Gender and Extractives

1. Why integrate gender into governance and management of the extractives sector?

Over the past decade, research and analysis of the extractives sector has shown that women and men experience and interact with the extractives sector differently. Evidence shows that without adequately addressing gender equality, the full gains of the extractives sector will not be realised (see J. Scott, R. Dakin, K. Heller, A. Eftimie, Extracting lessons on gender in the oil and gas sector). For example, including women in consultation and decision making helps to avoid community hostility towards extractive operations. Also, women tend to make different spending choices and may have different development priorities to men. Where women are involved in spending, both through community compensation and income earned through the sector, it is more likely to benefit the family and community. Where women are employed in extractive processes, there may even be preferred to men as they are perceived to be more careful with machinery. Higher levels of gender diversity in the work place can drive productivity and innovation (see IFC, Investing in Women´s Employment: Good for Business, Good for Development). Globally, there is also strong momentum for interventions focused on gender equality. Goal 5 of the United Nations Agenda 2030 commites signatory governments to 'achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls'. 

Despite this strong case for the involvement of women in the extractives sector, women are still less likely than men to access benefits from the sector. Gender inequalities reduce the social benefits from the extractives sector and can worsen systematic, widespread and long-term patterns of economic and political exclusion, exploitation and human rights abuses. Typically, the negative impacts of the extractives sector activities are disproportionately borne by women.

There is therefore a need to ensure that both men and women have equitable access to the benefits of resources. Pursuing gender equality can contribute to broader development goals and help realise women’s economic and political empowerment. Policy makers have an important role to play in addressing gender issues in the extractives sector. The issue of gender equality within the extractives sector has received more attention in recent years, with a stronger knowledge and evidence base to work from. However more work needs to be done to address systemic issues of inequality within the sector.

Barriers to the involvement of women in the extractives sector

Women’s formal participation in large mining operations is generally low and many formal jobs tend to be taken by men. There are several reasons why women are not better represented in the extractives sector. In mining, there are also different levels of representation and barriers depending on the scale of mining operations – large-scale and artisanal mining operations present different challenges for women.

A key barrier is the lack of sanitation and changing facilities for women at mine sites, whether in artisanal or in formal mining. Stereotypes of appropriate employment and socio-cultural constraints also play a part in the low levels of representation of women in formal mining operations. Additionally, women are often unable to apply for formal jobs as they do not have the levels of education required and often end up in administrative positions or in corporate social responsibility (CSR) roles. Lack of childcare, changing facilities and appropriate personal protective equipment can also make it hard for women to participate fully. Additionally, women typically take on most of the unpaid care work within the family and as a result can become overburdened. This norm extends to girls, and in instances of child labour, girls often carry out unpaid chores in addition to income generating activities and education.

Outside their employment in large mining operations, women are estimated to account for at least a third of miners in the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector. In some countries, such as Guinea, their involvement in the sector exceeds that of men. As a sector, ASM is an area of work which poses unique health and safety risks for women (see, A. Eftimie, K. Heller, J. Strongman, Gender Dimensions of the Extractive Industries: Mining for Equity). Women’s roles within ASM tend to be the most vulnerable or precarious tasks and their participation is often greater where the value of the commodity is lower. Women’s work in ASM is often linked to its status as informal family work and so their role as a mineworker is not recognised and ‘invisible’.

Whilst efforts to formalise the ASM sector can overcome some of the health, safety and environmental risks, and generate revenue for the government, evidence shows that formalising ASM can displace women, crowding them out of income generating opportunities. As the work becomes more professionalised and mechanised, it becomes increasingly seen as men’s work, with men taking on the formal roles. Child labour in ASM is also a widespread problem and girls are increasingly taking on more hazardous roles within ASM (see ILO, Girls in Mining: Research Findings from Ghana, Niger, Peru and United Republic of Tanzania). The perception of ASM being boys' work rather than girls' distorts programmes designed to combat child labour, so girls are overlooked, despite evidence that girls are more subject to control by male relatives than boys and often end up working longer hours from an earlier age.

Opportunities exist for women as service providers to extractive industry operations. In the oil sector it estimated for every one direct job created, four more are created. However factors like early marriage and the perceived opportunity cost of sending girls to school can mean women and girls have lower levels of education and are less able to develop the human capital needed to take on roles or start businesses as service providers. Similarly, women often have less access to information and financing, which can make it harder for them to benefit from these opportunities. Whilst women may often work on family or communal land, they do not always formally own it, which constrains their ability to access finance.

For further information on ASM, consult our ASM topic overview.