S. Africa: The extractive industry has not done much to meaningfully expand opportunities for women
‘How mining erodes the rights of women’ 7 October 2021
Margaret Molomo has spent the last decade fighting against mining developments near her home of Mokopane in Limpopo. “Over the past ten years I have witnessed first-hand the harm that non-compliant mining has done to our land and our people. It is primarily women who grow food to sustain their families and who can no longer do so due to soil and water pollution. It is women who must travel further and further to find clean water,” says Molomo. Her experiences have led to her becoming chair of the Mining and Environmental Justice Community Network of South Africa (MEJCON). In rural areas, mining projects pose a great risk to the availability and quality of agricultural land that women need to feed their families and produce surplus for local markets. Mining operations contaminate and degrade the fertility of soil through the release of toxic minerals and heavy metals, poor rehabilitation measures, and deforestation. This causes decreased crop yields.
…Molomo’s experience is supported by research that shows women living close to mines are more likely to experience “heightened insecurity and violence, limited voice in decision making, health risks from pollution, heightened socio-economic vulnerability, increased prostitution and greater exposure to sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV/AIDS.” Research shows that men are more likely to reap any benefits from mining projects through employment, greater income and compensation. Training opportunities are often prioritised for men, while women are generally offered menial and low-paid positions if any. This poor distribution of benefits exacerbates existing gender inequality. One of the objectives of the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act 2002 was to meaningfully expand opportunities for historically disadvantaged people, including women, but the South African extractive industry has not done much to give this effect.
… If government and the mining industry are serious about solving these problems, they can start by encouraging meaningful participation by women during public participation processes… Gender impact assessments for proposed mining projects are essential as a means to ensure both mining companies and government officials consider the impact of a project on women. It makes it easier to improve the effectiveness of a project and to develop strategies that will result in women also benefiting from the existence of mining in their communities. Benefits to women from the mining industry do not necessarily have to come from women being employed in the mining industry itself, if at the pre-feasibility phase of a mining project, sustainable alternative economies that benefit women are taken into account and prioritised.