Gold Mining in a Pandemic: Gender, Livelihoods and Building Back Better

Buss, Doris E. | $40,929

Ontario Carleton University 2021 SSHRC

This study examines how women’s livelihoods in the informal gold mining sector are impacted by the COVID‑19 pandemic, and the strategies women use to balance their mining livelihoods with increased childcare and domestic responsibilities. Informal gold mining, often referred to as artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM), is a growing economic sector in the global South, providing livelihoods for hundreds of millions of women and men. ASGM has been described as a ‘safety net’ economy for sub-Saharan Africa, with more people turning to this type of mining as other livelihood options, such as agriculture, decrease because of climate change, global trade, and reduced access to land. The importance of ASGM is increasing with the pandemic as the price of gold surges and income-earning possibilities contract.

Women work in ASGM in significant numbers, often processing the gold that male miners extract. But with school closures and decreasing access to food during the pandemic, women are combining their mining work with increased childcare and domestic responsibilities, placing further pressure on them to absorb the shocks of the pandemic. ASGM thus offers a uniquely important context to examine the gendered impacts of the pandemic on livelihoods in the region.

ASGM is also a site of significant transnational policy efforts to strengthen mining regulation for improved development outcomes. These initiatives seek to make mining ‘free from’: human rights abuses, child labour, mercury, armed conflict, and exploitation. Including gender in mining policy has become a more recent addition to these ‘responsible mining’ initiatives. In this dynamic policy context, ASGM also offers a vantage from which to examine how calls to include gender in pandemic recovery interact with calls to include women and gender equality in transnational mining governance initiatives.

This project will gather research on three gender dynamics through which the pandemic effects are likely to be particularly pronounced and which are often included in various standards defining ‘responsible mining’: child labour; environmental pollution; and women’s economic empowerment. Research will be undertaken in a gold mining site in each of Kenya, Sierra Leone and Mozambique.

The results from this study will help expand understanding of the gendered promises and limits of global policy interventions in the name of ‘responsible mining’ and ‘building back better’. Research will also take place in transnational policy forums on mining and on pandemic recovery, to examine how women’s domestic and caring roles are defined and included within post-pandemic policy developments, including on resource extraction.

Team members come from universities in Canada, Kenya, Mozambique and Sierra Leone, and have collaborated on multiple research projects on gender, ASGM, and global policy. Students in all countries will be involved throughout the project as researchers and as project assistants, gaining opportunities to enhance their research methodological knowledge, fieldwork experience, project management skills, and in knowledge mobilization for diverse audiences.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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