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sharing in governance of extractive industries

Women’s full participation in ASM key to economic development

Previous studies on gender and mining have repeatedly shown that women are often marginalized within the mining industry. From a generic point of view, the whole mining sector remains very masculine due to various reasons including; cultural; social and economic barriers. Artisanal Small Scale Mining (ASM) is definitely not exempted and strongly shows the same trends as well.

The mining industry is one of the sectors that have contributed to Zimbabwe’s economic resilience and could possibly stimulate economic growth out of the doldrums the nation has found itself in for the past 20 years. It has contributed towards creation of employment, social development and the generation of much needed foreign exchange earnings. Zimbabwe’s economic blueprint, the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio- Economic Transformation (ZIMASSET) 2013-2018 aptly noted that the sector would anchor Zimbabwe’s economic recovery. The Artisanal & Small scale Gold Mining (ASGM) sector has also been an important part of the mining sector’s national economic contribution. More than 30% of the country’s total gold output is contributed by artisanal miners and this is not counting the gold lost to leakages. In addition, the sector is a significant employer as it is estimated to employ over 500 000 people directly. However, the sector is male dominated and there is need to encourage women to fully participate in it to empower themselves and for socio-economic development. James Wilkins (1995), noted that women are naturally more responsible than men and thereby contribute more to development if given opportunities.
There are a number of factors that have led to a few women participating in the ASM sector, as highlighted above, but there is a geospatial variance from a global to a village perspective. Zimbabwe like most countries witnesses men and women performing different roles within social and economic spheres. In the diverse business and community settings, both women and men normally take up different responsibilities and have often unequal statuses. The Pact ASM scoping study report (2014) has shown that, women have less ownership over physical and financial assets, reduced decision-making authority and fewer educational and economic opportunities in mining than men. The Pact study found that about 11 percent of people in ASGM are women, women are poorly paid and marginalized by men because of common societal beliefs that women cannot perform certain roles in mining.

Artisanal mining communities around the world are diverse, dynamic and distinct; they vary from culture to culture, region to region and mine to mine, and change over the course of time. The women within these communities are also heterogeneous and unique. However, they tend to be engaged in specific non-mechanized roles throughout the world. Typically, they are laborers for example panners, ore carriers and processors, providers of goods and services such as cooks, shopkeepers and are often solely responsible for domestic chores. Women’s responsibilities in mineral processing activities range from crushing, grinding, sieving, washing and panning, to amalgamation and amalgam decomposition in gold mining.
It has been observed that roles between men and women are differentiated by different cultural beliefs on gender and this is noted in some parts of Zimbabwe's mining towns. Key amongst the cultural barriers ob-served is that, women are not permitted to go underground as it is believed that they make the
gold bearing ‘belt’ truncate mysteriously linked to the fact that they undergo menstrual cycles. This has resulted in most of the women only assisting men in mines through performing on-surface duties such as hand milling of ore, cooking for the men and also selling the few points of gold they get through hand milling.

Most of the mining work in ASGM is dangerous and most of the men express their unwillingness to allow women to practice mining irrespective of how much women are willing to participate in the sector. There are strongly held perceptions that women who join mining have pressure to engage in extra-marital affairs as the sector is dominated by men. Most men are said to be travelling as far as 500 kilometers in search of gold claims to work on. They often leave their wives and children for extended periods and this often results in the men having extra-marital affairs and causing conflicts within marriages. There is need to fully support women within the artisanal and small scale mining sector and coming up with policies that support their participation. 

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