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The Gender Dimensions of Tin, Tantalum and Tungsten Mining in the Great Lakes Region

Supplemented by ASM and gender research from other countries, this study reframes the current discourse, providing a basis to better understand how gender inequalities are manifested, produced, reproduced and challenged in the GLR while informing directions for future research and intervention.

The Great Lakes Region (GLR) of Africa is internationally recognized for its vast mineral wealth, hosting major reserves of diamonds, copper, gold, tantalum, tin and tungsten, among others. While it holds promise to lead to economic, social and political transformation of the region, development opportunities of the minerals sector are yet to be realized. At the centre of this are the successive violent conflicts that have plagued the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which have partly been fuelled by exploitation and illicit trade of tin, tantalum and tungsten minerals (“3Ts”) and gold (jointly known as “3TGs”)1 . Justifiable international outrage at atrocities in the DRC has prompted efforts to extract 3TGs from the financial flows of armed groups through trade regulations, a move that the region was ill-prepared to respond to and with extensive repercussions on the livelihoods of tens of thousands of miners, their families and surrounding economies (Pact, 2015). 3TG exploitation is carried out in both conflict zones and peaceful regions mainly via artisanal and small scale mining (ASM). Well over 300,000 thousand men, women, youth, elderly and children work in 3TG exploitation in the eastern DRC and neighbouring Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, most of whom entered the sector in response to abject poverty and lack of livelihood alternatives (Cook and Mitchell, 2014; Hinton, 2011; IPIS, 2013; Matthysen, 2014)2 . ASM is dominated by largely informal miners using crude methods and with limited capacity to deal with the dire occupational, environmental and social risks that commonly characterize the sector. Women and girls constitute a significant proportion of the ASM workforce, averaging 40-50% across Africa (Hinton et al, 2003) but their work in the sector is largely invisible, as evidenced by largely aggregated local, national and regional statistics. Despite economic opportunities afforded by ASM, gender inequalities in terms of income, control over resources, agency and voice, among many others, plague the sector and impede development. This situation is worsened by pervasive sexual and gender based violence (SGBV), which, at best, pervades day-to-day activities in mining areas and, at worst, involves horrific incidences of mass rape emerging from the DRC (Hayes and Perks, 2012). Although ASM of 3TGs in the GLR is increasingly recognized for its ability to advance peace and local development, this ambition is unlikely to be achieved in the absence of gender-responsive policy and programming. In order to help fulfil this potential, the NGO Pact has received support from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) to advance formalization of 3T ASM and its trading chains, strengthen good governance and transparency of conflict minerals and enhance related security and economic empowerment outcomes via the Scaling up Minerals Traceability Project (Box 1). The project covers four countries central to 3T production and trade, namely DRC, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. In light of commitments of the Government of the Netherlands to prioritize gender equality in its foreign policy, it has requested assistance of the Gender Resource Facility (GRF) to provide guidance and assistance to Pact on ways in which the project can increase its contributions to gender equality. Phase One of activities involved a desk study intended to provide insight into the multiple gender dimensions of 3T production and trade in the GLR and inform design of a second phase of research. Phase Two was comprised of field research in Rwanda and DRC involving six mine site assessments, interviews and focus groups supplemented by consultative meetings with a range of key stakeholders. The work specifically aimed to: identify practical, gender responsive interventions for inclusion within the Scaling up Mineral Traceability Project; provide concrete recommendations targeting existing and emerging mining platforms, and; to augment, and identify key gaps within the regional and international discourse on ASM and gender. This study primarily draws from literature spanning the nexus of ASM, gender and conflict in the DRC, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, which is supplemented by key findings, conclusions and recommendations derived from recent field research in Rwanda and DRC. This literature justifiably emphasizes the often profound negative implications of ASM, including widespread sexual and physical violence, risks posed by low status jobs performed by women and girls and the proliferation of HIV/AIDS, among many others. Recent research now also seeks to better understand the extent of disadvantages experienced by different facets of ASM populations (elderly, children, migrants, women, men etc). Some have built on this body of work as a means to elicit strategies from women in ASM areas in order to identify ways in which gender norms can be challenged, injustices redressed, human rights fulfilled and opportunities cultivated for women’s economic empowerment.

Additional Info

J Hinton
Publication Year
Publishing Institution Webpage
Data Source Classification
Program Report
Research Type
Research Methodology
Thematic Tags
Social, Gender
3T Mineral (Mixed), 3Ts, Gold, Tantalum, Tin, Tungsten
Sub-Saharan Africa
Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda
Last Updated
October 2, 2019