The African Studies Association hosted its 64th Annual Meeting this week. I had the good fortune of presenting on a panel for “Resource Conflicts.” My current paper explores the impacts that mining cooperatives (as opposed to direct company employment) may have on women in extractive communities, drawing on a case study of Rwanda’s largest cooperative. The presentation video, abstract, and PPT are below.

ABSTRACT: Many African countries endeavor to legalize and operationalize artisanal and small-scale mining (ASMs). Rwanda serves as an ideal case study to examine how the establishment of cooperatives as a part of mining formalization might impact women and the most vulnerable within extractive communities. This exploratory study examined how community-based business models, rather than direct company employment, might mitigate some of the negative dynamics of mining employment for women in Eastern Rwanda. Using Rwanda’s most well-established mining cooperative as a case study, it asks how cooperative employment might improve women’s outcomes along three lines: income, gender-based violence, and legal awareness and empowerment. The study draws on mapmaking workshops, semi-structured interviews, and focus-group discussions with women who are formal employees, informal miners, and farmers living near the cooperative’s extraction sites. Drawing on conceptual content analysis in NVivo, this study finds cooperatives do not improve women’s financial outcomes or lower rates of gender-based violence. However, cooperative work may expand women’s rights conceptions and legal consciousness. These results indicate that cooperatives are not a panacea for the marginalization of women in extractive industries and the rural labor force. However, they may be a starting point for networking, information sharing, and enhanced common understandings of socioeconomic and legal structures. In turn, this everyday awareness of power could eventually lead to bottom-up reforms in how marginalized workers navigate their employment and environment. Under certain conditions and with pivotal support structures in place, cooperatives could be a more effective tool for international development efforts in the Global South.

I fielded several excellent questions. Among them, one audience member asked, “Please reflect on the apparent contradiction between cooperative women’s expanded legal consciousness with patterns of transactional sex compared to the private companies.”

I said that a high reporting of transactional sex within the cooperative could be due to several factors.

First, the cooperative model’s horizontal structure lends itself to transactional sexual relationships because power is dispersed among more actors. In other words, more men have the power to request sex than in private companies with fewer male leaders. In combination with that, the horizontal structure may permit upward mobility for women at the lower end of the organizational hierarchy, and transactional sex could be a salient means of achieving that mobility. Moreover, it is possible that cooperatives, as local entities less governed by national and international legal constraints, may allow informal behaviors that would otherwise be mitigated in formalized mining companies meeting legal requirements. 

Please be in touch if you would like a copy of this paper in progress.