Building national, regional and international women’s alliances to resist violence against women in the mining industry.
In the last two centuries, the mining sector has grown by heaps and bounds with multinational and national companies scrambling for the rich natural resources embedded in the African continent. The extractives industry has come with a huge price to African women who are exploited within the sector. The imbalance in power relations between African women and mining companies has meant that women within the industry are unable to negotiate installation of mining projects and or better working conditions. The structure within the extractives industry is patriarchal, gendered and viewed as a male space; women who venture into that space are sexually violated, intimidated and ostracized. On the other hand, the negative impact of the industry on environment and health of workers means that women as caregivers and nurturers bear the brunt and burden of these consequences.
Exemplifying violence against women within the mining sector
Drawing from the findings of participatory action research conducted by WoMin partners in Eastern, Western and Southern Africa, women artisanal miners experience unimaginable suffering and violence. WoMin is a women’s only regional alliance that advocates against destructive resource extraction. The Ugandan research revealed that women mining salt at the Katwe Salt Lake acquire skin conditions and sometimes have their uteruses removed due to the concentrated chemicals they are exposed to at the mining site. In the same vein, the Kenyan research found that women small scale miners in Kasighau location are derogatorily labelled zururas (Swahili for “wanderers”) as they challenge gender perceptions of motherhood and marriage by leaving their husbands and children for molnths in search of mining sites. Since these zururas neither own nor control land, they are at the mercy of mainly male landowners to access land for small scale mining. Such access to land may be given in exchange for sexual favours and or gemstones. To further illustrate the patriarchal system within the extractives industry, the South African research unveiled the difficulties that women face in acquiring employment within mining companies. The mining companies dismiss women as being inexperienced in the field and incapable of operating machinery. Finally, in Burkina Faso, it was revealed that artisanal women miners in the gold industry are exploited by their male counterparts who leave them with leftovers after they have dug pits in a bid to extract gold ore.
These case studies, which traverse Africa, attest to the power dynamics existing within the mining industry which operate at the expense of women. Multinational companies originating from powerful, capitalist and white Western countries exert invisible power over African states who in a bid to improve their local economies enter into oppressive mining agreements in which maximum profits are guaranteed to the corporates. Similarly, there exist power relations between the African states and the local communities whereby royalties from mining fail to contribute towards the development of the locals but rather benefit powerful political elites within governments. The concept of power is also seen within the local communities whereby the black African woman seems powerless as her labour within the extractive industry is exploited, invisible, undervalued and unpaid. The men within these local communities take the fair share of the benefits in the mining industry. Women are left to bear the negative impact of the mining sector through loss of alternative livelihoods such as agriculture due to environmental degradation, caring of ailing husbands, brothers and sons who worked in the mines and rearing of children whilst their husbands venture into underground mines.
Redressing the situation and concluding remarks
The powerful players within the mining sector cannot hand over power without a struggle. There is hence an urgent need for the eco-feminists to aggressively organise women’s grassroots, national, regional and international movements to resist further exploitation and violence against women within the mining industry. By building these alliances, women can generate power within and with other women producing an alternative power that can resist the patriarchal and capitalist system entrenched in the mining industry. Such women’s alliances can claim spaces that were either previously denied to women by giving women power to reject mining installations within their communities. Vibrant alliances will transform the mining sector into women’s spaces through which resources within Mother Nature can be sustainably utilised.
Kituo Cha Sheria.