Women bear the brunt of extractive sector misgovernance

By Byron Mutingwende

Watching the “Marange Voices” documentary on diamond mining in Manicaland Province in Zimbabwe, delegates attending the summer school on extractive sector governance organised by the African Forum and Network on Debt and Development in Namibia recently were left convinced that the effects of mining done improperly has a toll on women and children.

“When the idea of mining was introduced to us we were very happy. We did not know it would bring challenges like water pollution, child abuse, dust pollution and early marriages. Mining increased poverty in our communities. Our lifestyle was better before the mining companies came because it’s now even worse,” said Maruwa Rosemary Jena from the Save/Odzi Community Development Trust said.

According to the documentary, in 2006 a diamond rush began in Zimbabwe. It was the world biggest diamond find in over a century. In that year, someone picked up a rock on the ground while he was just walking around.

“We would get diamonds from the people and give them bread. When we saw how lucrative these diamonds were, informal mining was banned. Police came in and people were chased away. Seven companied mined under the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation.”

Local communities are reeling from the negative environmental, social and cultural impact. There is serious water pollution along the Save and Odzi rivers. There is also a problem of siltation. Mining was carried out without environmental impact assessment. The EIAs were done without consulting local communities. According to Shamiso Mutisi from the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association, diamond mining was politicized and became a sensitive issue.

There were hurdles in ensuring that diamond mining companies complied with environmental obligation. The companies were ignoring the need to curb the pollution of Save and Odzi rivers. The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) lacked adequate equipment to ensure compliance by mining companies.

In her presentation at the summer school, Dr. Elizabeth Lwanda Rutsate, an accomplished lawyer and gender expert said the African Mining Vision (AMV) document makes a high-level commitment to inclusivity by promoting gender justice and women’s rights, notably through the integration of gender equity in mining policies, laws and regulations, and the development of regional and continental gender charters for the extractive sector.

“The AMV encourages support for women in artisanal and small-scale mining as part of formalisation and integration in rural development and poverty reduction strategies. It also advocates the mainstreaming of the Strategic Environmental Assessments and Social Assessments (SESAs), Health Impact Assessments (HIAs) and Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIAs) in national laws, policies and regulations, and calls for these processes to be mandatory for all mining project approvals. Governments are asked to develop a sustainable environmental, health and safety plan to reduce or eliminate the adverse effects of ASM,” Rutsate said.

The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association said there is need for efforts to strengthen the capacity of civil society to undertake collective actions in advocating for legal, policy and administrative reforms in the diamond mining sector.

Rosemary Jena and Mavis Karenyi who come from Hot Springs, one of the area most affected by water pollution as a result of diamond mining said they set up the Save/Odzi Community Development Trust to try and deal with the challenges faced by community members, especially women and children.

“We sought for help to sink boreholes in the area so we could have clean water. The issue of water pollution has caused a lot of problems. We used to have a lot of cattle around here. We used to milk our cattle. Nowadays pregnant cows are just dying. There is a massive discharge of chemicals and other matter into water bodies that is causing serious pollution. There is potential of cancer to develop in the long run,” Jena said.

Women from the diamond mining areas are experiencing major health problems that need to be examined. Children in the area are suffering from various skin conditions. It started with the water they were washing with that had been polluted by the mining companies.

Rutsate said research has shown that sustainable development is impossible without women’s empowerment and gender equality.

“The UN Women in 2014 rightly outlined that to create a just and sustainable world and to enhance women’s roles in sustaining their families and communities, achieving gender equality is paramount. If gender equality is not maintained, it will retard the country’s development. As such “an increasing number of studies indicate that gender inequalities are extracting high economic costs and leading to social inequities and environmental degradation around the world,” Rutsate said.

The gender champion added that there are several potential barriers to women’s effective participation in the extractive industries.

“Vertically, women are virtually absent from management positions and predominate in the secretarial and clerical positions. Horizontally, women tend to be concentrated in the human resource, rather than in the policy and planning divisions of extractive industries institutions.”

She cited several reasons why women may be inhibited from entering the extractive industries sector. Rutsate said access-related barriers often relate to gender stereotypes concerning particular professions. She also highlighted that “socialization from childhood that occupations such as engineering, plant managers and machine operators in extractive industries are masculine and should be occupied by men with the physical stature to operate or supervise men using the heavy machineries” were to blame.

Due to women’s historical lower literacy levels and the feminization of poverty, most women lack capacity to engage with the complex regulatory steps needed for one to acquire a mining licence and/or the financial capital to fund a new mining project despite having the technical skills.

Since women have multiple gender roles to play including most of the unpaid care work within the family this has had the result that even where they might be highly qualified, most women would rather opt for lower positions within the extractive industries sector which give them more “free time” to multi-task in a manner that lessens their burden.

The lack of childcare, changing facilities and appropriate personal protective equipment at the workplace can also make it hard for women to participate fully in the extractive industries sector and so does the minimalist or non existent policies on maternity.