Challenging Cultural Norms in Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining Crucial to Improving Women’s Economic Empowerment

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Ottawa – Women who work in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) face economic, decision-making, legal and institutional exclusions due to cultural norms. This is the finding of a new report from the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development (IGF).

ASM is a complex and diversified sector, ranging from informal individual miners seeking a subsistence livelihood to small-scale commercial mining entities.

“Women represent a large percentage of the ASM workforce, with 40 to 50 per cent in Africa alone,” said IGF Director Greg Radford. “But there is an invisibility problem. Women’s contribution to the mining sector is masked by the dominant reflection of men’s roles in mining, often hindering their meaningful participation.”

Around the world, the ASM sector continues to grow, with an estimated 40 million people directly involved and around 150 million people indirectly dependent on the activity across 80 countries. Although women have always shared the mining space with men, discussions rarely surface regarding women’s productive roles and the gendered impacts of the industry.

These disadvantages are often enshrined into law, where formal restrictions in countries like Botswana and Lesotho require women to have consent from a spouse or father before accessing loans.

“In many countries, cultural norms restrict women’s participation in key stages of mining, keeping them in the dark and giving men leverage to exercise control over financial matters,” said Fitsum Weldegiorgis, the report’s lead author and a senior researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

Challenging cultural norms can have a positive impact on not only women’s economic empowerment, but also wider society. For example, if women participated equally in economic activities there would be an added USD $28 trillion, or 26 per cent, to the global GDP in 2025, according to a McKinsey Global Institute study.

The IGF report makes several recommendations for governments, including: providing women miners with legal protection against unlawful discrimination and exploitation; consulting with them throughout the formalization process; and providing legal incentives to enhance women’s access to land and licenses.

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