“Before the war, the fields produced and the men were still working,” one woman, a mineral transporter in the Democratic Republic of Congo, told researchers studying the impact of mining there after two decades of conflict. “Now we make money by growing in the fields of others and carrying things from the mines. What has changed life now is that the fields no longer produce and our husbands are no longer working,” she said, adding, “After the war, it’s resourcefulness” that keeps people going.
Others interviewed for the study, Resources and Resourcefulness: Gender, Conflict, and Artisanal Mining Communities in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, also painted a mixed picture of how their lives and livelihoods had changed with the expansion of mining. “Women in this community are the most vulnerable because they have no shops, no money, and they carry heavy loads long distances for very little money. Life is really difficult for them,” said another.
Experts, officials, NGOs, and community-based women’s associations will gather this week to address these and other issues at the DR Congo’s first ever National Conference on Women in Mines, Sept. 16-18, which will include participants from the World Bank Group, UN Women, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), and women’s associations from Burkina Faso.
The three-day conference—including two days of working groups—is organized by the World Bank Group and PROMINES, the national mining ministry, as part of an effort to address abuses and inequality in mining. It will bring together women from all segments of the country’s mining sector to discuss new research and establish a network that will empower female miners and aim to improve their conditions.
Women’s networks have proven critical in raising global awareness—among communities and policy-makers—of issues related to women and mining. The DRC network will advocate to improve working conditions for women and connect them to knowledge and badly needed resources such as health care, clean water, and sanitation.
Two decades of conflict progressively dismantled long-standing economic systems in eastern DR Congo based on agriculture and small-scale trade. Violence, widespread looting and sexual violence by armed groups and government forces made the cultivation and transport of agricultural products too dangerous for many people to sustain livelihoods in farming.
Mining meanwhile emerged as one of a very few ways to earn cash quickly, particularly for widowed or divorced women without other job opportunities. Between 500,000 and 2 million people are believed to work informally in non-mechanized (artisanal) or small-scale mines in the DRC, where workers endure a range of labor and social problems and widely publicized rights abuses. From 2012-2014, the World Bank and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), studied the trends and scope of abuses faced by women and men in the mines of eastern DRC: They found that everyday actors exploiting vulnerable populations were largely responsible for abuses.
Within the sector, women are largely relegated to lower-paying support roles such as mineral transport and food service. They are also uniquely vulnerable to sexual exploitation, and transactional sex is often demanded of women to gain entry into mining towns and acquire or keep customers for other economic activities. One in four women in mining towns self-identified as sex workers, and 4 in 10 reported having to trade sex simply to gain access to work or basic goods. Rape was described as common, mainly by civilians working in traditional, local and state power structures.
Widespread lack of education on rights and limited social support and organization were identified as key problems to be addressed. Only 26 percent of women and 40 percent of men knew DRC had a mining code that protects women’s right to work—while only 17 percent of women and 20 percent of men interviewed believed women had a legal right to work in the mines.
The World Bank-HHI team’s recommendations include advancing peace and security, supporting steady employment, helping women access jobs other than sex work, addressing corruption and fraud, improving healthcare, providing basic infrastructure, and strengthening the capacity of local associations to advocate for their rights. The women’s mining network launched in the DRC at the National Conference on Women in Mines will work to address these issues.
This research complements extensive work the World Bank Group has already undertaken to empower women and incorporate gender equality issues into projects focused on artisanal and small-scale mining. In Ethiopia, for example, the World Bank Group, in coordination with the Ministry of Mines and Japanese Social Development Fund, has improved health care services, sanitation and hygiene facilities, in addition to bringing water to more than 1,200 female miners in the country.
Leveraging Africa’s vast untapped resources poses a range of complex risks and challenges. But innovating and managing them well can create jobs and opportunities for women and men in some of the world’s poorest economies—boosting truly shared growth and creating a better, brighter future for all.
This article was originally published on The World Bank’s Voices Blog. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.
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Author: Caren Grown is the World Bank Group Senior Director of Gender.
Image: An employee walks past a rotary dredge working at an open-cast iron ore mine of the Stoilensky mining and concentration plant. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov.