Women in the oil zones: a feminist analysis of oil depletion, conflict and environmental degradation
AffiliationSchool of Social and Political Sciences
Document TypePhD thesis
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© 2015 Dr. Maryse Helbert
The primary purpose of this thesis is to examine and conceptualise the gender implications of oil extraction in developing countries using an ecofeminist approach. There has been vast research on the ‘oil curse’, a ‘paradox of plenty’ where oil-rich developing countries have a substantial level of oil wealth while suffering a high level of poverty. However, there has been very little research that has critically examined and conceptualised the unequal distribution of risks and benefits of the oil project between men and women, including the claim that ‘petroleum perpetuates patriarchy’. This thesis seeks to fill this gap by demonstrating the virtues of an ecofeminist framework in highlighting the many ways in which women’s oppression in the oil extraction zones – herein called ‘zones of sacrifice’ – are over-determined by a complex set of causes, ranging from the local proximate causes of environmental degradation and violence against women to the larger structural determinants at the national and international levels that produce these local zones of exploitation. Ecofeminism provides the critical conceptual umbrella to connect the oppression of women and the exploitation of nonhuman nature. This connection and the complex causes of oppression are illustrated through an empirical examination of the situation of women in the oil zones in three cases: Nigeria, Venezuela and the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline. Each of these cases underpins different steps in the development of the broader theoretical argument grounded in ecofeminism. The thesis also identifies opportunities and spaces for emancipation. Specifically, local/international linkages are found to offer the best opportunities for transformative changes in relation to the situation of women living in the oil zones, given the high levels of corruption at the national level. In particular, the work of the World Bank on women and the oil sector, which seeks to fence off the oil curse, and the gendered distribution of the risks and benefits of the oil project, are singled out as a promising site of transformation.
Keywordsecofeminism; critical political economy; environmental studies
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