Advancing gender equality and female participation in extractives

How does gender impact on project outcomes? Our experiences from Kenya.


As the OPM-managed Kenya Extractives Programme (K-EXPRO) comes to an end, we’ve been considering the impact of the high levels of female staff and female leadership within our local partner organisations on programme outcomes. There are indications that there is a connection between the two. The K-EXPRO programme’s broad aim was to prepare the ground for Kenya’s nascent extractives sectors to make a greater contribution to inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction.

While the programme did not set out to achieve gender transformative outcomes, or have the explicit goal of improving gender equality, it has demonstrated that considering unequal structures and norms between men and women in the context of the extractive sector adds another layer of complexity to programming. We are not just engaging with complex economic and extractive sector dynamics, but with social complexity too.

Despite the strong economic rationale for gender equality and Kenya’s constitutional commitment to promote the full involvement of women in every aspect of growth and development, the reality of doing so remains challenging. Traditional ideas about the roles of women and girls restrict their contributions to Kenya’s economic development. One participant in a K-EXPRO intervention providing finance for small businesses in Turkana explained that she had previously been refused contracts because “I was a woman in construction and they didn’t think I could do this work”. K-EXPRO’s funding has provided a contribution to this important issue in Kenya’s extractives sector and the experience of female participants suggests that it is vital for programmes to understand why gendered impacts of development matter, and to ensure a gender equity focus in programme design and goals is embedded from the outset.

Our partner Trocaire’s clear gender policy and dedication to women’s empowerment, gender equality, and combatting gender-based violence have become shared values with its Turkana-based partners. We have seen community engagement in male-dominated pastoralist society with a strong gender representation across interventions.

Similarly, several women receiving business skills mentoring under our partner Lundin Foundation’s Turkana Catalyst Initiative, which supports local enterprises within the extractives supply chain, commented on seeing that the three trainers were all women and noting how capable, professional, and successful they were, motivated and encouraged them and increased their confidence to market and promote their businesses. This has the potential to change prospects for women, not only as actors within the extractive sector, but within their own homes. As one woman explained: “I have good food, my children go to school, I have piped water in my home – all this is because of this business. My husband is happy with this of course – it has taught all of us not to think it is a man’s world”.

It is time to think more broadly about how to increase female participation in extractives sectors, and the ways in which expanding their opportunities creates development benefits for all and can add valuable expertise and perspectives to the sector. Influencing policy, national legislation, and sector legislations, such as the cross-sectoral Local Content Policy, the re-introduced Local Content Bill, and the Petroleum (Exploration, Development, and Production) Bill, is only one avenue.

Industry also has a role in improving gender equality within its employment and procurement processes, which are traditionally male-dominated. Civil society has an important role to play in sensitising communities including women and marginalised groups to improve their understanding of the industry, its impact, and their rights to benefits. 

Lastly, it is critically important that development partners contribute to paving the way on gender equity and inclusion. We have seen first-hand that donor programmes such as K-EXPRO can and do support progress on this front. By selecting the right partners and developing the tools to engage with complex social norms, programmes can fill equity and access gaps that remain unfilled by well-meaning but unenforced national policies, and reducing the extent to which women are left out or left behind by the sectors contributing to their countries’ economic growth.

Areas of expertise