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Women in Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining: Challenges and opportunities for greater participation

Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) has grown significantly with approximately 40.5 million people directly involved, and an additional 150 million dependent on the sector for their livelihood. Though not often acknowledged, the role of women in ASM is significant, as they make up around 30 per cent of the total workforce, and up to 50 per cent in some regions. Although cultural and historical aspects have relegated women’s participation to the periphery, women have always been part of the mining workforce. Women have primarily been involved in crashing, sluicing, washing, panning, sieving, sorting, mercury-gold amalgamation, amalgam decomposition and, in rare occasions, actual mining. Women are also active in the provision of goods (e.g., food and drink vending, sales of artisanal equipment such as sieves, and credit for mobile phones) and services (e.g., transporting dirt, ores, ore particles and water; cleaning; laundry; sex; nightclub entertainment; and trading). However, the cultural and institutional constraints women face have ensured their involvement in the most value-bearing places such as pits and fair markets is practically non-existent. The various challenges women face within this sector have been sporadically highlighted in the literature, and a systematic and in-depth approach to understanding those challenges has been inadequate. With some research limitations, this paper takes a focused approach to understanding the key bottlenecks to women’s full participation with the aim of informing highly sought interventions to address those challenges.

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