I have been asking the wrong question.

Last week, I began to dive into the NVivo codes for my textual data on women in Rwanda’s mining sector. Many researchers might agree that this is both the most daunting and thrilling moment they’ll experience. I printed out every word spoken during data collection since March and it is just… so… many… pages. However, then again, it is just so many pages! How exciting!

This is what 60 semi-structured interviews looks like.

An emerging theme is about the transformation of GBV forms during mining formalization, and I hadn’t originally conceived of this process. In my Guggenheim funding proposal, I had asked about rates of different types of violence, thinking of violence in quantities that could be categorized. I wanted to know if legalization and formalization of mining kept women safer. However, it seems, at this early stage, that women are more vulnerable to direct violence in illegal mining but they also enjoy localized and traditional forms of protection that may not exist once a company takes over operations. Additionally, formalized and legal mining introduces some new forms of vulnerabilities altogether.

A collective CBA of mining created by our community participants.

To be clear, my respondents want and support the legalization of mining operations as a whole. When they are placed in the position of mining illegally, they cannot report crimes they experience to authorities because those authorities might ask why they were mining illegally in the first place. They have no state-supported or company-structured conduits through which to channel their violations and seek justice. Yet, local leaders in most communities with illegal mining are very aware of operations. There is a culture of acceptance. In those places, women feel comfortable taking some violations to their local leaders, who they often know personally and find less intimidating than a company representative or police officer. In this context, (restorative) justice appears more accessible to them because it is a vestige of indigenous rule with which they are familiar.

Indeed, legal mining sponsored by state-recognized companies creates rules that keep women physically safe, introduces gender quotas or laws that ensure more equitable incomes, and instills a culture of lawfulness. Direct violence may be less likely in legal mining operations. At this time though, the avenues for remedying a wrong are more nebulous and less accessible for women working for an official company. They do not know the private security guards to whom they are revealing private information. They don’t feel confident telling a foreign supervisor about incidents when that supervisor may not speak Kinyarwanda well. They do not understand the HR structures for elevating a complaint at a mining company office.

In short, it seems that gender-based violence(s) may be more common in illegal mining but access to indigenous conceptions of justice more feasible. GBVs are less likely at legal companies but, once violations do occur, avenues to right those wrongs are more opaque.

My research team has much work ahead this fall but this is an exciting first step forward in presenting our findings.