Women make up between 40 to 50 percent of the artisanal mining workforce in Africa compared to a world average of 30 percent, says Southern Voices Network Scholar Maame Esi Eshun in an interview with Wilson Center NOW. But despite the number of women in the sector, they are often relegated to the periphery when it comes to decision-making and leadership, undermining peacebuilding efforts in these areas.
As conflict in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo ravages the environment, agriculture is being replaced by informal mining as a livelihood for many. Women are as much as part of this trend as men (in fact there are more women farmers than men in many regions of Africa). In the mining areas, they take on a variety of roles, from panning, sieving, and digging, to providing sex services for trade.
Eshun says that because they represent so much of the workforce, women have an intimate understanding of the mineral supply chain and problems therein, such as health and safety concerns.
To better integrate the role of women artisanal miners into peacebuilding initiatives, she recommends governments legitimize artisanal mining, making it easier to ensure equal rights to land and resources for women and promote safer and more environmentally sound mining practices.