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Many voices make the change: Key learnings on gender in the extractive sector

Written by Gillian Davidson, Chair of the Board of Directors of International Women in Mining (IWiM) and leading sustainability, corporate social responsibility and responsible supply chains specialist. Gillian has extensive experience in the extractives and natural resources sectors. In this blog, she shares her response to, and lessons gained from, participating in the recent workshop “EITI & Gender: Towards a more equitable future”.

A peer-learning workshop held in May, hosted by the EITI and the Gender Justice and Extractives Industries Working Group, was a welcome reminder of the role that extractives industry stakeholders must play in creating a more gender-balanced and equitable sector.

The workshop focused on advancing gender equality in the extractive sector through EITI implementation. It also critically examined best practice in implementing the EITI's gender provisions for supporting more inclusive extractive sector governance, and provided guidance on the implementation.

The lessons and recommendations from the closing session – where I moderated the key findings and recommendations for EITI stakeholders – proved to be both inspiring and valuable on a practical level thanks to the highly actionable insights we were able to uncover.

Some of the valuable learnings I share below are seen from the lens of a female industry leader and member of several boards, and as a Chair of International Women in Mining (IWiM), a leading not-for-profit global organisation pursuing gender equality and promoting women’s voices, access to opportunities and leadership in mining.

Lesson 1: Women in Mining (WIM) organisations have an important role to play

While the workshop highlighted the need for enhanced partnerships and more inclusive multi-stakeholder groups to further the drive towards a more inclusive extractive sector, the importance of local associations in empowering WIM voices was also made clear.

As representatives of female extractive sector workers, WIM organisations can provide a meaningful contribution to the EITI process in many countries. While individual women can and do speak out about their rights and needs, lone voices are inevitably constrained in terms of their capacity to achieve holistic change. WIM organisations can provide essential support by coordinating and amplifying a unified voice in their countries or regions.

Local and regional WIM organisations have a great deal to offer in terms of the depth of their local knowledge, the connections and credibility they have built up and the insights they can bring to the table. While maintaining their focus on their geography and its mining industry, national and regional WIM organisations are now coming together in an International WIM Alliance to ensure that women in mining everywhere have the representation and support they need and deserve.

Lesson 2: The gender agenda needs global alliances

While individual WIM organisations can drive positive change by acting as the voice of women in the extractive sector within their geographical footprints, global impact requires many voices coming together in unison. By enhancing coordination and increasing the benefits of shared learning points, international partnerships can fuel progress for gender equality in the sector.

In light of this, the International WIM Alliance was established in March 2021 following months of consultation among WIM organisations and a variety of global stakeholders. This pioneering initiative brings together WIM organisations to leverage their collective strength in pursuit of gender equality. The Alliance provides a global, multilateral platform that has already increased global collaboration among WIM organisations and begun to promote the emergence of a strong, unified WIM voice.

The Alliance offers the WIM movement a single unified point of advocacy and engagement, and the scale needed to push for real change. The existence and success of the Alliance adds further credibility to the overall WIM drive for change by enabling us to present a strong, unified front. Within the Alliance, the cross-fertilisation of ideas allows WIM organisations everywhere to learn from the experiences and successes of their peers.

Lesson 3: Data is a challenge

While organisations like the EITI are playing an instrumental role in gathering, collating and reporting on data, greater input is needed from companies, countries and associations. To truly make an impact, there is a need to better understand the reality of the industry and ongoing gender-related challenges.  

Granular detail on the circumstances and experiences of women in mining is required to ensure the appropriate application of the EITI’s guidance and recommended best practice methodologies.

Accurate, current data adds weight and credibility to WIM advocacy positions, and supports the making of an unarguable case for gender parity, diversity and inclusivity in the extractive sector.

Lesson 4: We all have a role to play

To advance gender equality, we all have a role to play as individuals, employees, employers, colleagues and collaborators. The need for each of us, men and women, as individuals and stakeholders to hold ourselves accountable and recognise that our efforts, no matter how inconsequential they may seem, can make a difference.

Examples of transformative actions include mentoring women in different parts and stages of the sector, speaking up about necessary changes in company policy and practices, taking (or conducting) surveys to increase our knowledge about the industry and creating more opportunities for female leaders in your organisation. Such actions all add up to the creation of a more inclusive approach to extractive sector governance.

Many voices make the change, but those who wish to act should remember that every stakeholder in mining – whether in large-scale, small-scale or artisanal mining, or in junior or senior roles – can make a difference. Passion and performance prove a point, advocacy raises awareness and campaigning creates change.