CBAII update: Reflections on the inaugural forum of SIRD project

  • February 08, 2018
  • Kelly McLaughlin

I had the opportunity to be part of the Canadian Bar Association’s group of technical advisors that travelled to Arusha, Tanzania for the inaugural regional forum for the most recent CBA International Initiatives project in the region, Supporting Inclusive Resource Development in East Africa.

Developments in the extractives sector in East Africa are loaded with complicated and sensitive social, political and legal issues. Not only are there complex and diverse cultural and gender norms at play, but enforcement of legislative structures such as permitting, royalties and environmental impacts, is challenging and not transparent. Land ownership and expropriation laws do not yield just results for women and others in the remote communities affected by extractives development. Health and safety issues are particularly prevalent in the largely unregulated artisanal and small-scale mining activities that typically crop up around large-scale commercial activities.

The forum, titled “Towards Transparency, Gender Sensitivity and Accountability: Extractive Industry Developments in East Africa,” brought together representatives from the East African Law Society and from the law societies in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, as well as from civil society organizations, academia and the extractives sector.

Over a packed two-day agenda, participants exchanged knowledge, discussed challenges and shared best practices for supporting women and communities affected by extractives development, including opportunities for them to be more actively involved in and to benefit from resource extraction in their countries.

The forum focused on four broad themes: (1) challenges and opportunities for women in the context of extractive industries, (2) the need to engage communities generally and women specifically, to increase benefits and reduce harms, (3) the impact of environmental harms on communities generally and women and girls specifically, and (4) the challenges in managing conflicts between industry and communities. The Canadian group made presentations on issues including indigenous rights, environmental regulation, dispute resolution mechanisms and community benefit arrangements that set the stage for discussions and facilitated comparative learning and sharing.

Forum participants identified several key requirements for moving forward in this complex environment. There needs to be a clear understanding of the current international and domestic frameworks regarding equality and the rights of women, which can help anchor advocacy work in this area. There needs to be support for more women to enter leadership positions in their communities, in politics and in the extractives industry. This will require leadership training and mentorship for women as well as gender diversity policies and programs to create environments in which women can achieve upward mobility. Women need to have employment opportunities in the extractives sector itself, or in adjacent industries so that they can realize the economic benefits of the sector. These key requirements are in themselves complex challenges – some of them, particularly the struggle to get women in leadership positions in politics and industry, are ongoing challenges in Canada as well. There are no easy solutions. Nonetheless, participants concluded the forum with a sense of accomplishment and greater resolve.

On a personal note, I can say that this is one of the most exciting professional experiences I have had in my legal career so far. I had expressed an interest in becoming involved in this project in some way, based on my legislative drafting experience as well as my interest in an international project that seeks to improve the lives of women. I never thought that my expression of interest would pave the way for me to travel to Africa for the first time and to be part of this inaugural event. I hope that this is not the end of my contribution to this project, which is just at the start of its five-year span.

Kelly McLaughlin lives in Yellowknife where she works for the government of the Northwest Territories and is actively involved in the CBA at the national and Territorial levels