My third post in my series from my ALU students features Cedrick Leon Igiraneza, my Research Assistant for the “Women, Conflict, and Modern Mining in Rwanda” project in 2021. The video below is of his presentation at the University of Rwanda’s School of Mining and Geology for their annual Mining Week on campus. He discussed our initial results on the gendered challenges and opportunities in the local mining sector. Additionally, he wrote this post about his experience as a young man conducting field work on women’s experiences in mining.

“Gender Equality Benefits Us All”

Earlier this year, I was fortunate to be part of the research team that explored gender dynamics in Rwanda’s mining industry. During three months of data collection, our primary respondents were women miners who relied on formal and informal extraction to make a living. As my most satisfying research project, seeing and talking to women miners was paradigm-shifting for me. Some participants were teen mothers, and others became pregnant when they were teens and now are in their 30s. How did they feel about talking to a young man like me, asking sensitive questions? I soon realized that my age did not matter because they simply wanted someone to spare the time to listen to their experiences. Some initially thought we would give them jobs or money to improve their lives immediately. Eventually, after our explanations about academic research, our interview and FGD protocols provoked their insights about their personal lives and gender-based violence, in-depth explanations of how their lives have changed over time due to mining, and their future aspirations to improve their living standards. Our team had two male and two female enumerators, and we were all able to gather reliable data.

One day, I asked an interviewee how mining has impacted her life. Before she replied, she asked, “How old are you? You look younger than me, right?” I answered that I was 23. She responded, “I was going reveal how mining changed our lives and strengthened my marriage, but you are still too young to be told such affairs!” I told the woman that she could talk about economic changes at home, and then she slowly opened up. I realized that disclosing family affairs to a young man like me doesn’t immediately make sense, but very few women miners were guarded. Most of them openly revealed their experiences quickly, be it family affairs or economic conditions. It dawned on me that they do not care about my gender or age. Instead, since they do not get enough opportunities to address their complaints to authorities, they are tired of keeping things internal. Once outsiders like us arrive, they actually overshare private elements in their lives to feel listened to and empathized with. They want someone who can listen to their voices and whatever they are going through. Our data collection was empowering for them.

I was in awe observing how teen mothers and older women struggle to put food on their families’ plates every day. Their ability to multi-task allows a woman of multiple children to work for $2 per day in mining. They perform grueling work for long hours spent at the mining site and then return home to find food for children and complete other domestic responsibilities. Women miners are excellent examples of the double burden of working mothers. Because of them, I view mining as not only a job but a more significant life calling that can improve their lives if they can work in more equitable places. Indeed, women miners are the primary breadwinners of most rural families. Their endurance, commitment to their children, determination to break the poverty cycle, and intellectual abilities keep them going. Women miners are impressive in overcoming systemic barriers and have innovative ideas to improve their lives with the proper support.