Women’s Participation in the Sustainable Development of Mining Project

Two women pose for photo from within the mine

Cardno is managing a three-year Sustainable Development of Mining in Rwanda (SDMR) for the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID), using a market systems approach to facilitate the professionalization and growth of the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector in Rwanda.

Despite mining being a male-dominated industry, women can be found working in a wide variety of roles and are vital to the running of operations. Jobs include labor-intensive mineral processing work such as carrying ore, sluicing, panning, drying, and grinding, as well as more technically skilled work in sales and marketing, supply chain management,[1] and other activities.

The status of women and other vulnerable populations in mining and increasing their participation in the workforce are important focus areas for the SDMR project.

As such, Cardno’s team undertook an assessment of gender and social inclusion in the Gakenke District, in Rwanda’s Northern Province. Across Rwanda, women account for 16 per cent of the workforce in the mineral sector, which consists almost entirely of ASM. In Gakenke, out of 2,367 workers at four mining cooperatives, 24 per cent were women.

The findings of this case study are being used to inform program and policy interventions, and point to some recommendations that could improve women’s inclusion in ASM more broadly.

Cardno’s team found that higher participation of women in the mineral sector resulted in notable improvements for both women and vulnerable populations, as well as the community as a whole.

Generally, when there is a high-level of community participation in mining, women’s involvement also increases and is encouraged by all members of the community.

Women’s participation in mining is linked to positive development impacts, including:

  • household well-being, such as increased decision-making and independence, improves;
  • households’ ability to cover family expenses (such as health, education, and savings) and provision for alternative longer-term investments increases;
  • ASM is a largely poverty-driven activity with low barriers to entry, and during tough times it provides an alternative for unskilled workers, for instance during periods between harvests and seasonal work cycles, and at times of drought or difficulties (in Gakenke, women comprise almost 80 per cent of all agricultural workers); and
  • perhaps most importantly, at companies that use the sub-contracting system[2], women, and poor individuals can become self-employed, having greater empowerment and autonomy in managing all the necessary mining and processing tasks, selling their minerals back to the mine owner, and sharing the income.

While these figures are above the national average, they still fall short of the government’s target to ensure that at least 30 per cent of members of the mining workforce in Rwanda are women.

Rwanda, as with other countries with a sizable ASM sector has the necessary laws, regulations, targets and policies to promote gender mainstreaming in ASM. But a significant challenge is to have the requisite knowledge, skills, capacity, support and resources to effectively translate those into practice.

Learn more about our work in gender and social inclusion

[1] Women are often employed as ‘Tag Managers’ for the iTSCi traceability initiative which tracks 3Ts (Tin, Tungsten, and Tantalum) minerals from mine to market to ensure that the production and supply of minerals are free form conflict and human rights abuses (iTSCi, 2017). 

[2] Unique to the Rwanda ASM market system are sub-contractors who operate as management intermediaries between mining companies that hold the license, and mine workers. Typically, they are individuals, but in some cases, may have a salaried assistant, and are responsible for organizing mine workers, maximizing production and ensuring some standard of health and safety is met. Sometimes, subcontractors may also hire and pay for salaried security staff at the specific site they control.


Cook, R., and Mitchell, P., (2014). Evaluation of Mining Revenue Streams and Due Diligence Implementation Costs along Mineral Supply Chains in Rwanda. Analysis Report for Rwanda Natural Resources Authority, and, Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources. Cambridge: Estelle Levin Ltd.

SDMR (Sustainable Development of Mining in Rwanda) (2017). Assessment of Gender and Social Inclusion. SDMR programme and partners. UK Department for International Development