Women have a critical role within mineral production as well as in the development of sustainable communities. In fact, mining and governance experts acknowledge that enhancing women’s role can help in the positive transformation of artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM).
Yet, a recent study has established that there is a growing evidence that, despite the Constitution of Malawi recognizing women’s rights to equal protection and non-discrimination, their participation in mining remains limited due to socio-cultural gender biases and attitudes.
A mining expert Biswas Ismael announced the findings at Mponela in Dowa last Tuesday during a mining training workshop targeting women and youth.
Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) organized the training through its “Enhancing Social Accountability in Local Governance to Reduce Inequalities for an Inclusive Malawi”, which is being funded by a joint programme of the Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) and Danish Church Aid (DCA).
The project aims at increasing the voices of citizens and enhances actions of the communities in local development processes through social accountability mechanisms in order to reduce underlying socio-economic inequalities that are worsened by poor and defective local development policy.
Ismael lamented that although women have taken the center stage in mining activities; their participation is more visible in artisanal and small-scale mining while men continue to monopolize medium and large-scale mining.
“A growing body of evidence suggests that current mining policy and practice can actually worsen gender inequalities if gender concerns are not adequately considered. Although every site, community and context is unique, every facet of the mining sector differently impacts and benefits women and men,” he said.
Ismael stated that these gender differences can be found at all levels, from production sites, in mining-affected communities, in local and national economies, upwards across mineral supply chains and in all institutions involved – from government offices and company boardrooms to mine sites and households.
He further disclosed that cultural beliefs also preclude women from working in some sections of the mine and that entrepreneurial drive of women is not always acknowledged and seen as common work.
“Traditional gender roles keep women in roles such as service providers. Over the years, policy and laws on mining have not promoted both genders equally. Additionally, not much has been done to deliberately empower women to compete with men,” said Ismael.
Natural Resources Justice Network (NRJN) officer Joy Chabwera warned that while extractive industries can potentially bring many positive development impacts to the communities involved, it may also create or exacerbate vulnerabilities within these communities.
Chabwera cited the low participation of the youth in the sector although the country boasts of a favorable youth legal and policy regime.
He said this reflects the existence of a number of inter-linked barriers to improving their economic status, especially those from rural areas with agrarian dependence.
“The barriers are socio-cultural, socio-economic and policy related issues and represent a multifaceted situation that requires innovative solutions. Socio-cultural barriers largely center on women and youth-related issues and the prevalence of HIV and Aids. The disparities reflect a high degree of vulnerability and marginalization among the youth, especially in social-cultural and economic spheres, such that youth are unable to effectively contribute to social economic and political development of Malawi,” he said.
CCJP Project Officer Tuntufye Simwimba stressed the need for youth and women inclusion and ensuring that they are capacitated on policies that govern the mining sector.
Simwimba said this would help them to proactively advocate for issues that affect them.
“When we talk of reducing inequalities in the society then women and the youth should be meaningfully involved in day-to-day activities of mining endeavours,” he said.
Chairperson of the National Youth in Mining, Rehema Patricks, described the training as an eye opener to both women and the youth involved in mining.
Patricks observed that although Malawi 2063 places youth at the centre of the economic drive in different sectors, including the mining sector, there is not much that has been done to promote youth participation in mining.
“The major challenge that youth face in the mining sector is lack of economic opportunities for youth in the extractive sector, which results in poverty, unemployment, and inequality. Secondly, current policies and programmes in the mining sector do not adequately address structural issues underpinning youth participation in the mining sector as well as the economy,” she said.
Patricks said the knowledge and skills gained from the training will help them in advocating for gender sensitive mining practices and fighting violence and economic inequalities in the mining sector.
CCJP National Coordinator Boniface Chibwana said the major objective of the project is to address inequalities in the mining sector in order to achieve sustainable development.
“Women and youth play a bigger part when it comes to artisanal mining and yet are sidelined in decision making processes. Even when it comes to the proceeds of compensation issues as far as mining is concerned, women and youth are pushed to the periphery,” said Chibwana.