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SarWatch Writer
Celebrating International Women’s Day 2020: Changing the gender face of the extractive industries

Twenty-five years after the Beijing Declaration, we look back and reflect on progress made towards advancing the goals of equality, development and peace for all women, particularly those in the extractive sector in Southern Africa.

The UN International Women’s Day 2020 theme is” I am Generation Equity: Realizing Women’s Rights”. In her statement for International Women’s Day (8 March), UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka highlights 2020 as the year for gender equality and calls on everyone to tackle the persistent barriers against gender equality. [1] One sector of the economy where efforts are needed is the extractive industries.

Mining is a key economic sector for most SADC countries. It is also one of the biggest employers and potentially a major contributor to economic growth and development. SADC has positioned mining as a key sector for the achievement of national and regional goals such as industrialisation. SADC is committed to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and, at continental level, to the AU Agenda 2063. SDG goal five focusses on achieving gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls in all sectors, including the extractive industries. However, achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment is integral into each of the 17 goals.

At the regional level, SADC has adopted the SADC gender protocol. The extractive industry is a sector where women suffer particular exclusion and marginalisation. The analysis of the extractive industries does not take account of the fact that African societies are themselves unequal, and that access to material benefits is dictated by internal divisions defined by power relations. While the gender dimension has become an important variable in almost all sectors, it has not been critically looked at in the extractive industries. The sector has not significantly transformed. There are still myths around mining and women, and the appreciation of men and women in the mining sector differs greatly. This difference affects the jobs and responsibility women are expected to hold in a mining company, reinforcing employment segregation by gender. When visiting a mining company, the impression one gets is that women are concentrated in low-productivity jobs — administration, catering, and cleaning. These are underpaid sectors. Even when women rise to positions of power in the mining company, they are not paid the same as their male counterparts.

SARW, like many other organizations, recognizes the persistence of structural gender inequality in the extractive industries, which continues to undermine women’s rights and the development potential of the sector. Women face systemic discrimination at all stages of extractive projects and throughout the extractive industries value chain. Gender-indifferent policies and practices in community consultation and decision-making processes result in the systematic exclusion of women and the failure to consider women’s views, intentions and interests in relation to extractive projects. Gender equity implies a push for women to be afforded equal chances to men in the sector at all levels. SARW believes that women should be deliberately supported to become equal partners in positioning the extractive industries as an engine for development that is inclusive, in which men and women are both winners. The problem of women’s discrimination and exclusion is not just affecting the industrial sector, but is also present in the the artisanal sector, where the presence of women in mining sites is prohibited for cultural reasons. The belief is that women’s presence brings bad luck, which makes the minerals disappear or decreases their grade. Efforts must also focus on transforming artisanal mining to ensure equal opportunities for women and men and free the sector from discrimination against women.

As an organization, SARW is concerned by the widespread injustice and violence against women in both large and small mining operations across the region. It is imperative that governments and corporates put in place concrete plans to afford women the chance to equally contribute to the sector and to national economic development.

SARW, in its work to promote social and economic justice and rights for all, has put a special emphasis on its strategy for the promotion of women’s rights in the extractive sector. The organisation has supported various initiatives in the region aimed at promoting gender equality through the empowerment of women in the sector. These include legal and human rights training for women, helping them to organise themselves into groups where they can together reflect and engage with other stakeholders for their active participation in the governance of the sector.

In line with this year’s UN theme, SARW is co-hosting with Advancing Rights in Southern Africa (Arisa) a workshop on Women’s Rights and Natural Resource Management in Southern Africa from 25-26 March 2020. The goal of this workshop is to develop evidence-based advocacy and litigation interventions in the region that advance and champion economic inclusion in the management of land and mineral rights for women, both at the regional and country levels.

SARW this month will also be launching a study that looks at the state of women’s participation in the mining sector in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The study is aimed at providing statistics of women in the industrial mining sector to influence policies and laws fostering gender equality in the sector.

SARW promotes a gender-balanced natural resources sector. It will continue to work for this and champion efforts aimed at promoting women’s rights in the extractive sector. Gender equality is sought in all spheres of life, so that women can, together and on an equal footing with men, define and develop the policies, structures and decisions that affect the management of the extractive industries.

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