By Maame Esi Eshun, Southern Voices Network Scholar
Approximately 8 million Africans are engaged in artisanal mining—mining activity characterized by the use of rudimentary tools and labor intensive techniques. These 8 million jobs support nearly 45 million Africans.Yet, very little is known about the role that women play in this sector, and its implications for conflict, peacebuilding and development, especially in mineral-rich countries.
Artisanal mining is considered a poverty-driven activity due to its ability to provide mostly impoverished people with direct employment and create jobs, especially in rural areas where there are few livelihood alternatives.The informal and unregulated nature of many artisanal mining activities makes it vulnerable to illegal dealings, corruption, and violence and conflict, especially in high-value minerals like diamonds, gold, coltan, tin, and tungsten (often called conflict minerals).Africa has the highest proportion of women artisanal miners (WAMs), with women averaging 40 to 50 percent of the artisanal mining workforce, compared to the world average of 30 percent.WAMs in Africa undertake a variety of mining activities including digging, rock crushing, grinding, panning, washing, and sieving—with very few women represented in the management or technical aspects of mining operations.This limits their income opportunities. For some women, their involvement in artisanal mining is mostly clustered in support services—water haulers for mine sites, laborers, and suppliers of goods and services around the mining sites, including the sex trade.