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Thoughts on how to do gender inclusion right in ASM

Thoughts on how to do gender inclusion right in ASM

October 11, 2020, by Olivia Lyster


Levin Sources is celebrating the International Day of the Girl 2020 by presenting our Gender Commitment, which lays out the ways in which we are working towards the achievement of gender equality in the mining and minerals sector. As well as the launch of our Gender Commitment page, we present below our thoughts on gender inclusion and equality drawn from our experience working in the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector.

The last decade has seen an increasing interest by bilateral and multilateral funding bodies in the issue of understanding and promoting gender dynamics in the development space. The ASM sector is no exception. There is growing consensus amongst policymakers that a focus on gender should be mainstreamed across ASM-related sustainable development interventions. Given their historic marginalisation in the sector, this has to date translated largely into a focus on women.

Women play a critical role in the ASM sector. Women were estimated in 2003 to make up 30% of the ASM workforce globally. Today it may be much higher – estimates from some countries reach 50% on average, and higher in some mineral categories (e.g. salt mining in Uganda). Despite this, women experience a number of gendered barriers to full participation in ASM. They are disproportionately represented in less remunerative roles and are normally explicitly excluded from better-paid roles such as digging. Moreover, their double burden of unpaid household work and income earning limits their engagement with ASM in terms of time and flexibility. Additional high-level challenges include lower education levels, lower status, no or limited access to land, subservience to male family members, gendered norms, and so on. These barriers mean that men almost always hold positions of authority in the ASM sector, as well as receiving the majority share of income.

That said, the ASM sector plays an important economic role for many women, enabling them to contribute to their household income and in many cases to earn more than they would have done elsewhere. In many ASM communities where we have worked, we have met women leaders who, in spite of a general culture of inequality, hold positions of authority and influence and have accumulated wealth through mining.

Despite good progress in recent years towards a better understanding of gender inequalities in ASM, and greater efforts to address them, much remains to be done. As a female-founded company working in the mining and minerals sector, achieving gender equality along minerals supply chains is something that we at Levin Sources care deeply about. Below, we outline some of the ways in which we think sector actors – ourselves included – can contribute to this aim.

Support rigorous, gender-sensitive research. One of the biggest challenges to achieving gender equality in the ASM sector is a lack of reliable data on the extent and implications of women’s involvement in the sector. Even estimates of how many women work in ASM have not been reliably updated in almost 20 years. This is partly due to the nature of the sector – widespread informality makes the demographics of ASM notoriously difficult to quantify accurately. Overcoming this challenge is, however, essential. We have previously advocated for the importance of reliable data for policymaking in the context of COVID-19 – the same goes for decision-makers looking to support women’s inclusion in and benefit from ASM.

Supporting gender-sensitive research in ASM is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, it gives policymakers a better understanding of the sector and the complex networks of trust and support that exist within it. Historically, for example, policy has treated as ‘miners’ only those who conduct direct mineral extraction such as digging or working in shafts underground – roles occupied primarily by men. This can result in a blinkered understanding of the ASM workforce, leading to simplistic, and sometimes exclusionary, policy solutions. A current example would be the initial inclusion only of formal ‘miners’ in COVID-19 lockdown exemptions in Zimbabwe, a policy that inadvertently favoured roles occupied mainly by men, ignoring the wider fabric of the ASM supply chain and disadvantaging many of the sector’s women. Deliberately including women and the diverse roles they play in the ASM sector, however, allows for a more holistic understanding of ASM sector dynamics, distribution of benefits and power, dependencies and vested interests, allowing in turn for a more nuanced, effective and fair policy response.

At Levin Sources, we seek to contribute to this data gap by conducting gender-sensitive research as standard. What does this look like in practice? At its most basic level, this means collecting gender disaggregated data in order to understand, if they exist, the different experiences and perspectives of women and men. How much do men and women earn for the roles they perform? Are there discrepancies along gender lines? If so, is one group paid less for equal work, or are they excluded from the higher paying jobs? To what extent and in what ways to women and men experience insecurity? Are there both women and men in positions of power at mine sites? Do women bear a greater burden of the unpaid work (housework, subsistence agriculture work) and if so, how does this affect their ability to work in ASM? Are gender norms such as appropriate dress exposing either women or men to any particular health and safety risks? (Whilst norms such as dress may appear insignificant, they can have important impacts on women’s access to ASM – our research at a Ugandan ASM limestone site uncovered that women were excluded from working at the site for the stated reason that their skirts did not protect them from the corrosive quicklime, and that it would not be appropriate for them to wear trousers.) By asking the right questions, triangulating our data and understanding how to identify and challenge gender norms in the field, ASM sector research can begin to build a comprehensive, context-specific picture of where we stand in terms of gender equality, and how to move forward.

Prioritise and promote gender-sensitive policy and programming. All policy and programming – regardless of whether it contains a specific focus on women’s inclusion or empowerment – should be gender-sensitive. Policies and processes that do not specifically integrate gender dynamics risk being ‘gender-blind’, exacerbating existing inequalities between women and men. For example, legal requirements for formalisation, whilst well-intentioned, can undermine women’s prospects for inclusion into the formal mining economy if issues such as the constraints women face in terms of time, financial independence and capacity to voice opinions are not adequately addressed. A policy or programme that addresses gender inequality by promoting women’s associations, for example, may not succeed in its aims if it does not address specific challenges to self-organisation such as women’s lack of time and political independence within their communities.

What does gender-sensitive policy and programming look like? First, it must be founded on a solid understanding of the specific gender dynamics of its target jurisdictions, built on, as described above, reliable, context-specific and gender-sensitive data. A plethora of tools exist for this purpose, with organisations such as Impact – who are in the process of developing and piloting Gender Assessment tools providing guidance on integrating gender and human rights into mineral policies and projects – leading the way in the ASM space. Secondly, consultations must include not only heads of associations, but also women who occupy ‘peripheral’ roles in ASM, and are as such at the biggest risk of exclusion from a formalised economy. Thirdly, continual monitoring and evaluation is key, in order to identify and address issues such as the exacerbation of existing power imbalances and the further exclusion of vulnerable groups.

Promote the continued integration of gender into sector standards. Normative and legal frameworks are playing an ever-increasing role in regulating the practices of mineral sector actors. They are a key point of influence, therefore, in ensuring that gender equality is promoted throughout the mining and minerals sectors. This is already happening to some extent – the 2018 OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct, for example, provides useful language to help businesses adopt a “gender lens” in their due diligence activities – but is conspicuously absent in leading mineral sector best practice guidance, namely the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High Risk Areas. It is imperative that sector actors leverage their influence to ensure that gender dynamics play a central role in the review and revision of, and compliance with, standards and guidance. At Levin Sources, for example, we developed practical recommendations for how the Kimberley Process can promote gender equality through its work at both a global policy level and at a national policy level in Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire (2018).

Support organisations whose mission it is to achieve this. At Levin Sources we have had the honour of engaging with numerous organisations whose aim is to promote gender equality in the ASM, mining and minerals sectors. Women in mining (WIM) associations, for example, are making tremendous progress in supporting the inclusion of women across the mining sector at the international, regional and national levels. Our involvement with this year’s International Women in Mining’s (IWIM) International Women in Resources Mentoring Programme (IWRMP) has highlighted the barriers many women still face to achieve senior positions in the industry. However, it has also been an important reminder that everybody can and must play their part to combat discrimination. We are also signatories to the OECD-WRM Gender Statement, where we commit to using our work to further gender equality in mineral supply chains. This blog has presented a brief overview of some of the ways in which we think sector actors can contribute to achieving gender equality in the ASM sector. For more information on the subject, see our Insights page, or email our Gender Champion Olivia Lyster. We’d love to hear from you!

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