Consultancy SRK Consulting says the issues facing women in the downstream mining value chain are often overlooked, despite the focus on women in mining in terms of employment and advancement.
Some of the gender-related issues include the position of women in stakeholder groups such as local communities and suppliers, for example, where mines can still improve their contribution to inclusive development.
SRK principal environment, social and governance consultant Lisl Pullinger explains that this might express itself in the mine’s social engagement processes – where traditional community structures are often male-dominated.
“Being aware of gender dynamics, not only in the workplace but also among important stakeholder groups, will enable mines to raise the bar on managing impacts on women.
“It is important to make more space for women’s voices and input in mine decisions ranging from corporate social investment and procurement, to resettlement and environmental permitting,” she notes.
Pullinger highlights that women in mine-host communities are often impacted differently by the presence of a mining operation. While many women are engaged formally or informally in the mine’s supply chain, their contribution is seldom ‘mainstreamed’ in company policies or even national mining regulations.
“This has led to calls by organisations like the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development for clear standards for stakeholder consultation in licenisng processes, for example,” she avers.
Such clarity would emphasise the need for mines to consult equally with men and women in host communities, Pullinger adds.
This is particularly important in the context of communities dealing with contributing factors to systemic vulnerability such as poverty, illiteracy and women’s lack of access to education.
Mines and their service providers would then have to take more meaningful measures to ensure women fully understand the scope of the project, what is being proposed and the potential consequences.
Equally important, an ongoing and effective gender strategy would allow mines to identify opportunities for interventions.
The ways through which this could be done, says Pullinger, include via the mine’s corporate social investment function – to support community-based initiatives against gender-based violence faced by women in local communities, or making special provision to log grievances in a safe and protected manner, as well as through procurement playing a more active role in empowering women suppliers in the local area.
“The inclusion of more women in the workforce remains an important element of enhancing mines’ positive impact.
“However, employment equity is not about numbers on their own. Women working in mining companies will add value when they participate more fully in daily decision-making,” she asserts.
The insights that women bring can be well-leveraged in improving the mine’s broader impact among stakeholders, helping guide the company’s engagement, recruitment and procurement strategies to best effect.
“Numerous studies have shown that expenditure by women heading poor households has a more positive spin-off in terms of family welfare and education,” Pullinger notes.
“As with any development effort, it is important for the mining sector’s impact on female stakeholders to be assessed regularly. This can be done by integrating gender into the impact assessment process, and reporting gender disaggregated data.”
Gender-sensitive monitoring can help in raising awareness of how the changes that mining brings to a community often affect men and women differently.
Women may not benefit directly from the financial gains of resettlement processes, for instance, if their ownership of certain assets is culturally or legally prescribed.
Simultaneously, certain types of social change associated with mining, such as site-induced migration, may raise the risk of gender-based violence.
“A broader focus on women’s participation in mining can ensure that mining’s impact does not exacerbate gender inequality and discrimination. Rather, it needs to support women in sharing in the benefits and opportunities the sector can offer,” Pullinger concludes.