Gender-responsive due diligence in artisanal and small-scale mining is a must

At the IGF-AGM forum on mineral supply chains in Geneva in October, Women’s Rights and Mining hosted a well-attended side meeting on the need for gender-responsive due diligence in the mining sector. Solidaridad’s senior policy advisor and gold expert Boukje Theeuwes spoke at this meeting and emphasized the urgency of working together with the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector, and the need to do so in a gender-inclusive way. In this blog, she shares some insights about this challenge and what is needed to tackle it.

Men and women at work in the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector in Ghana. Globally, 30% of ASM miners are female.

Gender Stakeholder Statement in mineral supply chains

Through the collaborative effort of the organizations involved in Women’s Rights and Mining, we work on securing commitments from stakeholders in the mining sector to tackle gender-related concerns. The meeting in Geneva featured the Gender Stakeholder Statement developed by Women’s Rights and Mining in cooperation with the OECD, titled Stakeholder Statement on Implementing Gender-Responsive Due Diligence and ensuring the human rights of women in mineral supply chains. This statement has now been signed and endorsed by various organizations.

The Gender Stakeholder Statement in the spotlight at the Women’s Rights and Mining side meeting during the IGF-AGM forum in Geneva

It is instrumental that public and private actors in the gold and minerals sector engage actively with artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM), and that this is done with consideration for the roles and positions of the millions of women who work in ASM worldwide. After all, only when the rights of women and girls are secured and prioritized, can we talk about making progress towards sustainable and inclusive development.  

Governments, the private sector and civil society organizations hereby all have an essential role to play towards ensuring gender equality in the mining sector, and their efforts are strengthened and amplified in cooperation. For that reason, we urge all the stakeholders involved in this sector to sign and support the Stakeholder Statement through concrete action.

The Stakeholder Statement emphasizes, among others, the urgency for the stakeholders to act on the following:

  • Acknowledge that gender norms and unequal power relations are embedded in state and market institutions, and that they can facilitate or restrain the realization of women’s rights in mining and mineral supply chains;
  • Governments and the private sector in particular need to develop or improve existing gender policies in direct consultation with women. These policies should be supported by dedicated resources, accountability mechanisms, and processes to ensure transparency with stakeholders;
  • Private sector actors need to implement gender-responsive due diligence in mineral supply chains by identifying, assessing, preventing, mitigating and accounting for the ways in which actions may affect men and women differently, both in the workplace and the surrounding communities.

Speaking at the meeting on Gender-Responsive Due Diligence in Mineral Supply Chains organized by Women’s Rights and Mining at the IGF-AGM forum in Geneva

Change requires all stakeholders to commit

It is very encouraging that a large number of stakeholders participating earlier this year in the OECD Forum on Responsible Mineral Supply Chains have indicated support for the Gender Statement and the commitments it outlines. Moreover, a number of organizations have officially endorsed the statement, including the governments of The Netherlands, Canada, Germany, and the UK, as well as various civil society organizations and companies, including Signet Jewelry, Cronimet Central Africa AG, ASM International N.V., Standard Mining Company Ltd, and Hume Atelier. See full list here. 

This supports our hope that the Statement will become a valuable instrument to further the commitment for women’s rights from governments, civil society organizations and companies in the mining sector. We were also encouraged by such full attendance at the AGM-IGF side meeting in Geneva in October, with many representatives from governments present.

Full house at the side meeting in Geneva where the Gender Statement was discussed 

Still a long way to go 

Nevertheless, we have a long way to go. Solidaridad has been working in the ASM gold mining sector for many years, and we have no illusions as to the difficulty of the challenges in ASM gold. This sector suffers from a continuous bad reputation worldwide (as our recent research has also shown), so many governments and companies turn a blind eye on it, preferring the safe route of working with large-scale mines and/or focussing all their efforts on recycled metals only. 

This keeps the current status quo for ASM in place, with the continuing harmful practices occurring in the ASM sector that have severe impact on people and the environment. Millions of ASM gold miners – and women in particular – thus remain in a very vulnerable position, their livelihoods badly affected. 

A young woman at work in the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector

Meanwhile, as the price of gold on the international markets keeps growing (it currently stands at 42,000 euros per kg of gold), we can be certain that the ASM gold sector will continue its existence. This is not a problem that will simply go away on its own whilst governments or companies refuse to engage with the ASM sector. ASM gold miners do not mine because the jewellery industry needs newly mined gold in addition to recycled gold; they mine because the gold is money. Gold mining is their best economic opportunity. 

Change in the ASM sector requires that governments, especially those of the gold and mineral producing countries, and the gold industry players acknowledge their responsibility and act upon it. Only then can we tackle the problems in this sector: through joint efforts towards formalization of ASM and addressing the ongoing harmful practices, among which child labour, mercury use, occupational health and safety, women’s rights, and environmental responsibility. The jewellery sector, in particular, has an important role to play in increasing the investments made in ASM gold.

Our Golden Line photo exhibition on display in the central hall at the IGF-AGM conference space in Geneva in October. This photo exhibition is currently travelling internationally

Successful cooperation with ASM is possible

Our track record in the gold sector has shown that successful cooperation with ASM gold mines and improving the situation for ASM miners, including women miners, is possible. A requirement for success is a pro-active and constructive engagement with ASM miners, by both public and privat
e sector stakeholders.

The Gender Stakeholder Statement indicates that women themselves should be directly involved in the process of improving the practices and working towards better livelihoods. With our Golden Line programme in Tanzania and Ghana, in cooperation with our partners Simavi and Healthy Entrepreneurs, we work together with ASM women gold miners, empowering them to improve their economic situations and livelihoods. 

The special Golden Line photo exhibition, which aims to give these female miners a face and a voice, is currently on an international tour, displayed at international organizations’ quarters in various countries.