We want what the Ok Tedi women have!

When women from extractives communities all over PNG gathered to share their experiences at the last Women in Mining and Petroleum Conference in Madang, we were struck by how much they looked to one deal as a benchmark – Ok Tedi.

The Ok Tedi mine has a well known and troubled history with impacted communities, yet in the minds of conference participants, the women at Ok Tedi had secured a good deal and they wanted it too.

At the core of the Ok Tedi deal, – a ring-fenced minimum 10% of benefits controlled by women.

On hearing the women at the conference we had two reactions:  first – 10% of benefits for 50% of the population doesn’t seem especially fair (especially when women bear the brunt of mine impacts) – why are the women so keen on it? Our second reaction – the gap between legal rights and reality (especially for women) is often as wide in PNG as anywhere – how has the deal been working in practice?

We’ve recently published a World Bank Justice for the Poor Briefing Note – “We Want What the Ok Tedi Women Have!” Guidance from Papua New Guinea on Women’s Engagement in Mining Deals, which records a modest effort to address these questions.

What did we find?

To our first reaction: In securing control of 10%, the women at Ok Tedi did something women hadn’t done anywhere else in the country – and as far as we can discern, anywhere in the world. (If there are deals we’ve missed we’d love to hear about them).  And the deal is quite lucrative – from 2007-2010 AUD$33m has been set aside for women and children. (Whether this – and the deal as a whole – is commensurate with the impacts experienced by women and men is another matter.) In addition, women secured rights to half of all educational scholarships and reserved seats at all levels of the deal’s governance structure. Fairness aside, the deal was a significant advance on the status quo.

That this came about in PNG, where gender inequality is marked, is notable. In part it’s a result of the quality of the overall negotiation process – which was in some ways a model one with independent facilitators, professional advisers for communities and a fair bit of time. Another key factor was the receptiveness of the mining company – which understood the business case for increased women’s engagement. Add to this astute female leadership which garnered the support of nationally esteemed male allies and the conditions for the deal arose.

As to how the deal is working in practice – our second reaction at the Madang conference – the experience is sobering. The mine is located in Western Province, one of the most challenging development contexts in PNG. Women decided to initially spend the bulk of their 10% on three learning centers (to build skills to engage in processes of development) but progress is slow, decision processes are not widely understood and the impacts unfelt in the villages we visited.

At the same time, one change that is having a real impact is the use of family – rather than clan – bank accounts for cash payments. Women – and youth – report this has greatly increased their chances of seeing the money and controlling how it is spent.

So what might we – tentatively – take away?

  • Establishing quality negotiation processes that try and address information and power asymmetries between the parties lends itself to more durable deals – and also deals that provide space for women.
  • Women can try and leverage mining company incentives (for “less conflictual development” “more effective CSR” “more reliable workers”) to overcome reticent men in their own communities.
  • Seemingly minor ‘tweaks’ to benefit delivery (like family bank accounts) can be as important to ultimate impacts as the overarching terms of a particular deal.

What we still don’t have a good handle on is the broader development impact of women having a role – both as participants and beneficiaries – in transactions like these (the evidence for welfare and efficiency gains from women’s inclusion in agriculture is stronger).

The intrinsic case for women’s involvement is often made, but this doesn’t always cut through with the disinterested or unconvinced, and is actively resisted by those who stand to lose. Evidence that shows broader developmental gains might appeal to those – such as the mining companies or the state – who have power in these transactions, and can bend them to include women.

Nicholas Menzies and Georgia Harley are Justice Reform Specialists at the World Bank and the authors of the recent Justice for the Poor Briefing Note “We Want What the Ok Tedi Women Have!” Guidance from Papua New Guinea on Women’s Engagement in Mining Deals.

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Nicholas Menzies

Georgia Harley


  • Dear Nick and Georgia

    This is really interesting research. Thanks for doing a blog to bring it to the attention of the Devpolicy audience. It raises so many issues that it’s hard to know where to start. One issue that stands out for me is your argument that mining company management recognised implicitly (how does that work? doesn’t someone have to recognise something ‘explicitly’ for it to become company policy?) that development benefits would be more likely to be achieved if women were involved so women’s involvement became part of the business case during the community negotiations. It isn’t usually women who are responsible for disruptive activities when local communities are dissatisfied with some aspect or other of mining operations, but your research suggests the company thought that women were important for building broader community support for this troubled mine. Yet in the event there is little evidence of positive development impacts in the villages. So we’re left wondering why women in other mining communities envy Ok Tedi women’s ‘gains’. The only conclusion I can draw is the rather sober one that women’s expectations in PNG are so low that anything is better than nothing. Women frequently gain very little from the enormous wealth and benefit flows generated by mining projects and they bear most of the costs, see recent research by the Porgera Environmental Advisory Komiti cited in my blog of 10 September. The second issue your research raises for me flows from this – if it was clear to the Ok Tedi company that positive development gains required more women’s engagement, why is women’s participation not a much greater focus for mining companies in general? Granted they will face opposition from male beneficiaries and maybe even the state, but if mining companies were to adopt common approaches to women’s participation in negotiations and benefit streams, wouldn’t this lead to greater acceptance of women as more equal participants? It would be great to get a comment from mining company representatives or the PNG Chamber of Mines and Petroleum on the feasibility of an industry approach.

    • Thanks Margaret. The point about implicit/explicit is that it wasn’t necessarily company policy to include women – but something recognized as being beneficial (probably both intrinsically – for women themselves, and instrumentally – for the company and the broader community) by company leadership. It would be fascinating to unearth more research with other mining company representatives to see how they see it (if at all) and what factors are important for their decision making. In parallel it might be useful to foster better theories and evidence on the possible impacts of women’s inclusion (in both processes and outcomes). Does it, in fact, lead to broader community support? Does it lead to better use of benefits? Does it lead to better environmental mitigation strategies? If responses to these questions showed positive developmental gains (or not) that would be useful for both companies and governments – as well as development practitioners.

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