Activists protest mining industry's harmful impact on women

Wednesday, 4 December 2013 14:59 GMT

Protesters gather outside London's Business Design Centre for a vigil honouring women who have been negatively impacted by the mining industry. Photo December 3, 2013. Credit: Alia Dharssi

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Mining industry fetes its top women, while activists protest against its treatment of poor women through pollution, land grabs, violence and lack of transparency

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As a glittering crowd gathered in central London for a champagne reception honouring women in mining on Tuesday night, activists held a vigil to honour women they said had suffered human rights abuses at the hands of the industry.

The small group made its point by holding up posters highlighting the stories of women in communities affected by mining.

Led by the Gaia Foundation, which advocates halting mining development worldwide because of environmental and human rights concerns, about 20 activists stood outside London’s Business Design Centre as those attending Mines and Money, an annual conference that drew over 3,000 industry representatives, government officials and investors this year, walked by.

Protesters read a statement by the International Women and Mining Network, which unites organizations from Asia, Africa, the Pacific and the Americas.

Their perspective contrasted with the industry reception, held by Women in Mining UK in partnership with Mines and Money at the end of the conference’s second day.

The reception aimed to promote inclusive hiring practices and inspire women to consider careers in mining through the launch of the 100 Global Inspirational Women in Mining project, which showcases female engineers, geologists and finance professionals, among others, who have had an impact on the industry, said Justine James, communications manager of Women in Mining UK.

“We don’t want to be critical of women making waves in the mining industry, but the mining industry is a hugely destructive, rapacious industry,” said Richard Solly, coordinator of the London Mining Network, an alliance of 31 organizations that works with communities affected by London-linked mining companies.

“We are here … to honour women struggling against the industry and to commemorate the women who’ve died or suffered in the struggle against the industry.”

Activists expressed concern about issues including land grabs, violence against women, environmental destruction, forced displacement and lack of transparency in the industry.

They said the Mines and Money reception was a form of “women-washing,” which enhanced the reputation of the industry by focusing on what it had done for a select few, while ignoring large numbers of women who had been negatively affected by the mining industry.

Glevys Rondon, project director of the Latin American Mining Monitoring Programme, said the intimidation of female protesters in Latin America was a big concern. In one case a Peruvian woman, Máxima Chaupe, faced threats and violent eviction attempts, and was beaten unconscious when she refused to sell her land to a mining company, Rondon said.

“It is a very Western issue, what the women are discussing here,” Rondon said. “In Latin America, it’s more about surviving the impact of mining and women dealing with it.”

Samantha Hargreaves, coordinator of WoMin, a network of more than 36 African organizations, said it was important to focus on the gender-specific impact of the industry.

A paper published by WoMin this year said that 60 to 80 percent of the food consumed in rural sub-Saharan African households was produced by women – and land grabs, land lost to pollution and pressure on water resources caused by the mining industry undermine these women’s  ability to sustain their livelihoods.

(Alia Dharssi is a Global Journalism Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. She holds a Masters of Philosophy in Development Studies from Oxford University and can be found on Twitter @alia_d)