Alluvial miner on the Watut river
Immaculate Javia* | Earthworks | December 11, 2017
Women around the world have been applauded for breakthroughs in male dominated fronts and for fighting for gender equity. Yet there are others who silently occupy male dominated settings, performing tasks executed by men while also fulfilling their own responsibilities as a woman, as a mother, and as a sister.
Immaculate with a group of miners
In the small-scale mining industry and beyond, women have not been adequately recognized, appreciated and supported for their contribution to economic development as their male counterparts, husbands, sons and brothers. For generations, they have been subjects of abuse, mistreatment, and unfairness, yet they have stood tall in order to make a change in their family circles.
I live in a community where much of the artisanal small-scale gold mining activity in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is concentrated. For the past 7 years, I have trained small scale miners around the country. As the only female professional in this industry, I feel I have a responsibility to represent women miners in PNG, to improve their mining activities and to help address the problems they face.
Women small-scale miners make up 40% of a population of one hundred thousand artisanal small-scale miners in PNG, and 15 million artisanal small-scale miners around the world. Women are a significant portion of the overall workforce and therefore deserve special attention from concerned governments. Even more importantly, female small-scale miners are essential to achieve a more environmentally responsible small-scale mining industry in PNG.
Although under recognized on the national and global fronts for their contributions, women have been important players in a male dominated, male oriented and in a highly controversial industry. These women, many of whom are illiterate, have a special and a very powerful, albeit tiny place of recognition and respect among their male folk.
While small-scale mining supports female miners and the livelihood of many rural communities, the consequences and destruction, often caused by men who have an upper hand, also greatly affect them. Women and children fall victims to:
- Health and Safety Issues – They are exposed to dangerous and hazardous working environments and conditions such as landslides, floods, waterborne diseases, theft and harassments in work places. They are subjected to using contaminated water from large scale mine effluents, lubricants and mercury from small operations, silt and sediment filled rivers and destroyed water. Sources, which gives rise to water borne diseases like diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, skin diseases, and many others.
- HIV/AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Illnesses – Many women fall victims of HIV/AIDS after their husbands contract it. Usually men go into town and cities looking for good markets and end up using money from the gold for illicit activities. Women are always at home fending for their children and often miss out on the benefits of their hard work.
- Environmental Destruction – Many women walk distances to fetch water, collect firewood or make gardens because of environmental destruction. Many lose homes to landslide, floods, or conflicts over land. Clean water sources are impacted and access to services are denied because public infrastructure such as bridges and roads are destroyed. Women have less opportunity and influence when it comes to speaking out against the destruction of water sources or nearby forests.
- Women have limited access to capacity building programs because of their illiteracy rates. There is no tailored training to suit many of these illiterate women miners.
Women endure a great deal of negativity in this sector yet they provide for their families and in the process and generate millions in revenue for the government. It is beyond human comprehension that any sane government would deliberately ignore a very significant and important player of economic development.
We believe that women can transform the artisanal small-scale mining industry into a more responsible and environmentally friendly industry. Through a legal framework to regulate the small-scale artisanal mining sector, women will harness their power and voice to advocate for environmental improvements and to encourage change amongst their male relatives.
It is high time that governments develop specific legal frameworks to give space for women miners to voice the issues affecting them and to be compensated for their tireless contributions to revenue generation from mining activities, often earned at the expenses of their health and families.
* Immaculate Javia, IREX Community Solutions Program Fellow from Papua New Guinea. Immaculate works to train and empower and women small scale miners in her home country. She has spent the last four months working with Earthworks in our Washington D.C. office.