ensure it achieves the purpose for which it has been set-up. Furthermore, participants mentioned the inability to design and conduct effective advocacy due low capacity as another area of challenge. Having the right skills to advocate, knowing who, what, when and how to apply the right advocacy strategy were clear gaps begging for specific capacity support. Listening to the women today specifically, I noted the need to repackage the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) courses both in content and delivery as another challenge.  According to them, younger women need to excel in these courses to increase their chances of being enrolled into the right degree programmes. In addition, it was suggested that leaders must support young girls with scholarships to encourage them to go into STEM courses. These are some of the challenges I picked in the course of the conversation today. I am sure, participants may raise additional issues.

With the obvious financing challenge faced by the few women organizations in the sector how can WACSI support them in terms of resource mobilization?

First of all, WACSI is not a donor organization, however, we believe that with the right skill sets to navigate the donor community; identify donors who are working in your field; enhanced skills to write winning proposals, and having the institutional requirements to access funding, you can easily beat the resource mobilization gap. This is one major area that the workshop addressed yesterday (second day). We focused on the issues of resource mobilization and strategic partnership building. However, with the increased cut in foreign fund, it is now obligatory to talk about and expose civil society (including women) to different methods of diversifying their funding base. This is to reduce the risks of being totally donor dependent. Here, civil society actors are advised to look more within for resource mobilization i.e., having deeper understanding of your environment, policies guiding your environment and your issue area, identifying and harnessing opportunities; and also having the right skills and altitude to manage resources are all important. In fact, alternative (domestic) resource mobilization and African philanthropy is a targeted area of work for us at WACSI, and we are pleased to walk through this path with women in this space. To be honest, we have a lot more work to do, to justify (make a case) local financial support for civil society in the global south, especially for social justice and advocacy organisations. We have high net worth individuals on the continent who can give massive support to our work like it is done by many popular private foundations in the West.

 

What is your advice on resilience for women organizations in the face of Covid-19 induced economic challenges?

Already, the sector and indeed the world struggle to reduce the vulnerability of women and men alike to the negative impacts of climate change, which includes threats to food security. With COVID-19, the vulnerability has not only doubled but equally introduced another dimension of strategic resilience building for everyone–especially in developing countries. For years women have been disproportionately impacted by climate change due to many factors. It is therefore important for women to reassess the level of their resilience in the wake of the pandemic and enhance their capacity to ‘rebuild better’, not only in the field but also within their respective organisations. In this regard, I will encourage women to look at their resilience holistically. For instance, how resilient is your organizational structure? Leadership and governance? internal systems including financial status (do you have reserves that can sustain your organisations for 1 or 2years without external funding?), strategy and programmes? partnership etcetera, etcetera. We believe that resilient building is your overall ability to adapt to both internal and external attacks or threats. It also speaks largely to the strength in our collective effort. How strong we are together? How well do you collaborate? Who can attest to your work? Do you have documentation or evidences of your previous intervention? Are you communicating to the public strategically and so on. So, I will encourage women in this field to connect more, because in these days and times, most of the resources out there require work together in a consortium, with other partners etc. And finally, let me add that, the call to recruit, groom and coach younger women in the sector should no longer delay, in bid to close the growing generational gaps, and most importantly to serve as a critical strategy to achieve sustainable resilience.

 

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