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date: 19 September 2017

Women’s Anti-Mining Activism and Development

Summary and Keywords

The extractive industries play a prominent but controversial role in the economies and development strategies of countries across the global South, often leading to clashes between local communities and governments and Transnational Corporations (TNCs) keen to exploit mineral reserves. Mining thus provides a multifaceted lens through which to engage with key questions about Development—who decides, who benefits, and who should be responsible for dealing with the long-term legacies of mining and associated issues of sustainability and environmental devastation? Women’s anti-mining activism is an important but underresearched element in this scenario and one that provides an interesting way to explore the complexities surrounding mining and development, from a gendered perspective, raising a number of questions and directions for future research.

Current research on this topic not only highlights the highly unequal power relations operating in this context, but also elucidates the ways in which grassroots women’s voices are heard (or not heard) in the global arena; the gendered nature and dynamics of community decision making; the high levels of violence and intimidation common to the experiences of many women anti-mining activists; and the constraints and challenges women face as activists. More broadly, research on women’s anti-mining activism contributes to analyze the gendered nature of the extractivist model of development.

Significant gaps in the existing literature provide productive avenues for future research. In particular, there is the potential to explore alternative visions of Development through engaging with women activists’ agendas, ambitions, and perspectives. However, there is also a need to further develop an understanding of the multiple challenges women activists face in this highly charged scenario and to analyze how the women themselves navigate and tackle these challenges. Finally, conducting research in this context presents particular methodological challenges. In this regard, it is important to consider possible approaches that might bring the perspectives of grassroots women anti-mining activists to the fore.

Keywords: women, mining, activism, Development, social movements, women’s organizing, extraction


The expansion and intensification of large-scale mineral extraction across many parts of the global South and North, and the resulting transformations of landscapes, territories, livelihoods, and communities, are now very well established (Bridge, 2004; Moody, 2007; Bebbington, 2012). Wherever extraction is proposed or undertaken, it is often accompanied by protest, resistance, or conflict as local communities contest the arrival of large-scale extraction and the myriad problems often associated with it (see, among many others, Macdonald & Rowland, 2002; Earthworks & Oxfam America, 2004; Haarstad & Fløysand, 2007; Bebbington et al., 2008; Svampa & Antonelli, 2009; Rasch, 2012). These problems have been extensively documented elsewhere but commonly include displacement and loss of land and livelihoods (Scheyvens & Lagisa, 1998; Isla, 2002; Bose, 2004; Dhaatri Resource Centre for Women and Children and Samata, 2010); water, air and land pollution (Bech et al., 1997; Earthworks & Oxfam America, 2004); health problems (Macdonald & Rowland, 2002; Simatauw, 2009; Hargreaves, Forthcoming); increased violence, including gender-based violence (Scheyvens & Lagisa, 1998; Byford, 2002; Perks, 2011); and changed community dynamics, particularly where there is an influx of money into previously subsistence-dominated local economies (Scheyvens & Lagisa, 1998).

Despite these significant problems, communities are often divided on the issue of mining, with many people convinced by the argument that extraction will bring economic prosperity and progress (Filer & Macintyre, 2006), while others vigorously contest this line of thinking. Thus, communities where mining is either proposed or already taking place provide a key site to explore processes of social conflict and contestation, opening up discussion and debate in relation to critical questions about Development: Who decides what kind of Development is appropriate? Who benefits from Development? Who should be responsible for dealing with the long-term legacies of mining? How can mining be undertaken in a way that ensures more equitable and socially and environmentally sustainable outcomes, if at all? Gender is a pivotal and underexplored variable in relation to all these debates.

Resistance to mining often encompasses a broad cross section of the population, but particular groups are especially prominent—for example, indigenous communities, farmers, and women.

Women’s Anti-Mining Activism

Women have historically been prominent actors in a wide range of social movements across the global North and South, organizing both around women’s rights and issues of gender inequality, as well as social, political, and environmental issues. Ecofeminist and feminist political ecology approaches have emphasized women’s strong involvement in environmental activism, underlining the particular gendered impacts and inequalities in access and control over natural resources that often motivate them (Rocheleau et al., 1996). Ideas of an innate connection between women and the natural environment have been roundly critiqued (Leach, 2007), but with regard to large-scale mining, there are examples from across the global South that illustrate how women are organizing collectively (both as women and as part of broader-based community organizing) to oppose developments they perceive as detrimental to the well-being of their families, communities, and the environment, often foregrounding their sense of connection, as women, to the Earth.

Although both men and women are involved in collective organizing to resist the arrival of large-scale mining in their communities, there is evidence that many of the impacts of large-scale mining are affecting women specifically or more severely than men: for example the reproductive health impacts of exposure to dangerous substances such as arsenic and mercury (Hinton et al., 2003); lack of access to clean water (Isla, 2002); lack of adequate compensation for land (Dhaatri Resource Centre for Women and Children and Samata, 2010; Hargreaves, Forthcoming); and increased exposure to gender-based violence (Hinton et al., 2006; Perks, 2011).1 For these reasons, and many others, women are increasingly organizing collectively to resist proposed mining developments and to make their voices heard in demanding change in relation to existing mining developments.

Women’s involvement in anti-mining activism often takes place within broad-based social movement organizations. For example, Li (2015) recognizes the important role of women as founders and workers in many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) campaigning on this issue. Here, however, the primary interest is in how and why women organize as women. On closer investigation, it is clear that little academic research has specifically focused on this area. Gier and Mercier (2006) pointed out this gap a decade ago, and more recently Deonandan and Tatham (2016) again emphasized this lack of research, underlining the need to look particularly at how women resist and at the mechanisms by which they engage with the various actors involved, including TNCs, civil society organizations, local and national government representatives, and community leaders. The following draws together the limited examples of women’s collective resistance to large-scale mining from across the global South,2 from both practitioner and academic literature.

The edited collection by Macdonald and Rowland (2002) signposts the breadth of organizing around gender and mining, focusing on Asia and Australasia. Contributions particularly emphasize the gendered impacts of mining, but, although several activists are among the authors, there is relatively little discussion of women’s activist practices in these contexts. In relation to the Philippines, Carino (2002) discusses the long legacy of women’s resistance to mining, dating back to the 1930s when women successfully fought for compensation for crop failure due to water shortages and stopped the expansion of open-pit mining operations. Simbulan (2016) particularly highlights the central role of indigenous women in several mining conflicts in the Philippines. Carino (2002) also notes that the International Women and Mining Network (also known as RIMM—Red Internacional de Mujeres y Mineria) is a key organization active in the 2000s in facilitating transnational organizing by women around anti-mining activism in the global South. The International Women & Mining Network’s 2010 publication provides descriptive case studies of women’s anti-mining activism across a range of geographical locations, and emphasizes the challenges faced by women activists in these diverse contexts (International Women & Mining Network, 2010). It is unclear whether the RIMM network maintains an active presence, but the issue of how women are organizing transnationally in relation to resisting large-scale mining is a key area for further research, particularly given the commonality of experiences women face across the global South. Other active regional networks and organizations, including ULAM (Union Latinoamericano de Mujeres) in Latin America and WoMin in Africa, provide scope for exploring women’s regional solidarity and organizing on this issue.

Recent research focuses on making visible and understanding the experiences of women anti-mining activists, filling an important gap in existing literature. Research with women’s organizations in Ecuador and Peru emphasizes the long-term impacts of activism on women activists, as well as critically analyzing their approaches to activism, their motivations for resisting mining, and the challenges they face within their communities (Jenkins, 2015; Jenkins & Rondón, 2015). Also in Peru, Arana Zegarra (2012) provides a detailed account of the positions and perspectives of women leaders within the anti-mining movement in Cajamarca, as well as the challenges they face in participating in the movement. Similarly, Grieco (2016) also emphasizes the pivotal role of women in contesting mining developments in Cajamarca. She discusses the particular forms of femininity and notions of motherhood that women activists deploy. Importantly, Grieco also discusses the significant challenges that women activists face, including the difficulties of balancing their activism with other (gendered) roles and responsibilities, and in some cases facing domestic violence as a result of their perceived transgression of gendered norms around being a “good mother.” Similar issues centering on violence, harassment, and associated negative impacts on the mental health of women anti-mining activists are raised elsewhere (Jenkins & Rondón, 2015) but more detailed research is needed in this key area, where there are connections with the challenges faced by women activists and women human rights defenders more broadly (AWID, 2016).

Macleod (2016) provides one of the few other detailed analyses specifically focused on women’s anti-mining activism, in relation to the activities of Goldcorp’s Marlin mine in Guatemala. Her focus is on the intersection of indigenous and gendered identities, and in particular the disconnect between indigenous women’s ideas of “Development” based on tb’anil qchwinqlal (quality of life) and Western ideas of progress, which are thrown into conflict with the arrival of large-scale mining. A similar theme is taken up in Jenkins (2015), where women activists’ narratives reveal the ways in which distinct ideas about Development and progress inform the stances of activists, and their broader communities, in relation to extractive-led Development.

A further aspect of women’s anti-mining activism relates to their involvement in community dialogues and processes of consultation related to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent in relation to proposed extractive projects. In the context of Guatemala, Rasch (2012) emphasizes the important role of community consultation in opening up spaces for indigenous women’s voices to be heard, but notes that, despite the strong representation of women, men continue to dominate the process of social organizing behind such consultations. Yocogan-Diano and Bati-el Moyaen (2009) also emphasize women’s strong involvement in campaigning for community consultations and dialogues in resisting mining in the northern Philippines. Limited other research explores the ways in which women’s voices may or may not be adequately heard in community consultation processes, in relation to both negotiations prior to extraction beginning and community decision making regarding the spending of compensation monies or projects implemented by the mining company to benefit the community (Scheyvens & Lagisa, 1998; Byford, 2002; Lahiri-Dutt, 2011).

Key Areas for Future Research

The relatively limited academic research on this topic, as well as its scattered nature, both geographically and in relation to academic disciplines, points to the need for further detailed empirical research rooted firmly in specific geographical and cultural contexts, as well as for comparative work between and within different regions and countries. The following research themes would particularly contribute to developing a more comprehensive critical understanding of the experiences, positions, and contributions of women anti-mining activists.

Changing Gendered Roles and Identities

How does taking part in anti-mining activism impact on women’s sense of self? Unusually, the women who were part of the research in Peru and Ecuador had not previously been involved in other types of social organizing, so their anti-mining activism became part of a broader process of conscientization (Jenkins, 2014). While this will clearly vary across contexts, questions around the changing understandings of citizenship and the claiming of rights by women anti-mining activists are an important area for further exploration. To what extent does involvement in women’s organizations contesting mining influence the ways in which women exercise their citizenship and the rights they claim? Such issues are reflected in the work of Rasch (2012) in Guatemala, who describes the ways in which involvement in anti-mining activism has made indigenous women more conscious of their exclusion: “They experience mining and other forms of neoliberal development as a continuation of colonization and linked to this, another step in the exclusion of indigenous women” (Rasch, 2012, p. 179).

A more general consideration centers on how women’s involvement in activism precipitates changes in their roles and relationships within the family and community, particularly in contexts where anti-mining activism has led to deep divisions between pro- and anti-mining factions within the community, and even within families. How women activists negotiate these divisions and tensions, and the impacts of these divisions on their daily lives and on their abilities and desire to continue their active involvement over the longer term, are important issues to address. Associated questions involving the impact of long-term activism also remain unexplored, particularly in relation to women’s mental health, but also in terms of activist fatigue, and family and community dynamics. The existence of “activist families” with potentially several generations of the same family dedicated to anti-mining activism, and the dynamics and tensions this activism produces, provides another interesting avenue to investigate. Previous research also raises the question of what happens to activists if they are unsuccessful in their resistance and the proposed mining development does arrive (Jenkins & Rondón, 2015); to what extent do women activists sustain their activist identity, organizations, and activities in the face of apparent defeat, and how do organizations’ and activists’ trajectories evolve in this context?

Another key issue demanding further attention relates to the intersections between ethnicity and gender, especially in relation to indigenous women’s resistance. This issue is interesting in relation both to how the contours of mining conflicts are shaped by the participation of indigenous women (Macleod, 2016) and to the opportunities that participation offers for indigenous women’s own personal development and empowerment. Research could also consider differences between indigenous and nonindigenous women’s participation, strategies and outcomes (Deonandan & Tatham, 2016), as well as the ways in which involvement in anti-mining activism may be an important aspect in strengthening or reformulating indigenous identities. Other identity-based intersections also merit further exploration, for example, gender and age—in research with women anti-mining activists in Peru and Ecuador, the research participants were predominantly older women (Jenkins, 2015). How then are different and multiple identities mobilized (at different times and in different spaces) in relation to mining resistance, and how do they shape processes of consultation, the terms of the debate, and the particular ways in which mining companies and other key actors engage with women (Grieco, 2016)?

Violence and Intimidation

Increased violence, especially gendered violence, in communities affected by mining and mining conflicts, has been recognized as a central issue across the global North and South (Scheyvens & Lagisa, 1998; Byford, 2002; Hinton et al., 2006; Eftimie et al., 2009; Perks, 2011; Hargreaves, Forthcoming). Ulloa (2016) highlights the myriad ways in which extraction results in an exacerbation of violence against women and also against feminized bodies more generally. However, this violence should also particularly be considered in terms of the specific challenges it brings for women activists in these communities. Experiences of violence emerge as a significant feature in many women’s accounts of their activism, particularly related to broader patterns of criminalization and repression of anti-mining activists (Rondón, 2009; Arellano-Yanguas, 2012; FIAN, 2013; Macleod 2016; Rasch, 2016). Women activists’ accounts of violence include both experiences of domestic violence directly related to their participation in anti-mining resistance (Deonandan & Tatham, 2016; Grieco, 2016), and violence—including allegations of sexual violence—perpetrated by other significant actors, including representatives of the state (army or police) and mining company security personnel (Human Rights Watch, 2011; Imai et al., 2014; Jenkins & Rondón, 2015; Deonandan & Tatham, 2016). Existing research flags a key area for more detailed empirical investigation—specifically, what are women anti-mining activists’ experiences of violence and intimidation? Who are the perpetrators of such violence? How are women’s organizations responding to violence and threats of violence, and how can these organizations be supported to better tackle this problem? How can women’s activist organizations work with other state and nonstate actors to ensure they are not subject to threats, intimidation, violence, or harassment?

Beyond women activists’ experiences of violence, there is a need to understand the other substantial challenges that women anti-mining activists face—financial, logistical, emotional—and how they and their organizations are tackling these problems. While some of these challenges are the same ones facing male counterparts, many have emerged specifically from women’s particular roles within the family and community, and from their more marginalized position in relation to participation in the public sphere more broadly. To what extent, and how successfully, are specifically women’s activist organizations coordinating with and embedded within broader anti-mining activism, and what specific challenges and opportunities does this coordination bring? How do women activists negotiate internal dynamics and conflicts within their own, often fragile, institutional and organizational contexts, as well as in relation to the anti-mining movement more generally?


Although it is crucial to emphasize the significant challenges faced by women anti-mining activists, future research could also consider the ways in which participation in anti-mining activism may open up new opportunities for women activists. There is significant scope to explore the extent to which women involved in anti-mining activism are able to access opportunities that would not ordinarily be available to them, whether that be overseas travel, education and training opportunities, development of leadership skills, or engagement with transnational networks. Thus, future research could explore how women anti-mining activists’ voices are heard (or not heard) in transnational spaces; how women benefit personally and professionally from such engagements; and how they negotiate these opportunities and the developments that might stem from them within their organizations, families, and communities. What barriers are encountered by women anti-mining activists in engaging with international NGOs, as well as regional and international organizations? How are these opportunities and engagements, and access to them, shaped by the various markers of identity (e.g., ethnicity, indigeneity, age, levels of education, class, caste)? How does the engagement of women activists beyond the national level shape the agendas for change and strategies for resistance and mobilization put forward at the local and community level? This avenue of inquiry ties into broader debates around the professionalization of grassroots women activists (Jenkins, 2008), as well as the changing nature of transnational organizing and global civic spaces, together with the capacities of grassroots women to access these networks (Baillie Smith, & Jenkins, 2011). To what extent then is involvement in anti-mining activism transformational for the women, and how does this involvement sit in relation to the risks and challenges they face on the ground? This question is especially pertinent in analyzing the positions of women leaders who may find themselves particularly vulnerable as they rise to prominent positions within anti-mining resistance movements, without necessarily the experience or support to navigate and work across local, regional, national, and transnational spheres.

Conceptualizing Development

Macleod’s (2016) work, as well as Jenkins (2015) and Jenkins and Rondón (2015), emphasize the scope for further research in diverse contexts about how women’s conceptions of Development and the environment are shaped in relation to resistance to large-scale resource extraction, and how women, both indigenous and nonindigenous, are carving out spaces to propose alternative visions and actions for Development. In Latin America, Ulloa (2016) draws on the idea of the “continuity of life” to discuss how discourses revolving around the protection of territories, bodies, and nature coalesce in the environmental-territorial struggles of indigenous, peasant, and Afro-descended women. She proposes the notion of “territorial feminisms” to explain women activists’ critiques of, and challenges to, an extractive-led model of development. Notions of buen vivir (in the Andean context) and associated ideas about “living well” are also relevant here (Walsh, 2010; Villalba, 2013), in terms of establishing theoretical and analytical categories with which to understand the alternative agendas advanced by grassroots, and particularly indigenous, women.

Future research could productively engage with the ways in which women anti-mining activists are proactively carving out spaces through which to challenge mainstream understandings of Development. Future research should also seek to understand the alternative visions that women are proposing and enacting in and with their communities in this context. It is also important to recognize and capture the shades of gray that may be evident in women’s resistance to mining—many women (and men) hold ambivalent, and sometimes contradictory, ideas about the threats and promises of extractive-led Development, and there is scope to consider the trade-offs that are or are not acceptable to women activists in negotiating their relationships with mining companies. In each scenario, a detailed understanding of the specific context is essential in making sense of women activists’ choices and stances in particular mining conflicts.

Discussions about alternative visions of Development and progress also feed in to broader areas around community consultation and decision making, where only a few scattered examples provide a gendered analysis of these processes. How then are women activists (as well as women who are not activists) enabled to participate in community forums, dialogues, and consultation processes, and to what extent are their voices and perspectives taken into account by the different actors involved? The diverse axes of identity are important in developing an intersectional analysis of the power relations inherent in these processes. What are the priorities for Development articulated by, for example, young women or indigenous women, for their communities, and to what extent are they able to formulate an alternative agenda in spaces beyond their own women’s organizations? Similarly, when a community receives compensation or benefits, how are women activists involved in decisions on the distribution of resources or project planning? A critical exploration of these issues will lead to a more in-depth understanding of the ways in which gender shapes all aspects of mining-related conflicts.


It is evident then that there are multiple avenues to explore, where new research could contribute to a more comprehensive critical analysis and understanding of the varied positions and experiences of women anti-mining activists across the global South. Gillan and Pickerill (2012) recognize that research on social movement activism comes with a particular set of complex ethical issues and challenges, particularly in relation to negotiating ideas of reciprocity in the research process, as well as in relation to researchers’ own political sympathies and identities (see also Baillie Smith & Jenkins, 2016; Velasquez, 2016). In engaging with such issues, it is essential that research on women’s anti-mining activism, whenever possible, be developed in partnership with the organizations and the women themselves. This consideration is particularly important from the point of view of ensuring the relevance and appropriateness of research, as well as in terms of securing access and minimizing risk to both research participants and the researcher in contexts that are often conflictual and highly charged. Social movement activists may have particular vulnerabilities (Gillan & Pickerill, 2012; Baillie Smith & Jenkins, 2016), and researchers need to be alert to these vulnerabilities to ensure that participants are not exposed to additional risk by being involved in the research.

In addition to the ethical challenges inherent in researching this topic, it is important to also consider the potential that this research area offers for developing innovative methodological approaches. Especially where there are existing groups of organized women, there is considerable scope to develop participatory action research projects that enable women activists to define the research agenda and to develop research that directly addresses the problems and challenges they face, and equips them to tackle them. However, this is not a straightforward process. As Dawson and Sinwell caution, “while the research process may be more inclusive, PAR does not guarantee that research outcomes will be useful for grassroots struggles” (Dawson & Sinwell, 2012, p. 185). Velasquez (2016) reflects on many of these challenges in relation to her research with women activists in Ecuador.

In common with activists across the global North and South, women anti-mining activists are increasingly harnessing the power of social media, using diverse media channels including blogs, FaceBook pages, and Twitter accounts. Thus, there is also significant scope for research that engages with and critically analyzes these virtual networks and ways of communicating, and the opportunities and challenges they bring, as well as for developing research using digital and virtual methodologies and data collection strategies. Additionally, there would be merit in developing longitudinal approaches to researching activism and activist biographies (Baillie Smith & Jenkins, 2016), enabling research to capture the ways in which women’s anti-mining activism changes over time, and the distinct gendered subjectivities that are produced by such ebbs and flows, particularly as the terms of engagement and of the conflicts themselves shift over time.

Concluding Thoughts

Little research is available on the topic of women’s anti-mining activism, and so there is significant scope to investigate different aspects of women’s involvement in resisting the expansion of large-scale extractive-led Development. The extensive nature of mining conflicts across the global South means that there are many different scenarios and contexts in which a gendered lens could be placed on the nature of the conflict and particularly the involvement of women activists in it. Research in this area provides the opportunity to think through many key questions related to Development—Development where and for whom? Development at what price? Who decides about Development? In seeking to engage with the perspectives of local actors in relation to these questions, the particular experiences of women anti-mining activists deserve further investigation, as an important but often invisible aspect of contestations surrounding mineral extraction in the global South.


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(1.) There are similar issues and concerns in relation to artisanal mining, in which women are more likely to be directly involved (Heemskerk, 2003; Chaparro Ávila, 2005; Caballero, 2006).

(2.) There are also examples from the global North, but that is beyond the present scope. See, for example, discussions in relation to Australia and Canada (Lozeva & Marinova, 2010; O’Faircheallaigh, 2012), as well as brief mentions elsewhere, for example, in relation to the role of aboriginal women in organizing against mining in the case of Northern Territory’s Jabiluka uranium mine (Dudgeon & Bray, 2016).