By Alice Pearce (PMRC Senior Researcher)

In Zambia, the mining sector is the largest contributor to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and one of the major employing sectors. However, the sector only accounts for about 7.8% of women against 92.2% of men; this is according to Zambia’s 2020 Labour Force Survey. Despite the considerable environmental and economic benefits of inclusive participation of women in the sector, such as income generation and participation in the management of natural resources, many women continue to be exploited either informally or in its auxiliary sectors with impediments for women to penetrate. Factors such as education and stereotyping of women have been identified as major gender barriers. In other similar fields, low women’s participation is evidenced in the construction and energy sectors.

The emergence of organised Artisanal Small-Scale Mining (ASM) poses an opportunity for better participation of women in the mining industry. However, they tend to earn only one-quarter of what men earn in the ASM sector. In addition, women do not enjoy the same opportunities around access to, control over and benefits from artisanal mining in their communities.

A myriad of challenges negatively impacts women, such as inadequate technical skills, the cost of obtaining mining rights and related fees, limited access to financing, exploitative pricing of minerals as well as negative cultural norms and beliefs. These challenges are mutually reinforcing in nature in that various factors converge to impact women differently depending on their socio-economic status. For instance, women with inadequate access to financing are unable to meet the costs attached to obtaining mining rights which also makes their mining activities vulnerable as they operate outside the legal framework where formalisation strategies have little impact on their productivity. Similarly, they are less likely to have greater negotiating powers over their minerals, thus, limiting their potential to expand and reap the benefits of the sector. Inadequate technical skills and lack of access to geological information is also a major barrier for women to penetrate the sector and improve their financial capacity since geological information is crucial in developing bankable business proposals that can be avenues for funding. This calls for policies that promote women’s economic empowerment and inclusion.

The ASM subsector has the potential to drive economic growth, alleviate poverty, and contribute to development. As a new focus is being placed on income-generating opportunities, women can be involved in the various stages of the mineral value chain. The sector presents an opportunity for locals to own their minerals and engage in mining activities since ASM rights are reserved for local citizens as espoused in the Mines and Minerals Act of 1995. However, many of these activities remain undocumented and underdeveloped. Therefore, there is a need to map formalisation strategies. Similarly, there is a need to redefine the ASM subsector through the development of stand-alone legislation and directorate to adequately support the subsector’s growth.

Notwithstanding the various challenges, there are growing opportunities for women to tap into non-traditional minerals such as aggregate, flat stones and pebbles, among others which are relatively easy to identify and extract. Value addition in ASM is also able to create more jobs for women and youth and encourage innovation for mineral processing. A key example is in the jewellery and artefacts industry. The processing of minerals for value addition is a critical component to increase revenue generation and derive economic benefits for women beyond ASM activities. Therefore, there is a need to increase opportunities for women to earn income through value-added livelihood opportunities beyond ASM, which is directly linked to reducing poverty in artisanal mining communities. Thus, investments in processing centres such as the Gemstone Processing and Lapidary Training Centre are a critical aspect of the promotion of value addition of local minerals.

Finally, in order to advance women’s engagement in the sector, there is a need to improve access to financing and machinery necessary for productivity as well as build capacity and improve access to critical information such as geological information. Similarly, there is a need to support the formalisation of these activities in order to account for women’s contribution to the mining sector as well as extend financial and technical support to these ventures. In addition, there is a need to encourage cooperatives and joint ventures among women-led initiatives in order to facilitate economic development among women capable of contributing positively to the growth of the Zambian economy.