Empowering Women Artisanal Miners for Development in Sub-Saharan Africa

By Maame Esi Eshun, Southern Voices Network Scholar

The artisanal mining sector employs nearly 8 million Africans across the continent and supports more than 45 million indirectly. Artisanal mining is a poverty-driven activity that frequently exists outside the law, which feeds conflict and disenfranchises miners, especially women. Women, who make up 40 to 50 percent of the artisanal mining workforce in Africa, undertake a variety of mining activities including digging, rock crushing, grinding, panning, washing, and sieving, all with rudimentary tools and methods. Because of the peripheral nature of the roles played by women in the artisanal mining sector, they seldom participate in the core operational decision-making of the mines, which limits their income opportunities.

Because of their limited participation in the sector, most women artisanal miners have insufficient technical knowledge of the mining market, lack adequate funding for business expansion, are not prioritized in employment and training opportunities, and are not involved in consultations preceding project implementation and decision-making along the mining value chain.1 The marginalization of women artisanal miners is mainly a reflection of existing gender inequalities, deeply rooted in traditional and cultural norms. Just as widespread cultural beliefs prevent women from extensively exploring their potential in mining, most statistics do not even count women as artisanal miners at all.2 Further, initiatives on conflict minerals—such as the Kimberly Process, OECD Due Diligence Guidance, and the Dodd-Frank Act’s Section 1502, among others—that focus on ensuring the mining value chain is conflict-free and curbing the human rights abuses associated with the exploitation and trade of conflict minerals frequently neglect to foreground women miners and involve their voices in the peacebuilding process.

Failure to address these challenges and allow women to fully take advantage of the opportunities available to them in artisanal mining risks perpetuating inequalities and deepening grievances linked to natural resource rights, access, and control, which can be powerful catalysts for war and violence.3 To ensure artisanal mining becomes a sustainable economic opportunity for both men and women, there is an urgent need to formalize artisanal mining operations. Formalization means bringing the sector under an appropriate policy and legal framework, with enforced legal requirements. A legal framework for artisanal mining will ensure effective and efficient allocation of resource rights and access to land and minerals to miners, which can reduce restrictions on the participation of women artisanal miners.

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