ASM18: Placing the voices and visions of women artisanal miners at the heart of policy discussions

September 19, 2018
AZWIM members showcasing their jewelry made from Development Minerals at ASM18.

Over 500 delegates from more than 70 countries – and crucially more than 150 miners – recently spent three days discussing their visions for the future of artisanal and small-scale mining and quarrying – low-tech, labor intensive mineral extraction and processing. Women miners were particularly well-represented.

The gathering was for the International Conference on Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining and Quarrying, or ASM18, which took place Sept. 11-13 in Livingstone, Zambia. ASM18 is part of the wider African, Caribbean and Pacific Groups of States (ACP) and European Union-funded Development Minerals Programme, which is implemented by the conference organizers the United Nations Development Programme.

Pauline Mundia, a past president of the Federation of Small-Scale Miners Associations of Zambia, and currently national coordinator for the Association of Zambian Women in Mining, or AZWIM, opened proceedings, addressing an excited audience of change-makers that spanned three large conference rooms and an overflow tent. Nothing on this scale has happened in the ASM space before. As chair of a panel entitled, “Voices of ASM, Visions of the Future,” comprised of fellow miners from Ghana, Guyana and Fiji, as well as others from across ACP-member states, Mundia argued that, if properly supported, the sector “has the potential to become a cornerstone of rural development.”

Yet despite more than 40 years of work, ASM and quarrying have remained often-forgotten and marginalized in favor of large-scale mining, largely missing from international development frameworks. They’ve attracted only piecemeal attention from donors and policymakers – until now.

At long last, the enormous potential of the sector is starting to be fully realized. This was evident in many of the conference’s 36 workshops. They highlighted ASM’s ability to alleviate poverty, interlock with agricultural livelihoods, and stimulate jobs, markets and wealth creation in rural communities; to contribute to national economic growth through the taxation and exports of raw and value-added minerals; to provide the materials needed to propel the construction of roads, hospitals and schools throughout the ACP-EU regions; and to economically empower people to be agents of their own change.

Pact works to support all of these through its Mines to Markets Program, and used the conference as an opportunity to host a regional meeting of expert staff members from eight of its country offices. All are actively working on development challenges related to the mineral resources sector.

Pact also sponsored the participation of two women miners who attended the conference, ensuring their voices and visions for the future could be heard. Both with AZWIM, they were Angelica Rumsey, the association’s executive director, and Josephine Zulu, a member and gemstone trader.

Artisanal miners in Zambia. (Credit: James McQuilken)

Speaking with AZWIM representatives after the conference, it was clear they are excited by the long-awaited attention and platform they have finally been given. The AZWIM delegation praised public commitments by Zambia’s Minister of Mines, Richard Musukwa, to update the country’s mineral governance structures:

“The Minister pledged to ease the regulations on licensing of the ASM, which is something that is very key for most of the players. The present mining policy that is available, it is only on large-scale [mining] so it is not an inclusive policy. So, it does not give a roadmap on small-scale mining … so when he says he is going to ease … they might look at the mine policy [and] come up with an effective legal framework that would support the ASM, which is not available at the moment. Because as it is [now] whether you are small or big, you are the same, in terms of taxation, even in terms of the area charges, large or small, the rate is the same.”

Demonstrating high-level commitment, Zambian President Edgar Lungu endorsed this pledge during the conference’s opening ceremony.

The AZWIM delegation was also pleased by the announcement that the ACP-EU Development Minerals Programme is to be extended:

“The extension of the … program is the key milestone for all the artisanal and small-scale miners, because whatever did not work in the first phase of the program, we hope it will be done better, and improve output. And having had so many people participate in the conference, and at high-level, and the Minister (of Mines and Mineral Development, Richard Musukwa, in the closing remarks), they [government] have made commitments which we hope will be beneficial to most of the players, especially the miners themselves.”

The future of small-scale mining and quarrying

A key output of the conference was the signing of the Mosi-oa-Tunya Declaration on ASM and Quarrying – named after the Tonga expression for Victoria Falls, “The Smoke that Thunders.” With this, the final question for AZWIM members was what they envision for their sector over the next five years. They answered:

  • To build the capacity of associations such as AZWIM to engage and dialogue with government and international donors, as well as reach more members to promote education and the benefits of formalization. This, it was explained, will enable AZWIM to “be used as a vehicle to bring awareness to the informal sector and also the community and local leadership, so they appreciate it is their onus.”
  • A transformation of the entire sector, “so that the stigma can be erased, so that in five years’ time, it will no longer be poverty-driven, [but ASM will] be driven for economic development.”
  • To reach a point where women have achievements to share, not just challenges: “If more women can have positive stories, then it will be an encouragement to the young ones, and even take jobs as geologist, engineers and entrepreneurs in mining, and in the whole value chain.”

Making these visons a reality will take time, and much change still needs to happen at all levels of governance in the process of formalization. But with the voices of artisanal and small-scale miners finally being engaged in international policy dialogues, and especially those of women, there is hope that in five years’ time, a formalized, government-supported and socially, economically and environmentally productive ASM sector will have started to emerge.