This International Women's Day we are lifting up the voices of female gold miners in the artisanal and small-scale mining sector. This article spotlights women working as "jancheras" in Ecuador.
She climbs a mountain of stones with her eyes fixed on the surface. In the middle of the dumpsite, she squats, throws a handful of water and moves her head slightly from side to side to identify the shine on stones. She lifts a rock, feel its weight, smells it, and places it in a bag. Luisa* repeats this process for more than eight hours every day, she says, selecting rocks (known locally as Janche) from the mine's dumpsites.
After 32 years of living in the sector, she can count on the fingers of her hand the number of times she has gone inside a mine. In Camilo Ponce (Azuay province) most of the female miners are known as Jancheras, women who sort through the mineral that is leftover from larger mining operations in order to pick out rocks with residual gold, which places them in the least profitable section of the supply chain.
Luisa is the head of the household; she has two daughters. For her, and for the association to which she belongs, it is required that they have the permission of a mining company that allows them to enter the dumpsite. With the income generated, Luisa can scarcely cover the costs of education and food for her family. After a week of working, she can barely fill two bundles with the selected rocks from which, after processing, she can obtain an average of two grams of gold.
Due to the informal status of this work and little capacity to negotiate, she can manage to sell her gold at a value 30% lower than what it would cost on the regular market. Luisa says: “The important thing here is to have the money soon. The day I get paid, the first thing I do is go to the store to pay back what they have loaned to me.”
Every day, Luisa and other women are exposed to solar radiation, falls and collapses, eye damage, silicosis, heavy loads and, above all, the almost invisible and highly harmful impact generated by chemical substances such as mercury, which are often used in the process of gold recovery in artisanal mining.
Faced with these challenges, the Ministry of the Environment, in coordination with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources, and through the GEF-funded National Program for the Environmental Sound Management and Live Cycle Management of Chemical Substances, have taken action to support Jancheras. To this end, the Program has identified alternatives to reduce the overload of work, poverty and the barriers that prevent and diminish the development and rights of these 1,300 women.
The Program also plans to allocate funds toward promoting innovative and sustainable initiatives with positive social, economic and environmental impact in the communities led by Jancheras.
Mario Rodas, Program Coordinator, explains that mining should not be understood only as a job, but as a structure of symbolic, political and economic relations: “It is a sector in which there are several health problems and discrimination against women, so in 2020, in order to create a framework in which our financial products may help Jancheras, affirmative actions will be taken to promote the empowerment of women. These activities include awareness raising and training on new masculinities to generate safe spaces which eliminate gender stereotypes, eradicate violence, and promote equality between men and women, including shared domestic and care responsibilities."
The Program seeks to provide women with a complementary and profitable livelihood that will enable them to improve the condition of their families in an environmentally friendly manner. Luisa is very excited about the project and believes it will help fulfill her daughter´s dream of studying nursing: “She is very intelligent. I know she will go far and I will work very hard to give her more and better opportunities than the ones I had.”
Protecting the environment and health
Proper management of chemicals and waste from productive activities eliminates risks to human health and the environment.
In response to the Minamata Convention, Ecuador assumed commitments to eliminate the use of mercury in mining and to protect the water and natural resources on which communities depend, with specific actions that promote gender equality and sustainability.
The Program seeks to contribute to the formalization and associative processes in ASGM, and to motivate the creation of financial opportunities for the sector that allow recognition and promotion of good, mercury-free practices, through the implementation of tools and technical knowledge that enable the production of gold, in an appropriate manner.
View the video below and visit Ecuador's program page for more information.