Politics of Poverty

Uneven benefits, unequal burden: Women and extractive industries

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Emilia Amoateng, one of the leaders of the Concerned Farmers Association of Teberebie, speaks at a community meeting in western Ghana in 2009. Community members relocated to make way for gold mines in Ghana, and especially women, struggle with loss of agricultural land, unemployment, and environmental damage. Photo: Neil Brander / Oxfam America

Transparency can help women face the challenges presented by oil, gas, and mining projects in their communities.

Katherine Stanley is the Extractive Industries Program Coordinator at Oxfam America.

Mines are often seen as an economic boost, a stimulant for jobs and development. But where is that boost felt? And who experiences it?

For women, resource extraction across the globe often results in unintended increases in their inequality and marginalization. It’s far from a simple equation. For women, mining can equal:

  • New roads, schools, health clinics, and other community infrastructure and services;
  • Decreased access to farm land;
  • Increases in pollution;
  • Depleted water, food, and firewood sources;
  • Decreased access to family finances;
  • Increased prices of food and goods;
  • Increased domestic conflict and violence;
  • Added caregiver responsibilities due to poor health of miners;
  • Discrimination/harassment in a male-dominated industry; and
  • Incentives toward prostitution.

Employment benefits, for whom?

The main benefits of mining for communities come from employment and income, but 80-90% of the jobs go to men. Another study states that depending on the country and company, only 5-10 % of the workforce in mining is female.) For example, South Africa requires at least 10% of its mining workforce to be female employees, though it is not there yet.

Disappointingly, efforts to increase the number of women within the extractives sector have moved slowly, despite the fact that the proportion of female post-secondary graduates across the world came to a median average of 54% in 2010. Mining companies, on average, have less than 1 percent of women in board or management positions. This isn’t just an oversight issue. Mining companies are sourcing their workforce and leadership from less than half of the available talent pool.

Employment risks, for whom?

The World Bank reports that for every 1 direct job created at a mining site or production area, 1 to 4 other jobs are created indirectly. These indirect jobs can provide an economic stimulant, but come with a vast array of risks.

For women working within artisanal and small scale mining (at least 1,154 in Tanzania alone), women often work processing minerals with hazardous chemicals. Women also often respond to demand for increased prostitution around the mine sites due to the increased cash economy and distance of miners from their families.

While catering, laundry, clothing and uniform supply and repair, production of agricultural goods and clerical support are less physically dangerous, they can still be fraught with harassment and a lack of job security.

Decision-making, by whom?

The power dynamic results in a continuation of gendered roles in the workplace, and often prevent women from providing their inputs in decisions about the costs and benefits of mining – within their communities and their families. As a World Bank study on Peru explained,

“The power differential between men and women could increase as men enhance their negotiating and organizing skills though the greater number of community consultation processes that take place related to the presence of an [extractives] company in the community. Women usually have less involvement in these spaces.”

In another study in Uganda, “women reported increased cases of domestic violence resulting for struggles within the family to control land or money received or anticipated from compensation from the extractives sector.”

Transparency, for all

This International Women’s Day, Oxfam is standing with women who are fighters for transparency in their governments’ usage of royalties from extractive industries and for the fair allocation of funds for the benefit of all.

You too can stand with women and push for transparency! Join us.

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