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Resettlement Impact Assessments and Women

At the May 2018 International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) annual conference, I presented some results of ongoing research which look at the impact on women affected by land acquisition for the purposes of development. It is clear that women’s rights to tenure are often ignored, that women are often not included in the consultation processes around access to land, that women’s crops are often ignored during the valuation process, and that women are not included when cash compensation is paid.  The International Finance Corporation’s Performance Standard 5 (IFC PS5) and the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) process have gender short-comings, and do not explicitly safeguard the rights of women.  The sustained negative impact of resettlement on women is often ignored by impact assessors, evaluators and scholars.

The overall reaction to the presentation was an indictment of development practitioners doing impact assessments for resettlement. The recommendation that women should be included in the discussions (and receipt) of cash compensation was countered with the excuse that inclusion of women would lead to gender-based violence by men. Living in South Africa, where gender-based violence has developed into an ongoing war against women, one often hears the theory that men feel emasculated because 1994 did not only bring equality to the races, but also to the genders, and thus men hit women in an effort to display power. I was quite surprised to hear the same type of theory at the conference. To me personally, whilst the theory might hold a lot of merit, it is not an excuse not to provide women equal rights. Certainly there are mitigation practices, e.g. education, positive male role modelling, cultural leaders condemning the violence, etc. which should be put in place to address this unintended outcome of moving people off the land where they live and displacing their traditional livelihoods?

Another open secret which was acknowledged was that ‘alternative livelihoods’ are neither restorative nor successful. Yet professionals continue to include these as ‘mitigation’ for resettlement, even though it has been proven decade after decade that they are not sustainable. 

The most shocking comment was by a young, female South African social scientist working at one of the biggest international consulting firms, who said that putting women and women’s rights in the spotlight during the resettlement consultation process, the valuation process and the compensation process, would put women to shame. In her opinion, a woman’s right must not be seen to be equal or above a man’s. And that doing so is an insult to culture and tradition. In her opinion it interferes with the most intimate social fabric of the community. I find such an observation bizarre. Is moving people from the land which they occupy and preventing them from continuing their traditional livelihoods not interfering with the fabric of the community?

In my opinion there is no ethical reason for professionals doing an impact assessment or being involved in a resettlement process to give a client the green light for resettlement when it is obvious that the post-resettlement impact on women would be detrimental and that the ‘alternative livelihoods’ proposed would not be restorative and/or sustainable. The two sessions in which I participated at the AIAI 18 have given me much pause during the subsequent weeks. The burning question in my mind is who regulates the actions of the development professionals who are involved in impact assessments for resettlement? Self-regulation is perhaps not working as effectively as we profess.

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