According to the World Bank Group as of 2013, an estimated 20 to 30 million people engaged in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) globally; in many countries, women make up between 10 to 50 percent of small-scale miners *1. While women are usually not given the opportunity to work in more formalized large scale mining employment, many resign themselves to work in artisanal and small-scale mining in communities along with children and other family members. But small artisanal mining can be a demanding, dangerous, and often only marginally profitable sector for women, and job opportunities in small artisanal mining, even more than larger scale mining, can increase women’s burden of working both outside and inside the home *2. Women may work as long as men do but still earn less income than men, and still be responsible for additional work and responsibilities at home. Also, on a majority of mining sites, women are not allowed to dig ores and can only work in transport and the processing of ores, although digging generally offers a higher income. Most regions in DRC do not offer many income generating opportunities for the community and more so for the women other than in the mining sector, and that is where women may work extreme hours, including at night, and even while heavily pregnant, but with no benefits or security to earn a living. Furthermore, even in artisanal mines, women may have little control over resources *2. Evidence indicates that women often work longer hours than men, but on average earn four times less than male counterparts, a discrepancy which forces many women to look for additional work, increasing their time poverty and even resulting in women taking equally if not more dangerous work like prostitution *2. In addition, larger mining scale provide a safer working environment than small scale mining: small-scale and artisanal miners use less protective gear, is less regulated, has poorer infrastructure, and is often more dangerous
A great percentage of women working in small-scale mining of the ore processing is handled by women, sometimes in the home, exposing themselves and their families to harmful chemicals such as mercury used to extract gold from ore, with minimal ventilation and protection *3. Women of childbearing age and children are frequently more susceptible than men to health risks from some of these agents: for instance, women are more susceptible to methylmercury poisoning, which can easily be transmitted to fetuses in utero, and can cause serious developmental problems for babies, infants and children *3.
So what can be done to empower women and improve their working environment?
Healthy Ore Processing: The Chambers Federation aims to eliminate these health risks by implementing the use of gravity separators which do not use mercury or any other hazardous chemicals. Ensuring that women working conditions meet basic health and safety standards will help mitigate negative impacts and potentially increase women’s productivity in mining. As approximately 60% of ore processing is currently completed by women, this is where the greatest health impact can be made.
Women in Management: Due to the agreements in place between the Company and the cooperatives, women will receive greater representation as minimum positions in the cooperative management and board structures are required to go towards women, providing equal representation. This “affirmative action” measure is used across the board with all Company interests.
Diversified, Non-Mining, Women Focused Business Reinvestment: As the Company reinvests its profits it will also prioritize diversified business opportunities to women further empowering their economic status within the communities. Women who wished to move out of the mining industry and find alternative livelihood, would have the opportunity to find a more permanent and safe work in other small scale industries create by the company.
Women in Mining Support Services: As mining incomes increase the supportive industries located at the mines such as sale of foods and drinks, clothing etc. will realize an immediate positive financial impact.
Training: Specific training and management will be installed to ensure the equality and safety of women in the mining industry. Further training and support will be provided to women so that they can organize themselves into associations, mutual savings groups or cooperatives, and support them in local development, leadership and revenue generation initiatives designed to overcome their isolation and give them the collective strength that will allow them to improve their living conditions and the lives of their families.
- For more information, read “Women and Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM)”, available at https://olc.worldbank.org/sites/default/files/WB_Nairobi_Notes_4_RD3_0.pdf
- Karen Hayes ,“Women in Artisanal Mining – Kilo Goldmines”, Pact Inc., available at http://www.kilogoldmines.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Pact-Congo-DRC-Women-in-Artisanal-Mining-in-the-DRC-.pdf
- Adriana Eftimie, Katherine Heller & John Strongman, Industries and Development Series #8 ,“Gender Dimensions of the Extractive Industries: Mining for Equity”, August 2009,available at http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTOGMC/Resources/eifd8_gender_equity.pdf