Women in extractive industries: Addressing inclusive growth #DGTrends

A woman toils at Bilbalé, while her child holds tight to her back.

(Pic Courtesy of LarryCPrice)

‘There is no shortage of growth in Africa’ read a headline in the Economist last year; of the top ten fastest growing economies in the world, six are in Africa and are rich in natural resources. Africa has been ranked as having the second largest if not largest reserve of bauxite, cobalt, industrial diamonds, manganese, phosphate rock, platinum group metals and zirconium; minerals whose main use is in everyday products.

Statistics also show that this is just the beginning; many parts of the continent are yet to be properly surveyed for their mineral potential. As seen by the growing demand and investment in Africa’s mining industry from Asian and other countries, the mining sector’s outlook is bright. Africa indeed is the story; the big story.

However, we are also aware of the challenges that this industry is facing: corruption, weak government institutions, inconsistent policies, outdated infrastructure and lack of expertise and skilled workers which has consequently led to conflict and severe instability witnessed across the continent.

What is daunting is the fact that women remain marginalized from meaningfully engaging in this industry as it has been deemed culturally inappropriate.  Yet this is the very industry that provides numerous opportunities for all.

To gain a better understanding of the challenges on the ground, I spoke to a practitioner in the gold mining industry in Kenya. This is what he had to say:

Beyond community consultations, is there a role that women can play in gold mining bearing in mind cultural barriers?

The mining industry has a myriad of similarities to the construction industry in that majority of the jobs are blue collar jobs which require physically demanding tasks. Nevertheless, we see women taking up these jobs and also playing a part; equally in the white collar job segment which requires higher education. In most parts of Kenya and globally, artisanal gold mining is rife and it accounts for close to 25% of gold output yet it is not uncommon to find women particularly in river gold panning.

What are the on-the-ground challenges for companies when it comes to gender mainstreaming in gold mining? Are public policies facilitating this enough?

Getting the right people with the right talent be it man or woman is the major priority for most companies. If the individual has the necessary qualifications, then companies are more than willing to take them on if capacity allows. Investment in training is also important in this industry particularly in Kenya where mining is at its infancy. The Mining Bill 2014 highlights the need for gender sensitivity in the industry, however, implementation is going to be the greatest challenge as exploration and mining companies will need to invest substantially on training and recruitment in order to meet the policy standards which will increase their costs of operations in Kenya.

In your opinion what can the government and private sector do better to ensure the protection of women when conflicts erupt? Is it more economic involvement in the industry?

The ultimate solution is to prevent conflicts altogether. The root cause of conflicts especially in mineral rich zones is poverty. If we look at the mineral rich regions of Kenya, most of them are very impoverished, these are counties such as  Turkana, Kwale, Taita Taveta, Marsabit etc. Economic empowerment through quality education and training is highly important to prepare young women and men for jobs that come into the market.

Lastly, preparing a community for enormous social change that being including women in its mining workforce is as much a psychological process as it is about getting the right systems in place. This is quite an uphill task that the government cannot succeed in doing alone. In your opinion does the mining bill incentivize mining companies to do this? This is based on the aspect that organizations operate by economic principles. Is there any incentive for increased women targets at the national scale and at the administrative scale within the companies?

If you look at the proposed Bill there are no provisions for inclusion of women in the mining industry however local content is encouraged. My personal belief is that the government and companies need to work with the communities themselves. The incentive in this case shall not be monetary and neither would affirmative action be appropriate because it would push companies to boost figures and achieve targets without looking at the quality of the women recruited and consequently not help them in improving their craft. Companies need to be made aware of the dire consequences of not including and empowering women in the industry and concurrently informed of the social and financial benefits. Most exploration and mining companies have Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs and organs that work with the communities where they operate. This is an opportunity for organizations that work with women at the community level to reach out to the companies and show them how to work.

women_mining_lrg

(Pic courtesy of http://web.worldbank.org/ )

To ensure sustainable growth, governments need to address structural weaknesses and deliberately and vigorously promote economic transformation with depth; this involves inclusive growth. Undoubtedly,the successful integration of women in the extractive industries ensures greater benefits for local communities and creates a more just and equitable society. The integration of women into these historically male-dominated industries is not going to be easy, but when it is done well, it will have a transformative effect on us all.

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