McGill Research Group Investigating
Canadian Mining in Latin America


Annotated Bibliography >

by Tesia Wood

Gendered Dynamics of Mining

An Overview



Women constitute 70% of the world’s poor (MacDonald 2002, 5); as a universally marginalized population, women remain highly vulnerable to the risks associated with unsustainable development projects. Within the Extractive Industry (EI), neither the potential benefits nor the risks of operational projects are gender-neutral. Foreign-owned mining projects impact female and male community members in distinct ways; however, women are disproportionately subject to gender inequalities and economic marginalization. Male biases in the extractive industry have been well documented in reviews conducted by international NGOs, financial institutions, and through female networks and conference initiatives. Moreover, the ability of women to access equal opportunities of employment and participate in development planning is constituted within international labour and human rights law. However, it has only been within the past decade that the unequal impacts of mining have been recognized within the Extractive Industry.

This paper explores the gender-specific implications of large-scale mining projects by examining both the direct and indirect consequences that affect women within the context of a male-biased industry. It has been suggested that a human rights based approach is an effective method for addressing the inequitable distribution of benefits within the mining industry; accordingly, this review will begin with a critical overview of the international rights of women. These rights will then be juxtaposed with the current challenges facing the EI and female ‘stakeholders’, as identified by international financial institutions, internal industry reviews, civil society, and women affected by the mining industry. These issues will be presented under two headings to differentiate between in-industry gender discrimination, and the external implications mining projects can have on female community members. First, the unequal distribution of mining benefits will be discussed in relation to barriers to employment, lack of female-orientated facilities and services, and the masculine culture of mining; second, the gender-specific risks that accompany a project’s existence within a community will be assessed. Indigenous women’s high vulnerability to the negative impacts of EI projects will also be discussed in this section. To assess the degree of progress made in addressing these gender biases, the discussion will then turn to an examination of mandates and policies from international industry bodies relating to women in mining. Finally, the ground initiatives organized by the local women impacted by mining operations will be presented to highlight women as the driving forces behind demands for equitable change.


Women’s Rights as Human Rights


The equal extension of human rights to men and women is one of the fundamental principles on which the United Nations (UN) is based.[1] In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) – the 1948 UN Declaration that constitutes the basis of modern human rights law – the “equal rights of men and women” is directly acknowledged within the preamble (UDHR 1948). The equity of gender is further codified in the UN’s 1993 Vienna Declaration and Program for Action, where articles 36-44 address the need for the UN and its governing bodies to prioritize the “full and equal enjoyment of human rights by all women” (Vienna Declaration 1993, Article 36). In Resolution 34/80, the UN’s General Assembly codified the international legal standard for women’s rights with the adoption of the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). As of 2012, the CEDAW, or the ‘International Bill of Rights of Women’, has been ratified or acceded by 187 of the 193 UN member parties.[2] All the Central and South American parties have either ratified or acceded the Convention, and are therefore legally bound to the implement its provisions (eg. the elimination of discrimination in the field of employment) into national jurisdiction.[3] The right to equal remuneration for female workers is also protected within the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) 1951 Convention 100 – an agreement from which only 15 of the 193 ILO member countries have abstained.[4] As well as having women’s rights to employment affirmed by international rights law, the vital role women have in promoting sustainable development is also recognized on an international level.

In 1992, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development enacted 27 principles to guide future sustainable development policies. Principle 20 acknowledges the role of women in environmental management and proclaims, “their full participation is […] essential to achieve sustainable development” (Rio Declaration 1992). Further, both the 1995 Beijing Declaration,[5] and the UN’s Millennium Declaration of 2000 include articles that predicate successful development policies on gender equality (Article 36, and Article 20, respectively). It is evident, therefore, that the rights of women (as fundamental extensions of human rights) are protected within the many governing bodies of the United Nations. However, as MacDonald expounds, despite the existence of international instruments that aim to remove barriers to women’s rights, “women continue to suffer persistent and systematic human rights abuses” (2002, 4). While national governance has traditionally assumed responsibility for protecting human rights, MacDonald explains that transnational corporations now “have unprecedented influence over patterns of economic activity”, and thus, the ability to either promote or undermine human rights has largely shifted to the private sector (ibid, 5). The ILO estimated in 2004 that 80-100 million persons worldwide depend directly or indirectly on the EI for subsistence (RIMM 2005, 9). The extent to which women within these mining communities can access their rights is therefore, heavily reliant on mining companies’ commitment to equitable development.


In-industry Gender Dynamics

Exclusion from Benefits


The large inflows of capital associated with EI projects are often assumed to parallel a degree of economic and social development within mining-affected communities. However, the benefits accrued from mining projects, namely the creation of formal sector employment and access to higher incomes, are discriminately directed towards males. A report issued by the World Bank on gender equity and mining noted that the “evidence increasingly demonstrates that in general women are more vulnerable to the risks, with little access to the benefits” (Eftime et al 2009a, 3). Further, in his review of the EI, Salim concluded that the failures of the industry to adequately address female perspectives, has led to “increased inequality and undermined the rights, roles and responsibilities of women in their communities” (Salim 2003, 42). It is estimated that worldwide, female employment in the EI rarely exceeds 10%, while female unemployment rates in mining communities have been surveyed as high as 87% (Eftime et al 2009a, 9-10). Hence, female exclusion from the mining cycle, and their ensuing economic vulnerability, is a primary consequence of EI activity. In their report on the gendered impacts of the EI in Peru, Ward and Strongman found that consultation procedures failed to take proportionate gender samples, and instead, based findings off of income levels and geographic locales (2011, 37). This is representative of the significant data gap relating to gender inequity; Salim asserts, “virtually no gender analysis is publicly available about employment or impacts of projects on women and children” (2003, 17). The barriers to female participation in formal sector mining[6] are therefore, largely a result of the uninformed assumptions that project benefits automatically extend to women. In reality, however, local women are not only largely excluded from EI employment, but where opportunities do exist, the male-biased working conditions are significantly impeding.

The inherent masculinity, and ‘male culture’ present within the mining industry is a principle obstacle for the successful implementation of a female workforce. The World Bank report on gender equity identified several common conditions that elucidate inhibiting working conditions for female labourers: [1] there usually exists a wage discrepancy between men and women for work of the same value; [2] there are few provisions for maternity leave, and women are at risk of losing their jobs if they become pregnant; [3] there are many recorded (and countless undocumented) cases of sexual harassment within mines that accompany little to no regulation, or formal complaint procedures; and [4], physical environments that cater to women’s needs, such as separate bathrooms and uniforms appropriate for female bodies, are often non-existent (Eftime et al 2009a, 13-14). Mines, Minerals, and People note too, that the lack of child care services often require mothers to either leave children unattended, or bring them on-site, consequently risking their exposure to dust and toxins (MMP 2003). Furthermore, women are likely to be disproportionately subject to retrenchment (Eftime et al 2009a); this is often the case when mechanisation of mining operations follows the privatization of a project, and employment opportunities are reduced (MMP 2003). It is evident therefore, that the intrinsic male orientation of the mining industry tends to exclude women from accessing opportunities of employment, and consequently, increases women’s risk of economic and social marginalization.


Project Externalities and Gender Impacts

Increased Risks


The entrance of a foreign-owned mining project into a community often fosters the transition of land based subsistence economies into mining-dependent cash economies. The disruption of the pre-existing socio-political systems can have numerous, yet often ‘invisible’ impacts on women in the respective communities. MacDonald asserts that, where grievances exist for women in mining, they generally reflect a denial of basic human rights (MacDonald in RIMM 2004,14). Some identified indirect risks of mining include: increases in HIV/AIDS,[7] alcoholism, and gambling (often a product of men spending wages on newly available luxury items), poverty forcing women into the informal economies, and women carrying the greatest burden of domestic chores when migration diminishes their social support networks (Eftime et al 2009a; Salim 2003). Moreover, according to the Conference Statement from the III International Women in Mining Conference, the depletion of natural resources following mining operations (including the loss of forests, contaminated water sources, and exploited land) has resulted in the destruction of traditional land-based livelihoods (RIMM 2004). Consequently, women can suffer reductions in socio-economic status’ that were formerly dependent on their ability to acquire wealth through the natural environment (MacDonald 2002, 6). As these losses are rarely remunerated by opportunities within the EI, women in mining-affected communities remain at a high risk of economic dependence or impoverishment.

The specific implications, which EI operations can have on the livelihoods of indigenous women, is an area that deserves increased attention. Indigenous women have been named one of the poorest and most disadvantaged groups of women, as their gender and ethnicity create “multiple barriers to their empowerment” (Beijing Declaration 1995, 32). The International Network of Women in Mining (RIMM) asserts that the EI frequently disrespects both the customary laws, and the international rights laws that guarantee indigenous peoples right to FPIC[8] and control over lands and livelihoods (RIMM 2004). Similarly, Salim stresses the importance of consultation plans and FPIC processes being explicitly directed at women to avoid gender-based human rights abuses (Salim 2003). Environmental degradation, landlessness, and forced migration not only threaten the continuity of indigenous social systems and traditional livelihoods, they also risk the loss of the environmental management skills protected and utilized by indigenous women. Although documents like the 1995 Beijing Declaration, 1992 Rio Declaration, and the 2003 Extractive Industry Review acknowledge both, impacts environmental degradation can have on indigenous women, and the value of local knowledge in sustainability initiatives, relevant legal policies are rarely adopted in practice. It is not surprising therefore, that in the Conference Statement of the III International Women in Mining Conference it was concluded that, “mining has and continues to have a disproportionate and destructive impact on indigenous women” (RIMM 2004, 128).


Industry Responses

International bodies responsible for regulating the Extractive Industry have only recently begun to acknowledge the role mining operations can have in exacerbating gender inequalities. In 2009, the International Council on Mining and Minerals (ICMM) released the ‘Good Practice Guide on Indigenous Peoples and Mining’, a tool to aid companies in the effective engagement of indigenous communities throughout the various phases of the mining cycle. The importance of identifying the female-specific impacts of mining projects is briefly addressed in section, the ‘gender impact analysis’. ICMM encourages its members to conduct a gender analysis by using sex-disaggregated data to identify potential risks the EI project may bring to female community members (ICMM 2009, 51). Although section is a highly relevant component to the guide, it constitutes less than 1 page within the 120-page document; further, it includes only rough guidelines for analyzing gender impacts, without providing a concrete instruction manual on how to implement gender-appropriate policies. In the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s (PDAC) ‘Framework for Responsible Exploration: e3 Plus’ there are no instruments included to specifically address the needs of women in mining communities. Although women are marginally acknowledged throughout the social responsibility toolkit as members of ‘vulnerable groups’, there are no policies required by PDAC members to ensure the rights of women are protected on site. In fact, the only mention of gender issues and women in the e3 Plus ‘Principles and Guidance’ is within the glossary, as part of the definition of ‘Marginalized, Disadvantaged, or Vulnerable groups’ (PDAC).

Some mining companies, as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies, have begun to independently implement programs to increase women’s participation in mining.[9] However, as companies are not held legally accountable for ensuring their social responsibility policies are implemented in practice, there is considerable debate as to the effectiveness of CSR initiatives. As one participant at the III International Women and Mining Conference stated in relation to CSR, “throwing in a gender component to project documents as a flavouring […] is not our definition of gender participation, gender justice or gender development” (RIMM 2004, 12). The persistence of gender inequalities in mining-affected communities therefore indicates the need for an industry-wide commitment to ensure uniform corporate compliance with international women’s rights.


Female Miners

Demands and Initiatives


Where there is a disjuncture between CSR policy and on-site practice, women in affected communities are increasingly vocalizing their demands for change. Women have begun to organize themselves into national, regional,[10] and international networks to insist on compensation, make visible the rights abuses they experience from mining operations, and actively protest mining activities.[11] The International Women and Mining Network (RIMM), an initiative that grew out of a conference in 1997, has since become a platform through which women from mining-affected countries around the world can share their experiences and demand adherence to international women’s rights. The latest RIMM conference (the III International Women & Mining Conference), held for 8 days in India in 2004, included addresses from keynote speakers, country presentations, and allowed for women in mining to engage with NGOs and human rights activists. The ensuing Conference Statement and Declaration explicitly speak to the inadequacies of the international community to address the gender discrimination experienced by women affected by the EI (RIMM 2004). Although the grassroots organization of women continues to grow as EI operations increase, there still remains an incontrovertible power imbalance between the transnational mining corporations and the local women. Until legal instruments are implemented to ensure corporate accountability, it is likely that women in mining will continue “to pay the highest price of human degradation for the extraction and enjoyment of minerals and metals by the world” (RIMM 2004, 124).




Extractive Industry operations differentially impact male and female community members. The international failure to recognize these gender-specific risks has resulted in the benefits of development initiatives being overwhelmingly directed towards men. Despite the recognition of women’s right to gender equality within international human rights law – particularly in regards to employment opportunities and their contribution to sustainable development – women in mining affected communities face consistent barriers to accessing these rights. Heavy male biases inherent in the mining industry perpetuate female vulnerability to both the proximate and distal risk factors that accompany projects. When traditional social structures are disrupted by EI activities, pre-existing female power roles are frequently lost or undermined; furthermore, the limited employment opportunities available to compensate for the disintegration of their traditional livelihoods place women at increased risk of economic and social marginalization. The political, social, and environmental changes that follow the creation of a mine, therefore, frequently result in the unequal distribution of benefits and the disproportionate sharing of risks among women.

Women impacted by mines are not, however, passive agents to patriarchy, and are increasingly creating international networks and initiatives to gain leverage in their demands for gender equity. While the mobilization of local women is raising global awareness of the gender-discrimination within the industry, appropriate policies to mitigate the risks have yet to be formally adopted by EI governing bodies. It is evident, therefore, that unless the male bias of the EI is addressed through legal, versus voluntary policy, the detrimental impacts of EI will continue to be accentuated for women across mining communities.






[1] Article 1 of the United Nations’ Charter encourages respect of the “fundamental freedoms for all without discrimination as to race, sex, language, or religion”

[2] The United States of America is the only industrialized nation that has signed, but not formally ratified the CEDAW their constitution (CEDAW, States Parties)

[3] Article 11 (1) of the CEDAW includes 6 provisions outlining the rights women have to equal employment opportunities

[4] All Central and South American member states have ratified ILO C.100; the United States of America has never ratified the Convention

[5] The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women that was held in Beijing addressing universal challenges to women’s empowerment. The outcome was the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action

[6] Although the focus of this paper is formal sector mining projects – because they constitute the majority of Canadian-owned mining operations in Latin America – it should be noted that women are heavily involved in small-scale artisanal mining (ASM). The conditions in ASM are usually unregulated, dangerous, and have many associated health risks for the women and girl miners. See: ILO 2007; World Bank 2009; RIMM 2004; MMP 2003

[7] See Colchester, Rose, and James 2002, for the health impacts mining has on Amerindian women in Guyana

[8] FPIC stands for Free, Prior and Informed Consent. It is a right recognized within the United Nation’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, however, it is not a legally required by any international governing bodies of the EI

[9] See Rio Tinto’s Why Gender Matters Guide, 2009

[10] For a regional network of women affected by mining in Latin America, see: Union Latinoamericana de Mujeres por el Derecho a Defender Nuestros Derechos (ULAM 2010)

[11] See: Rondon 2008