Mining 101: How Canada's huge extractive sector fits into the struggle for gender justice

Communities relocated to make way for gold mines in Ghana struggle with loss of agricultural land, unemployment, and environmental damage. Neil Brander/Oxfam America.
Communities relocated to make way for gold mines in Ghana struggle with loss of agricultural land, unemployment, and environmental damage. Neil Brander/Oxfam America.

Have you travelled outside of Canada before?  How many countries have you visited?  Less than five?  More than 10?  You probably haven’t covered as much territory as the Canadian mining industry, which according to Natural Resources Canada is active in 101 foreign countries. With such a broad reach, this makes the resource extraction industry one of Canada’s biggest footprints in the global economy. 

As Oxfam works to end women’s economic inequality, transforming the mining, oil and gas industries is an enormous challenge – and also a big opportunity. 

Oxfam research shows that there is an entrenched gender bias in how the benefits and risks of the industry are distributed: jobs and other economic benefits tend to go to men; and negative social impacts in mining-dependent communities (such as increased drug and alcohol use, sexual violence and family breakdown) disproportionately affect women. 

To reverse these trends, Oxfam is working with partners in resource-rich countries like Zambia, Peru and the Dominican Republic to promote women’s participation and leadership in natural resource decision-making.  We are driving change at all levels – from the project level we are promoting the use of gender impact assessments, to the national and international levels where we are supporting women’s rights organizations to participate in mining law reforms and have their voices heard.

Being such a global hub for mining finance and expertise, Canada is uniquely positioned to influence and change this industry.  At Oxfam Canada, we are encouraging the Canadian government to apply its Feminist International Assistance Policy in the field of natural resource management in the global South.  We are engaging with Canada’s major mining industry associations to incorporate women’s rights and gender equality provisions into their policies and programs.  We’ve submitted policy recommendations to Export Development Canada, which supported over $24 billion (yes, billions!) in extractive sector business in 2017 alone, on how its environmental and social review process could better integrate gender analysis and women’s rights. We’ll soon be publishing new research on how mineral revenues in mining-dependent countries like Zambia can be harnessed into gender responsive budget initiatives.

This fall, the federal government is expected to appoint the first ever Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise to investigate and address the human rights risks associated with the international activities of Canadian companies in the oil, gas mining and apparel sectors.  Oxfam firmly believes that the Ombudsperson must have a strong mandate on gender issues to address women’s economic inequality in the global economy. 

Follow Oxfam Canada here for the latest updates on gender justice in the extractive industries.

Ian Thomson is a policy expert on extractives for Oxfam Canada.