Women and Access to Environmental Justice in Nigeria

Eghosa Ekhator, Ph.D.

Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Derby



Historically, oil and gas exploration and production activities in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria have negatively impacted the livelihood and wellbeing of vulnerable groups, especially rural women. These activities directly affect the women’s ability to source for food, water, wood energy, and other natural resources. These resources support women’s traditional care-giving role in the society, and without access to the resources, they are more vulnerable to poverty and other broader multidimensional socio-economic challenges such as gender inequality, domestic violence, lack of financial empowerment and lack of access to quality education amongst others.

As one of the most affected groups, women have been actively involved in seeking redress for the negative environmental impacts flowing from exploration and production activities in the oil and gas sector in Nigeria. They use both formal (mainly litigation) and informal (such as protests and customary processes) strategies. However, there have not been a great deal of litigation initiated to address the violations of rights and livelihoods of women in the Niger Delta. This post focuses on women-led protests in the Niger Delta region in Nigeria.

Women-led protests in the Niger Delta

Women have been actively involved in redressing the negative effects caused by the operations of multinational corporations (MNCs) in the oil and gas sector in Nigeria. Furthermore, environmental disasters or degradation arising from the operations of oil MNCs in the Niger Delta have impacted negatively on the livelihoods of women. In Ogoniland in the Niger Delta, the women produce most of the family’s food, but the twin pressures of land grabs and oil pollution are making it impossible for them to survive. Hence, the impacts of oil MNCs operations in the Niger Delta have considerably weakened women’s access to pollution-free farmlands and fishing waters.

Furthermore, women bear the brunt of environmental injustice in Nigeria and the negative consequences of the operations of the oil MNCs have also impacted negatively on the health of women in the Niger Delta. For example, in a recent study conducted by Bruederle and Hodler which was the first academic study to explicitly link ‘environmental pollution with new-born and child mortality rates in Niger Delta’, demonstrates that children and babies in Nigeria are ‘twice as likely to die in the first month of life if their mothers were living near the oil spill before falling pregnant.’ Also, the UNEP report (2011) on Ogoniland revealed the shocking levels of oil pollution in Ogoniland in the Niger Delta caused by the operations of an oil MNC and which to date is yet to be cleaned up.

Global frameworks such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) reflect international minimum standards for human development outcomes in a way that suggests universal human needs and priorities. Goal 16 of the SDGs recognises the importance of access to justice. For women to enjoy environmental goods in the country, barriers to environmental justice must be eliminated. It has been contended that women suffer uniquely from environmental injustices in different parts of the world, including the United States. These unique effects have also been exemplified in the Niger Delta wherein women and children tend to bear the brunt of environmental injustices. Consequently, women have relied on different strategies (such as protests) in improving access to environmental justice in Nigeria.

Notwithstanding that, women in Nigeria face state-sanctioned discriminatory practices, and economic and social barriers, they have stood up agains