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Women in the DRC at the bottom of supply chains: the invisible reason for a legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises

New report documents gender discrimination, slavery-like conditions, deterioration of reproductive health, violence, forced displacement, and sexual exploitation experienced by women in (and because of) artisanal mines in the DRC. The timely report is released few days before the second session of the intergovernmental working group on a legally binding instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises, scheduled to take place in Geneva on 24-28 October

States cannot afford to continue ignoring the gendered aspects of corporate human rights abuses, says Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) today, following the publication of the report Life at the bottom of the chain: Women in artisanal mining in DRC.

“The power of corporations and financiers has far outstripped the ability of elected governments to moderate or control them. It is time for a binding legal framework to regulate the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises, ” says Madeleine Rees, WILPF Secretary General, stressing that “the legitimacy of a future treaty will depend on whether and how gender analysis and participation of affected women are part of the drafting process.”

women’s roles are generally relegated to droumage (crushing, sorting and washing of minerals, sifting the

Consultative Status with UN ECOSOC, UNCTAD and UNESCO. Special Consultative Relations with FAO, ILO and UNICEF.

Artisanal mining accounts for over 80% of mined products exported by the DRC, and women

generally play a much larger – but often invisible – role in artisanal mining than in the large-

scale mining sector. The report documents how women are among the most impacted by

the insalubrious and precarious conditions and the militarisation of artisanal mining sites.

“If a future treaty is to protect and promote women’s rights effectively, then gender

analysis needs to be integrated throughout the drafting process,” argues Rees, referring to

the fact

women experience direct and indirect consequences of mining activities in

different, and often more pronounced, ways than men. This is particularly so in the case of

artisanal mining. In the DRC mining sites covered in WILPF’s research,

crushed minerals, and processing the waste), which are the most toxic mining activities, selling the minerals, or to marginal support roles with minimal profitability.

“For example, corporations should be required to ensure that their supply chains are subject to strict gender considerations and to assess whether their activities strengthen or exacerbate existing gender-based inequalities,”

explains Rees.

This report is based on the research: “Enquête sur les violations de droits humains subies par les femmes congolaises dans l’exploitation des mines artisanales dans la province du Haut Katanga” conducted by Annie Matundu Mbambi and L onnie Kandolo of WILPF DRC.
It is part of WILPF’s work on bringing to light human rights violations relating to the activities of business enterprises, their impact on women, and their relationship with the root causes of conflicts. The upcoming session of the ‘Open-ended intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights’ provides the opportunity to advance towards an enhanced global regulatory framework for the accountability of transnational corporations.

 

Fact sheet

Women in artisanal mining in the DRC

  • Artisanal mining accounts for over 80% of mined products exported by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Mining and trade from the artisanal sector are largely informal;
  • Workers in the mines are self-employed. They settle in camps, isolated from populated areas, and therefore removed from traditional social and economic safeguards;
  • Artisanal mining sites, such as the ones covered by WILPF’s research in the DRC province of Haut Katanga, are at the bottom of the supply chain, furthest from the corporations that produce the final goods;
  • Low purchase prices imposed from corporations higher up the supply chain have a negative effect on the livelihoods, and therefore on the living and working conditions, of those working in the mines;
  • The instability of the agricultural economy, for example poor harvests because of drought, leads many women to seek the higher revenues available in mining. Other reasons include lack of work in other sectors and loss of their small businesses due to being victims of fraud;
  • There is a gendered division of labour in the mines. Women’s roles are generally relegated to droumage (crushing, sorting and washing of minerals as well as processing waste), which are the most toxic mining activities, or to selling the minerals and other marginal support roles with minimal profitability;
  • Women experience violations such as gender discrimination, slavery-like conditions, deterioration of reproductive health, violence, forced displacement, and sexual exploitation in (and because of) artisanal mines. They have no access to the justice system since it is too remote from the mines;
  • 95% of the women and girls who work on the mining sites have a very low level of education. Many are illiterate;
  • The destruction of farmland, deforestation, pollution of rivers and water sources, and soil erosion were among the environmental impacts of mining observed in WILPF’s research;
  • Suggestions from women in artisanal mines in the DRC to improve their circumstances include access to potable water, health centres, literacy programmes, training in mining practices, education for children, fertiliser and seed centres, and awareness raising on types of violations experienced by women.

A treaty on multinational corporations and women’s human rights

  • June 2011, the UN Human Rights Council endorses the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. However, these are non-binding;
  • June 2014, the UN Human Rights Council adopts a resolution “to elaborate an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises”;
  • The open-ended intergovernmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights is set up to develop a treaty. The working group will hold its second session on 24-28 October 2016;
  • A gender perspective must be integrated throughout the treaty’s drafting process. Gender is not a “discrete, separate issue that can be addressed once the ‘main’ issues surrounding business and human rights have been fleshed out” (Meyersfeld, 2013);
  • The treaty should include specific principles relating to the protection of women, responding to the reality of sex and gender discrimination that characterises every society and country, to varying degrees (Meyersfeld, 2013).

What does gender analysis mean?

  • Gender denotes a set of socially constructed ideas that attribute meaning to and differentiate between sexes. Gender intersects with age, race, ethnicity, sexuality, income levels, religion, disability, and geographic location, and “is the basis for persistent discrimination against women” (Meyersfeld, 2013);
  • The differentiation between women and men – the allocation of gendered roles – continues to have a disproportionately negative impact on women. This manifests in fewer employment opportunities, social restrictions impeding economic independence, and the disproportionate representation of women in the informal and vulnerable employment, such as droumage (Meyersfeld, 2013);
  • Gender analysis recognises this, and seeks to prevent and address negative gendered impacts by analysing the particular ways in which corporations may affect the rights of women, and identifying a response that is adapted to women’s needs;
  • Gender analysis operates on the basis of sex-disaggregated data, contextual awareness, and gendered needs assessment;
  • Gender analysis promotes a gender strategy for corporations in the interest of gender equality and meeting women’s practical needs (Oxfam, 2009);
  • The meaningful participation of affected women in the drafting process is essential to making a treaty fully useful and useable for women;
  • However, participation does not replace gender expertise. Understanding gendered power relations is key to building an effective response to corporate practices that exacerbate gendered harms.

 

For more information on the treaty development process, and publications and activities by the Treaty Alliance, visit http://treatymovement.com/.

 

Meyersfeld, B. (2013). “Business, human rights and gender: a legal approach to external

and internal considerations” in Surya Deva and David Bilchitz (eds) Human Rights Obligations of Business: Beyond the Corporate Responsibility to Respect? Cambridge University Press: 193-217.

 

Oxfam Australia. (2009). Women, communities and mining: The gender impacts of mining

and the role of gender impact assessment.

For further information, please contact:

Patrizia Scannella, WILPF Human Rights Director, email: pscannella@wilpf.ch, telephone: +41 (0)22 919 70 80. Based in Geneva, Switzerland.

Consultative Status with UN ECOSOC, UNCTAD and UNESCO. Special Consultative Relations with FAO, ILO and UNICEF.

A legally binding treaty has the potential to assign clearer responsibilities to all actors in the

supply chain and to prevent violations against women.

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