In concluding my analysis of the qualitative field data gathered last year for WCMM, cooperatives have emerged as a compelling point of interest. I hadn’t intended to study cooperative business models, but the one cooperative studied among the six research sites proved to be worth a deeper analysis. In going through NVivo, I wondered if the cooperative, COMIKAGI in Northern Providence, might have better socio-economic outcomes for women. I currently have a journal article under review that pushes back against the common development argument in favor of cooperatives as a way to empower African women who are marginalized in rural economies.
My findings indicate women who working for mining cooperatives do not have higher incomes or better financial outcomes than women who working for private mining companies. Their incomes, assets, and savings rates are similar. Both organizations show a gender wage gap among female and male miners.
The data illustrates two distinct forms of gender-based income disparities in mining, whether at cooperatives or companies. In private company employment at all sampled sites, women earn less than men even when doing the same job, such as carrying or washing minerals. Respondents said this was because men are stronger and faster at this type of work. They said male-dominated tasks, particularly digging, are inherently more dangerous, so men deserve to be paid more. Women are also more likely to report health issues or miss work for pregnancy or domestic care responsibilities, so they cannot work their way up the promotion chain to higher-paid positions. Additionally, women were less likely to know what men earned at private companies compared to cooperatives which could contribute to being paid less for the same work as men. This pay inequity, women earning less for the same work, can be considered a simple gender wage gap.
In contrast, COMIKAGI is relatively transparent about equal pay based on one’s position within the organization. Nonetheless, women still fail to hold leadership or decision-making roles within COMIKAGI due to cultural norms. For example, respondents made refence to the idea of the “second shift,” that they still needed to do all the unpaid care work and household chores in the home even if they have mining employment (Hochschild, 1989). Women remain clustered in the least-skilled and lowest-paid positions in COMIKAGI, unable to access those higher-paid positions that are seen as compensated in a “gender-neutral” way. Rwanda’s “glass ceiling” is common in the mining sector worldwide. COMIKAGI women are not paid less because they are women; all cleaning staff is paid less, and all cleaning staff is women. Gender-based segregation within the mining workforce structures their lower incomes relative to men, even within cooperative business models. Mining compensation is highest for those with the most minerals produced at the end of a shift and lowest for those who do not (Musha farmer, 26, March 23, 2021). In this sense, women in cooperatives may also experience a de facto gender wage gap.