Kamituga, Democratic Republic of the Congo – The mining town of Kamituga is located in an area with vast mineral resources estimated to be worth $24 trillion in untapped deposits, but despite this Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has one of the lowest levels of GDP per capita in the world.
In eastern DRC women are leading a revolution that is helping not only to change the image of this central African country, but also that of the artisanal mining sector (AMS) that provides livelihoods to large numbers of people.
According to the mining code first drafted in 2002 and amended on March 9, 2018, artisanal mining activity is “every activity where a person from Congolese nationality performs either the excavation or concentration of mineral resources, using artisanal tools, methods and procedures, within an area characterised by a limited size and a depth that can’t be over thirty metres”.
So far, artisanal mining has previously been known for corruption and child labour.
However, since 2006, women have started to unite in associations and a decade later have built a tight-knit network known by the French acronym of RENAFEM (National Network of Women in Mining).
“In Congo being a woman is the greatest challenge,” says Angelique Nyirasafari, a mineral trader operating in the Masisi territory of the North Kivu province and a member of RENAFEM. “Women have been discriminated [against] for so long that they started to believe they are inferior to the men, and that’s why men feel legitimised to behave as if they were really superior.”
Thanks to RENAFEM, many women have gained some awareness of their legal and reproductive rights.
Nevertheless, the journey Congolese women must undertake to gain equal rights in the sector still has far to go.
In order for women’s social growth to rise at the same pace as economic growth so their lives can experience a tangible improvement, institutions must intervene, Nyirasafari says.
“Congo is a jungle, where impunity, bad administration and injustice are very widespread,” she claims. “Justice is part of the transaction and those who don’t have money don’t get to be listened to.”