How mining could be a boon for African women – by Geoffrey York (Globe and Mail – July 18, 2017)

In northeastern Congo, unequal pay and cultural taboos have kept women from sharing in the country’s mineral wealth. Activists are trying to change that, and Canada’s ‘feminist’ foreign aid policy has a part to play, Geoffrey York reports

Standing barefoot in a swampy pond, Bibicha Sanao sloshes the muddy water in her basin with an expert motion, panning tenaciously until she finds the hidden treasure: a few tiny slivers of gold. It can be hazardous work. She lifts her pant leg to show the scars from a water snake’s bite. Sometimes she gets sick from the contaminated water and the chilly rain. It’s not much safer when she toils in a nearby gold pit, where she was once buried in a landslide.

Yet, she won’t give it up. Her mining work here in northeastern Congo is crucial for supporting her family, and she’s been doing it for many years – despite obstacles that men never face. Now, activists are fighting to remove those barriers, giving African women a chance at the higher incomes that traditionally go to men, while improving the health and safety of their working conditions.

Small-scale mining is a huge source of revenue in Africa, providing jobs for an estimated eight million workers who support 45 million family members. At least a quarter of the workers are women. And even though they are paid less than men, they earn six times more than what they receive in other work, researchers have found.

Mining could be a much bigger source of financial support for African women, but women are hobbled by restrictions that range from the discriminatory to the nonsensical – including cultural taboos and superstitions that are now being challenged.

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