Women represent a large percentage of the workforce engaged in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM)—up to 40 or 50 per cent in Africa alone. But there’s an invisibility problem.
The contribution of women to the mining sector is often masked by the dominant profile of men’s roles in mining, which hinders women’s meaningful participation. When they are unable to participate in key stages of mining, women are often unaware of key information, which gives men an advantage that allows them to exercise control over financial matters.
In some cultures, social norms create a situation where women are not seen as physically or intellectually strong enough to manage and use resources productively. Coupled with a lack of access and control over land, these norms constrain women from accessing finances. The disadvantages are sometimes even enshrined in law, as seen in Botswana and Lesotho, where formal restrictions require women to have consent from a spouse or father before accessing loans.
With women in ASM facing so many challenges, how can we foster their economic independence and sustainable livelihoods? We explore five ways.
Land, Licences and Legal Protection
Often, customary laws and cultural beliefs dictate sons and other male relatives automatically inherit the properties and possessions of a man when he dies. In such situations, by law, women do not inherit their husbands’ mineral deeds. Governments should provide women miners with legal protection against unlawful discrimination and exploitation, consult with them throughout the formalization process and provide legal incentives to enhance women’s access to land and licences.
Access to Finance
As much as USD 28 trillion would be added to global GDP in 2025 if women participated equally in economic activities. With their earnings, women who are successful mining business owners can create opportunities to diversify their economic activities, thereby promoting sustainable development. Thus, challenging cultural norms would not only positively impact women’s economic empowerment, but also benefit wider society.
Equipment and Technology
Enabling equitable and gender-sensitive access to mining equipment, equipment loans and technology could play a significant role in improving production efficiency and health and safety conditions for women in ASM. In Tanzania, governments partner with organizations like the World Bank and large-scale mining companies to provide equipment. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) also runs an innovative hire-purchase scheme for women gold miners in Sudan, which introduces basic equipment to help alleviate the use of mercury. When collaborative avenues are taken by governments, development partners, the private sector and civil society to integrate programs enabling access to equipment and technology, women in ASM can access the resources they require to succeed.
Information, Geological Data and Networks
Women’s roles and influence within mining communities are negatively impacted when they lack access to information and networks. Governments and partners should establish centres that can be easily accessed by women or provide support to facilitate access through subsidized transport, data access inductions and dissemination of information materials.
Providing Institutional Support and Services
Institutional support and services should be provided to women miners, as they face challenges both on mine sites and domestically. ASM activities can have negative health impacts, such as exposure to mercury and cyanide, and women are often seen with their children by their sides. In Peru, a women’s miners’ association has provided a nursery and safety equipment for women to help better equip them. When associations support women miners by providing them with the necessary resources, their voices and influence are strengthened.
Such solutions would go a long way to assist women’s participation in ASM, both in policy and practice, to foster their economic independence.