Integrating Gender, Health, Mining, and Governance in Zambia and Canada
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Increasingly, mining companies have begun to develop new projects in low- and middle-income countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Optimism for development potential is often initially high given assessment of the advantages for host countries. This assessment may change when the adverse costs of mining are experienced by proximate communities. Though long under-researched, studies have begun to demonstrate that women, in particular, experience an adverse bias in the distribution of mining risks even as they reap few of the benefits. These impacts have affected women’s health and wellbeing. Framed in the language of gender equality and women’s empowerment, recent global mining governance efforts have adopted the perspective that it is ‘smart economics’ to invest in women’s economic empowerment. They do this work in hopes of reducing women’s poverty – and to achieve more effective and efficient corporate development outcomes. Under this approach, too many women are being left behind. This thesis employed a framework that integrated critical international political economy, the political economy of health, feminist theory, and intersectionality to explore political, economic, and social contexts—from global to local perspectives—that affected women’s lived experiences in Solwezi, Zambia. Connections were made to the ways in which mining development and governance practices influenced women’s health and wellbeing. This research study centred on three broad objectives: 1. To understand how Zambia and Canada have grappled with the governance imperatives of gender equality and women’s empowerment within the spheres of government, company, and community. 2. To explain how various development actors positioned women as entrepreneurial subjects within the mining context, and to understand, given the various intersections which women hold, what impact this has had on women’s opportunities and outcomes, health and wellbeing, and what this has meant to their conceptions of self as ‘empowered’ women. 3. To identify the experiences of female sex workers in Solwezi as a window into the experiences of those excluded from the conventional women’s economic empowerment narrative. The data for this study emerged from a multi-sited ethnographic research project set in Northwestern Province, Zambia and in Ontario, Canada, between June 2018, and June 2019. Individual and group interviews, focus groups, and observations were conducted in Zambia during an eight-month period between June and November, 2018 and April to June, 2019. The Canadian data were collected in March of 2019 and 2020. In total, I conducted 94 formal interviews and additional multiple formal and informal interviews with nine key informants. Interview participants included: mine workers, Zambian and Canadian NGO officers, business owners, health officials, Zambian and Canadian government representatives, mining company “Community Social Responsibility (CSR)” representatives from Canada and Zambia, municipal workers, traditional leaders, members of the Council of Elders, and women and men who live and work in Solwezi. I conducted three focus groups with teachers, ‘village bankers’ (a local microlending program), and ‘marketeers’ (women who sell goods at a local market). I attended the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s annual convention in 2019 and 2020, and in 2019 I attended the Provincial Alternative Mining Convention for Northwestern Province and the Zambian Alternative Mining Convention in Lusaka, Zambia. The ethnographic nature of my work allowed me to spend extended time getting to know people and practices across Solwezi. In particular, I was able to observe the way mining development influenced political, economic, and social existences from global and local perspectives, and to witness the ways in which it may perpetuate experiences of privilege and oppression across multiple intersections that constitute women’s experiences. Findings from the research indicated that the solutions proposed by the mining sector have adhered to a neoliberal approach to women’s empowerment that instrumentalized gender in a manner commonly employed by international financial institutions. Under these practices, women’s social empowerment and gender equality has been conflated with women’s economic empowerment – a means by which to move women into the market economy. Microloan has been theorized as a way for women to increase their economic position. As Zambia has attempted to overcome the impacts of structural adjustment policies and indebtedness to financial institutions and foreign nations—political economic processes that weaken the local economy and state support of social and health resources—women have been left to themselves to seek the best opportunities they could to support themselves and their families. For some women who were educated, financially secure, and attached to strong social networks, these entrepreneurial endeavours may have proved lucrative. For those who did not have access to these supports, this led to selling vegetables at the local market for meagre returns, and for others it meant turning to sex work. Under this current development paradigm, women’s experiences of social inequality manifested as impacts to their health and wellbeing, ranging from malnutrition, to mental health challenges, to violence, to HIV. These patterns of health and illness have mirrored patterns of privilege and marginalization, transmitted through the determinants of health. Despite all these challenges, all the women I met were fighting to make the most of their circumstances. This research makes theoretical, methodological, and substantive contributions. The political economy of health approach demonstrates the uptake of the neoliberalization of feminism in the realm of mining development, and the limits of the entrepreneurial model. Methodologically, the adoption of the intersectionality offers insight into the way mining development and associated opportunities and barriers affect women differently, resulting in deepening social differentiation between sub-groups of women. Substantively, this study responds to the call for research that specifically focuses on the impacts of mining on women, and their experiences in relation to the mining industry. The findings offer insights into the limitations of the governance approach currently employed locally through mining corporate social responsibility initiatives by revealing the ways they leave many behind. Current company efforts to empower women have demonstrated the limits of the neoliberal governance approach as it fails to address the root causes of poverty and inequality. Instead, the aims of gender equality and women’s empowerment have been co-opted under the current agenda. This agenda is resulting in deepening divisions between groups of women. Too many women have been left to fend for themselves under worsening conditions. The women in the mining town of Solwezi have consequently experienced challenges to their health status and wellbeing. Structural change is needed.
Cite this version of the work
Lesley Johnston (2021). Integrating Gender, Health, Mining, and Governance in Zambia and Canada. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/17738