Women’s missing voices in improving transparency and accountability in mining approvals processes

22 April 2020

By Roscel Diego

Corruption affects women and men differently.

In mining, corruption often starts in the mining approvals processes – before the ground is broken. The biggest risks of corruption stem from a lack of transparency and accountability about whether, where and under what conditions mining projects can go ahead.

In these processes, too often, women’s voices are missing.

What is Corruption?

For a lot of people, when they think of corruption, they think of bribes.

But Transparency International (TI) takes a broad view of corruption. We define it as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It can be grand or petty corruption involving powerful officials, low-ranking staff or community leaders. Whether it be embezzlement, favouritism, extortion, or state capture, corruption undermines good governance. It distorts public policy, frustrates business opportunities, leads to waste, mismanagement and exploitation, and perpetuates gender inequality. It is often the poorest and most marginalised people in our community who suffer the most. Women are more marginalised – in addition to experiencing gender inequalities, they also represent a higher share of the world’s poor.[1]

Why is lack of community engagement a corruption risk in mining approvals process?

Transparency International’s Mining Program shines a spotlight on the way mining licences are awarded. We are asking: how are these (often) multi-billion-dollar deals done and under what conditions?

In our research, we found that poor community engagement poses a big corruption risk in the approvals process. This happens when mining deals with local elites/ leaders don’t represent the interests of the different groups of women and men in the community and when community consultation is designed to be weak so companies can easily ignore the community’s concerns and take advantage of the lack of community engagement for their own gain.

Why does women’s participation matter to combat corruption?

The risk of corruption is exacerbated by the lack of women’s voices. In communities where mining companies come in to explore or mine, women are too often sidelined from any community discussions. This means women’s valuable perspectives, their right to participate in decisions that affect them, and the important leadership roles that they can play in holding governments and companies to account is undermined.

They (government) don’t even remember that we were part of this community when they were organizing the meetings. (A woman from a mining-affected community in Ghana)

This was confirmed by a male traditional leader who shared that,

In fact, the company did a lot of consultation (in) the community. Many meetings were held to discuss many things. But there was no single meeting that I can remember was held with women alone. (A community leader in Ghana)

Women’s voices matter because they are affected differently by corruption-prone mining approvals processes

Not only does corruption in mining approvals take away government revenue that could fund basic services on which women are very dependent, such as health and social services, but the effects on women’s lives are varied. For example

  • If, because of poor or fraudulent environmental impact assessments, a mining project causes pollution and affects the health of the people living in the area, who is more likely to look after sick children and other family members?
  • If the community development plans that are negotiated as part of mining licence agreements are negotiated between men (male traditional leaders and male mining company officials) how much are women likely to benefit?
  • If a mining project that was awarded through shady deals that negated community consultations creates new social stresses and economic hardships, is there a greater risk of family violence?

If women’s voices are not heard, these potential impacts on women will not be considered.

What is TI’s approach to improving women’s voice in mining licensing processes?

One of the most important things we strive to do is listen to women who are affected by mining. We do this by involving them in our multi-stakeholder forum where we bring people together from diverse stakeholder groups – companies, government, civil society and the community to discuss impacts of mining projects and combat corruption through transparency, accountability and participation. We’re working to support women to better understand their rights and the mining approvals process so that they will be able to engage actively in the discussions. At the same time, we are advocating with government agencies and mining companies to be aware of the need to make their processes and guidelines more gender inclusive to enable different groups of women to engage in relevant mining processes.

[1] Globally, there are 122 women aged 25 to 34 living in extreme poverty for every 100 men of the same age group (https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/poverty/. Accessed on 26 November 2019)

Photo by Dion Beetson on Unsplash