African Society and Conflict

Dispatches on African Politics and Security

Research in 2021: Gender and Mining in Rwanda

There are over 13 million Africans directly engaged in artisanal mining, much of it illegal, and countless more depend on its income. An estimated 50% of these artisanal and small-scale mine (ASM) workers are women concentrated in the lowest paying positions (Hayes and Perks 2012). Most of these workers are mining the very minerals necessary to power the world’s electronics, including the very device you are on right now.

Research across Africa has shown that the industry is both a boon and a burden for many of these workers.  On the one hand, despite their low wages, ASMs serve as a vital means of income for rural women when no other exists. Yet, as we see most clearly in “conflict minerals”, mining is also associated with violence against women and forced displacement. Additionally, mining may create secondary conditions of environmental and structural violence for women as part of the resource curse.

However, Rwanda has a unique mining story that may change this narrative about gender and natural resources. Mineral earnings are projected to reach $800 million by 2020 and $1.5 billion by 2024, nearly doubling annually. In response, the state is making a concerted effort to close down illegal artisanal mines in favor of far greater regulation in the industry. It is enacting policies to formalize, mechanize, and legalize mining practices across the country. Rwanda has been a regional juggernaut in its efforts to monitor this burgeoning industry, and this dynamic combines with its laudable national policy on gender equality and women’s empowerment to create a case study like no other.

In response to this process, my driving research question is: What is rural women’s relationship with the mining sector today, and how might increased national regulation of mining improve women’s socio-economic wellbeing in Rwanda?

Generously funded by the Harry Frank Guggenheim Award, my interdisciplinary project has an innovative goal of creating ethnographic or “social” maps to visually depict women’s experiences with mining. These computer-generated spacial representations will allow us to understand women’s interactions and navigation of mining activities. In addition to typical geographic points like roads and waterways and buildings, these maps will also show points to illustrate women’s legal domains, economic spheres, and community interactions. For example, the maps may show which legal actors settle disputes in which areas, or where women have changed their farming practices in response to mining, or how mines may affect women’s walking routes. The data for these maps will be collected at interactive map-making workshops for women in mining communities across Rwanda in the spring of 2021. At each of the five phases of workshops, a more and more detailed social map will be individually and collaboratively created by the female participants. We will contextualize and detail these maps with in-depth interviews and focus group discussions. The ethnographic maps will inform my book manuscript that draws from women’s first-hand accounts of their lived realities with extractive activities.


From left to right:

Laine Munir, Principal Investigator: Laine a political anthropologist with interdisciplinary research and teaching experience in gender, law, and conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. She is faculty of Global Challenges at African Leadership University and Senior Research Fellow at the Center of Excellence in Biodiversity and Natural Resource Management at the University of Rwanda. She has served as a Research Fellow at George Mason University Korea, an Education Volunteer with the Peace Corps in Mozambique, and currently works as a development consultant with a Kigali-based firm. She serves on the Advisory Board for an gender equity-focused NGO, Global Grassroots. She holds a Ph.D. in Law and Society from New York University and a M.A. in Human Rights from Columbia University.

Aline Providence Nkundibiza, Senior Researcher: Aline has 10 years experience in mineral resources governance, specifically in traceability and certification, environmental management, and gender and social inclusion. Since 2011, she has served in governmental, private sector, and civil society organizations as a projects intervention manager, consultant, and researcher. Most recently,s he was with the Sustainable Development of Mining in Rwanda (SDMR) Program, Partnerships Africa Canada, and the former Ministry of Natural Resources. She is the founder of the Rwanda Women In/And Mining Organization (WIAMO). She holds a B.A. degree, an MA in Gender and Development Studies, and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Environmental Studies.

Ian Mugambi, Data Analyst: Ian is an Data Scientist working in the fields of Machine learning, data visualization, Geographical Information Systems(GIS) and mapping. Ian has experience in manufacturing, SCADA systems, Logistics and Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG). He is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Information Technology specializing in Applied Machine Learning and Cyber Security from Carnegie Mellon University Africa and holds a B.S. degree in Software Engineering from Kenyatta University.

Placide Habinema, Field Coordinator: Placide works as contractual Operation Manager and Mining Engineer for U.N.M Mining company Ltd Placide and is also Managing Director of Mining Access Window Rwanda Limited, a licensed consultancy mining company supporting mineral exploration services, social and environmental services, contract services, blasting services, civil works, and construction projects. He has software skills in Arc-GIS, Auto-CAD, Ventism, and Plaxis for analysis. He holds a B.S. degree in Mining Engineering from the University of Rwanda, College of Science and Technology, School of Mining and Geology.

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