Women account for about one-third of the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) workforce, which supplies minerals essential to modern technologies and the global energy transition. But gender discrimination – enshrined in mining laws – and disregard for health, safety and social protection limit the rights and economic opportunities of women artisanal and small-scale miners, finds a new World Bank report. 

Launched at the annual Mining Indaba Conference, the 2023 State of the Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining Sector report – a collaboration with the international development organisation Pact – details gender inequalities in artisanal and small-scale mining and highlights actions to improve gender equality and advance women’s participation. It reviews mining laws in 21 countries across sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and the Pacific, as well as Latin America, and draws on primary data from 1 900 participants, contributing unique insights about the deep-seated barriers women face in fully participating in ASM activities and opportunities toward gender equality.

“Women in artisanal and small-scale mining face formidable challenges that require urgent action to ensure they are safe and can thrive in the mine and at home,” says World Bank global director for Energy and Extractives, Demetrios Papathanasiou. “We are thrilled to release this groundbreaking report, which offers concrete solutions to create a more inclusive and equitable mining sector that benefits women and everyone.”

The report advocates for gender-responsive legislation to safeguard women’s rights in mining and build a more sustainable sector. This includes improving mining codes – which often lack provisions to enhance women’s participation – and changing discriminatory property laws and land tenure agreements that hinder women’s ability to own land and access mineral resources for ASM.

Poor working conditions, sanitation and violence, as well as domestic work, also disproportionately impact women ASM miners’ health and earnings, relegating them to low-paying roles and 90 times more at risk of death than men. Women’s health, working conditions and safety have received scant attention due to the perception of the mining industry as male-dominated. The report urges policymakers to address the distinct hazards women face to improve their occupational health and safety in mining environments.

The report also underscores the need to further empower women’s associations and female-led professional groups, which have been critical in improving the visibility of women ASM miners and advancing gender reforms in mining.

“Women’s empowerment and equal participation in mining are the right thing to do and will pave the way for a more just future and prosperous communities,” says Rachel Perks, World Bank senior mining specialist and co-author of the report. “It’s critical to create an environment in which women artisanal and small-scale miners can be heard and enjoy their rights without discrimination.”

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