Deciphering Africa’s perceived economic problems is no easy task. Africa has more than 30% of the world’s global mineral reserves and collectively produces more than 60 different metals and minerals. In fact, minerals and mining account for more than 50% of Africa’s exports. Why then are local communities not seeing these benefits? According to a report on Women’s Economic Empowerment in Sub-Saharan Africa, Africa is losing between $50 and $150 billion dollars a year due to corruption, informal markets, and poor valuation of local minerals. At the heart of these issues is the artisanal mining sector in many countries. How can gender equality in artisanal mining increase the sector’s impact on economic development?
It may seem as though international intervention is necessary to resolve this large-scale exploitation, but local companies and communities can actually have a big impact on these issues. One of the greatest factors leading to the mentioned problems is the institutionalized inequality of gender roles and obsolete perspective that women are inferior to men. It is even believed in some communities that women possess super natural powers that cause minerals to simply disappear from the mines. Additionally, women are typically only part-time workers since they have to care for children at home as well. They are given dangerous, labor-intensive tasks that often expose them to mercury without the necessary safety equipment and subsequently face long-term health problems. Culturally, men are also more educated than women, which prevents upward mobility and deters women from seeking support against gender related violence at the work place. Finally, limited role models and an unclear path to success make it difficult for women to advocate for change.
Supporting women in the work force is crucial for the artisanal mining sector to maximize its impact on local economic development. When women’s rights are not included in the conversation, only men receive the benefits; and it is holding back the continent’s progress towards a greater standard of living. Systematically keeping women out of the work force only contributes to the poverty cycle. Fortunately, a growing number of companies are beginning to recognize the role they themselves play in breaking down institutionalized sexism.
There are a number of ways to provide opportunities for women:
1. Facilitate conversations around women’s safety issues in the work place
This includes providing safety equipment specially designed for women since many of it is currently designed for the build of a man. It is also involves providing safe transportation to and from the mines and special considerations for pregnant women. A better system must be developed for reintegrating women once they have had their kids. It would also be beneficial to provide on sight child care, so more women can start working full time.
2. Provide better health care
Working in mines, no matter the job, poses some level of health risk. While many women are signed up for national health services, the quality of care is typically substandard at best and most women have to pay out of pocket since their insurance, if any, won’t cover most costs. Improving local access to health care will enable more women to enter the work force.
3. Host women specific skills training
Many women do not know the value of various contracts or minerals so they are getting underpaid for their work, which in turn only hurts the local economy. Business and labor training for women can both improve their productivity and provide them with the skills that they are often denied on the sole basis of their gender. Creating opportunities for successful women can have create a cycle where successful role models inspire more women to take control of their economic destinies and participate safely and productively in the burgeoning ASM sector
By implementing these various practices, communities can expect to see positive change in breaking down gender roles and increasing the productivity of the work place. Empowering women is the key to a prosperous future in mining in Africa, and local companies and communities have the tools to facilitate this transformation.
Ande Troutman has been a blog writer for CID since March 2017 and specializes in energy policy and natural resource development. She has experience working on environmental policy in both state government and the private sector. Ande is currently working as an international consultant for CID in Scotland.