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Amplifying Women's Impact in Artisanal Mining

As we celebrate International Women's Day, we want to shine a spotlight on the unsung heroes of our industry—the women in artisanal mining whose resilience and hard work contribute to the creation of beautiful jewelry pieces worldwide.

Thanks to our new partnership with The Impact Facility (TIF), a social enterprise with the mission of transforming mineral wealth into community prosperity, we had the privilege of visiting artisanal mine sites in Kenya and meeting the extraordinary women who make up this complex sector. From artisanal miners and TIF’s women engineers to the leader of the women's cooperative at the Osiri Matanda mining complex, we took the opportunity to speak to the women of this industry to better understand their circumstances and the passion they bring to their work.

Natasha, an engineer, works with the TIF team to help artisanal mining communities improve their environmental, social, and governance performance, as well as their productivity, and to support mining to become a source of dignified living for communities that are often trapped in a so-called poverty cycle. We spoke with her about her studies, the role of women in the mining sector, and what we can do to help empower them in their industry.

What drove you to study mining engineering, which remains to this day a male-dominated field?

“From a young age, my fascination with minerals ignited a passion that eventually led me to pursue a degree in mining engineering. The allure of understanding how something as beautiful as precious stones could emerge from the depths of the earth, hidden within ordinary dirt, intrigued me profoundly. This curiosity drove my decision to enter the realm of mining engineering, a field traditionally dominated by men.”

What makes you passionate about working in artisanal mining? And can you tell us more about the role of women in this sector?

“Choosing to work with artisanal mining communities was a natural progression for me. It's not just about extracting minerals—it's about understanding the intricate dynamics of these communities and empowering them through knowledge and sustainable practices. In artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM), women often find themselves excluded from the ore extraction process and limited to roles in subsequent stages like processing. This exclusion not only hinders their involvement but also places them at greater risk, especially when it comes to mercury poisoning.

One of the glaring challenges that women face in these communities is the adverse impact of daily exposure to toxic mercury. As they handle this substance during the processing phase, they unwittingly jeopardize their health and even pass on these risks to their children through breastfeeding.”

We heard more about these concerns from the representative of the women’s cooperative in Osiri Matanda, a vibrant mining complex where 3,000 workers live and work across 30 different shafts. An agent of change in her community, Phylis advocates for better working conditions, health, and safety of women.

Natasha, what can we do to empower women in mining?

“Providing education on improved processing techniques and establishing direct links with the market instead of relying on brokers could significantly enhance women's economic empowerment in ASM. When women have access to better processing methods coupled with direct market engagement, their profits stand to increase substantially. This improves their financial standing and elevates their role in the community, fostering a sense of empowerment. In essence, the transformation of artisanal mining into a source of empowerment for women lies in education, awareness, and equitable access to resources. By breaking down barriers and providing women with the tools they need to navigate the intricacies of mining, we can create a more inclusive and sustainable future for artisanal mining communities.”

It’s in this context that BRUNA has established a partnership with The Impact Facility to make donations supporting new generations of women mining engineers and helping a female-led mine site to go chemical-free. The mine site we are proud to support is led by Esther, a mother of five and grandmother of two. Esther has been working in mining for over 20 years and is now widowed. Her work at the mine site has allowed her to provide for her family and her children’s education. She works with five other women and has ambitious goals to expand her business, employ more women in her community, and export gold from Kenya thanks to the support received from TIF. Supported by BRUNA’s contribution and TIF’s technical team, Esther will pilot a new processing technique and receive equipment that eliminates the use of mercury. If successfully implemented, these innovations could be a game-changer for the entire community.

On the occasion of International Women's Day, let’s honor the courage, resilience, and leadership of women in artisanal mining. Their stories remind us of the transformative power of gender equality and the importance of supporting women's empowerment initiatives worldwide.

Photo credits: David Sturmes | TIF & Joshua Rukundo | Solidaridad

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