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Gender and Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining in Central and East Africa: Barriers and Benefits

Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) on the African continent is increasingly the focus of global, regional and national efforts aimed at regulating the sector as part of larger initiatives to increase national benefits from mining, while also addressing problems seen as linked to this form of mining such as violence and conflict. Women’s significant participation in artisanal mining (estimated at 25-50% or more of artisanal miners) is largely overlooked in these efforts. This paper draws from research still in progress from a three year, mixed-method study in six artisanal mining sites across three countries (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda) to explore the gendered dynamics of ASM and some of the constraints and possibilities facing women’s ASM livelihoods. Informed by scholarly analyses of artisanal mining in other African countries, and drawing on feminist political economy scholarship with its close attention to the intermingling of productive and reproductive work, we examine: the structural gender inequalities that impact on access to resources and relationships; gendered social and political institutions that structure ASM livelihoods, ranging from kinship arrangements to formal and informal institutions operable within mine zones such as mining committees, mine leaders, local political and customary authorities, and license holders; and gendered “meaning systems,” the discourses, terms, and metaphors that structure how mining and mining activities, and the women and men whose lives are enmeshed in those activities, are made knowable. We conclude that women’s economic roles and livelihoods pursued in ASM zones are both diverse and plentiful in our research sites. We document some of the key benefits to women, including gaining some resources to assist for survival livelihoods, while briefly noting accumulation possibilities and barriers. Our data shows, first, that women’s ASM activities are crucial sources of revenue for themselves and their families, allowing for basic survival, health and education, as well as accumulation activities that improve the status of women and their dependents; second, women’s livelihoods are woven into the social and institutional contexts within which ASM activities unfold, and which shape the durability of poverty in the sector; and third, gender inequality is a structuring condition of ASM. Any efforts aimed at improving, restructuring or regulating ASM must also addressing gender issues in design and implementation.

Additional Info

D Buss, B Rutherford, J Hinton, J Stewart, J Loebert, G E Côté, A Sebina-Zziwa, R Kibombo, F Kisekka
Publication Year
Associated Partners
Publishing Institution Webpage
Data Source Classification
Academic Study
Research Type
Research Methodology
Primary - INTERVIEW, Primary - OBSERVATION, Primary - SURVEY
Thematic Tags
Political, Certification, Conflict, Due Diligence, Traceability, and Transparency, Formalization, Governance, Supply Chains, Social, Employment, Gender, Human Rights, Labor and Working Conditions, Livelihoods, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
Gold, Tantalum, Tin, Tungsten
Sub-Saharan Africa
Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda
Last Updated
November 1, 2020