Engendering Civil Society: Oil, Women Groups and Resource Conflicts in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria


Ikelegbe, Augustine. 2005. “Engendering Civil Society: Oil, Women Groups and Resource Conflicts in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria.” The Journal of Modern African Studies 43 (2): 241–70. doi:10.2307/3876206.

Author: Augustine Ikelegbe


Civil society has been an active mobilisational and agitational force in the resource conflicts of the Niger Delta region in Nigeria. The paper examines the gender segment of civil society and its character, forms and roles in these conflicts. The central argument is that marginality can be a basis of gendered movements and their engagement in struggles for justice, accommodation and fair access to benefits. Utilising secondary data and primary data elicited from oral interviews, the study identifies and categorises women groupings and identifies their roles and engagements in the oil economy. It finds that community women organisations (CWOs), with the support of numerous grass-roots women organisations, are the most active and frequently engaged in the local oil economies, where they have constructed and appropriated traditional women protests as an instrument of engagement. The paper notes the implications of women protest engagements and particularly their exasperation with previous engagements, the depth of their commitments, and the extension of the struggle beyond the threshold of normal social behaviour.


  • Women constitute a large portion of subsistence farmers, fisherwomen and informal sector in Nigeria; marginalized in trickle down of benefits from MNCs (Shell has a female capacity building program), but women are not recognized as owners of land or water resources, underemployed by MNC, and excluded from compensation for acquisition, pollution and devastation of farmlands and fishing waters (242)
  • Women led peaceful mass actions against oil companies; now, NGOs and MNCs are focusing on how women can help peace-building capacity in the region (242)
  • Women’s organizations are primarily on the rise in the informal sector (market associations, cooperatives and informal credit) -- Mobilization, autonomy to challenge status quo, define own interests and set own agendas (245)
  • Women’s groups preceded colonialism, were a part of traditional governance systems; Subordinated by colonial and post-colonial groupings and the addition of colonies of migrants, settlers, workers and artisans (249)
  • Categories of women’s groups: local/traditional governance structures (MNC calls to action; leverage with community – threaten to relocate or protest naked; mutual support system); communities/clans; influence-seeking groups (250)
    • Socioeconomic, pan-ethnic and regional since the 1970s
    • National groups are few and mostly professional
  • Economic downturn has led to more oil and gas exploration for rents and MNC profits, exacerbating pollution, poverty, hunger, unemployment, and anger.
  • Brunt of oil economy: women are largely sedentary farmers and thus suffer most from land degradation and loss, driven from fishing by gas flaring, prostitution rings for oil workers, and men leave to work for oil companies (254)
  • Women have threatened to seal off oil wells; Women and men together shut down Shell production facilities and protested land acquisition. (256)
  • Limitations on female involvement (266-7):
    • Local demands for development, employment and empowerment are greater than national demands for control, derivation and restructuring
    • Women lack the resources for causes that are not cultural or communal although community women’s organizations derive their strength from being culturally-based
    • Women are traditionally the last resort, demonstrating that the local threshold has been reached


“How have women emerged to articulate gender-related issues and mobilize themselves? Through what means and structures are women mobilized to address perceived grievances in the oil economy? Do women have associational voices in the economy of oil at the community, ethnic, pan-ethnic, state and regional levels? What kinds of women civil and community groups exist and at what level? Are women grass-root community organizations making any impact on the oil economy? In particular, what are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and potentials? Are there linkages, networks or organization frameworks within and beyond the community women groups?” (242)

Topics: Civil Society, Economies, Poverty, Extractive Industries, Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Governance, Justice, Multi-National Corporations, NGOs, Nonviolence, Peacebuilding, Political Participation Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Nigeria

Year: 2005

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