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Women and Mining in Africa  

Blair Rutherford and Doris Buss

Women have long participated in mining in Africa and have been implicated in it in varied ways. The combination of archaeological research, oral histories, comparisons with colonial and postcolonial mining activities, and a few written observations show that African women were active in various mining activities throughout the continent before Europeans began their formal colonization of much of the continent. Conquest by different European states and colonial rule brought not only a new type of mining and new players, networks, and markets into many parts of Africa but also new gendered norms and discourses when it came to women working in mines. Colonial legislation often prohibited women from working underground, and women’s work in mines was actively discouraged or hidden. European-controlled industrial mining in Africa in the late 19th century up until the 1970s was labor intensive, almost exclusively hiring men, most of whom were African. Yet these industrial mining areas attracted many women for economic and social reasons. These women became the targets of varied types of moral projects from different colonial and African authorities, which strongly shaped the pathways, possibilities, and barriers to varied (non-mining) economic activities for African women in the mining communities. The end of colonial rule and the emerging independent governments across Africa starting in the 1950s saw significant changes for women and mining in different parts of the continent, even though there are many strong continuities from the colonial period. These continuities and changes are apparent when examining access to mining livelihoods and working conditions for women and the role of family dynamics, both in terms of industrial mining and artisanal and small-scale mining. There is also a growing targeting of women and mining in Africa in policies, programs, and by social movements.