This is the third in a series of posts from the Natural Resource Governance Institute and World Resources Institute research project on gender and extractives, carried out with support from the Open Government Partnership Multi-Donor Trust Fund, which is managed by the World Bank. Learn more about the project in this blog post.
As the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) and World Resources Institute (WRI) continue our research on gender, open government and extractives, we have found that creating gender-transformative governance frameworks will not only require adding new provisions to the existing body of laws and policies, but also removing archaic provisions that continue to hold women back.
In our research, we examine a sample of 12 countries’ extractive sector laws and policies that refer to gender or women, looking at how they were developed and at their implementation and impact. Several countries from our study have provisions in place that prohibit women from working underground, working at night or working in the extractive sector at all. In the countries that we analyzed, we found laws prohibiting women from working in mines in Argentina, Morocco, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Tunisia. (Though the Sierra Leonian and Argentinian laws are still technically in force, they do not seem to be followed in practice.) Several other countries in our sample had similar laws in place before they were recently repealed or amended: Colombia (ban lifted in 2015/2016), Ghana (ban lifted in 2003), Indonesia (ban lifted in 2003), Kenya (ban lifted in 2007) and Mongolia (ban lifted in 2008). According to the World Bank, across the world, 60 countries still have laws on the books that restrict women’s employment in mining. These laws are most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, where one-third of countries prohibit women from working in mines.
As detailed in research by Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt, many of these laws originated from the British Mines and Collieries Act of 1842, which removed women from working in underground mines, due to a combination of genuine concern about the hazardous nature of the work and as a result of “moral panic” about men and women working together in dimly lit underground areas.
The same act also prohibited the use of child labor in mining, due to the dirty and dangerous nature of the work. While children are inherently vulnerable and need protection (including from dangerous work), the conflation of women and children, and the view that both required the same kind of protection, has been an enduring rationale for harmful stereotyping women and denying them equal rights.
Though women had previously worked side-by-side with men in the mines, the Mines and Collieries Act had an immediate and profound impact on women’s employment. As Lahiri-Dutt details, rather than protecting women from dangerous work as it had intended, it instead deprived women of the gainful employment they had previously secured and instead forced them into other (even more) hazardous, less formal work.
The Mines and Collieries Act not only affected British women’s work but soon impacted women throughout the world. Through the British empire, parallel legislation was enacted in British colonies. In the 1920s and 1930s, the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted several protectionist conventions around women’s labor in the mining industry, prohibiting women’s underground work and limiting women’s ability to work at night. These provisions became enshrined in the governing documents of ILO member states, pushing women further into lower-status, lower-wage work, particularly in the global south. Limits on women’s participation and narrow definitions of what it means to work in the sector have rendered women’s work throughout the extractives value chain largely invisible. This has translated into lack of unionization, poor organization and poor policies and protections.
Because women have been so long and pervasively excluded from the mining sector, we have a constructed view of mining as men’s work, and it is difficult to imagine women performing physically demanding jobs in underground mines. However, prior to the passage of the British act in 1842, women contributed to early mining throughout western Europe and were active prospectors in the American gold rushes. As Lahiri-Dutt explains, the biological essentialist view of women as weak and in need of unique protection from rigorous work ignores ample social and historical evidence from the contrary, and has led to significant structural inequality both within the extractive sector and beyond.
Today, while women’s overall participation in the global workforce is 47 percent, women make up only 22 percent of the oil and gas workforce and only 14 percent of the industrial mining workforce. Women’s participation in artisanal mining is estimated to be significantly higher, which speaks to how these prohibitions have forced women into work that is more dangerous and less formal, regulated and lucrative.
As detailed by the World Bank’s Rachel Perks and Katrin Schulz, prohibitions on women’s work continue to have a dramatic effect on women’s participation in the extractive sector and ultimately the wage gap. Technical mine site jobs, such as engineer, geologist and analyst, are often higher-paying than clerical or administrative jobs in the sector. However, because of these restrictive provisions and their legacies, women in the sector are overwhelmingly employed in lower-paid functions. For example, in Canada—which has one of the highest rates of women’s participation in the extractive sector in the world—only five percent of mine-site workers are women. Perks and Schulz find similar trends in Chile, Peru and Mongolia, where women are overwhelmingly involved in lower-paid administrative support work for the sector rather than in higher-paying mine-site roles.
Perceptions of oil, gas and mining as men’s work serve to undermine women’s advancement. In a 2017 study of the oil and gas industry, Boston Consulting Group found that men in the sector believe that women are less suited for certain roles and opportunities, such as expatriate positions and jobs in the field. However, their research found that women are often just as, if not more flexible than men, though they are routinely passed over for these opportunities.
Even though restrictive prohibitions on women’s work have been lifted in many countries, their legacies persist: centuries of women’s absence on mine sites have led to cultures and norms that still impact their unequal participation in the sector. Further, women’s lack of experience working in mining undergrounds has contributed to fewer women holding management or corporate board positions. A similar gap is observed in the oil and gas industry, where globally women hold only 10 to 30 percent of field jobs. This lack of experience contributes to women’s selection for leadership roles: there is a significant decline from women’s global participation in middle management (25 percent) to senior leadership roles (17 percent).
To address women’s participation in the extractives sector, a first step is for governments to remove provisions that restrict women’s employment from their laws and policies. However, in order to remedy the inequality wrought by decades of women’s exclusion from the extractive sector, a more aggressive strategy that focuses on job training, recruitment and cultural change will be necessary. As our research through this project continues, we examine whether and how the countries in our study are trying to remedy this historical legacy and promote and facilitate women’s equal participation throughout the sector, from mine sites to senior roles.