Gender and Gold Mining: The Case of the Maroons of Suriname

Citation:

Heemskerk, Marieke. 2000. Gender and Gold Mining: The Case of the Maroons of Suriname. Working Paper 269, Women in International Development, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI.

Author: Marieke Heemskerk

Abstract:

This paper analyzes the relations between gender and gold mining among the Ndjuka Maroons, forest peoples in Suriname, South America. Today, gold mining has become the primary source of subsistence for many Ndjuka families. Yet in contrast to other parts of the world, few Ndjuka women participate in mining. The researcher examines how the gender system in Ndjuka society accounts for the male domination of gold mining, and how some women have negotiated traditional gender roles. Quantitative and qualitative data support the conclusion that the limited participation of Ndjuka women in gold mining is a product their limited access to critical resources and mobility. The internalization of gender ideology, and the dependence of women on men, prevents women from challenging existing gender roles and power structures in society. The women who engage in mining are typically poor single mothers who have adopted urban gender beliefs. Poverty and prior market experience inform their choice to become gold miners. On a theoretical level, it is argued that gender systems are changing continuously, under the influences of time, space, political process, and economic development. It appears that when the economic contribution of women becomes indispensable to household survival, cultural restrictions to the mobility and economic power of women necessarily weaken. The researcher emphasizes that the heterogeneity among women differentiates the options and constraints of individual women who make livelihood decisions. The conclusion is drawn that development efforts will only be effective when such efforts fully recognize the dynamism of gender systems and the heterogeneity among women.

Annotation:

Quotes:

“…the limited participation of Ndjuka women in gold mining is a product [of] their limited access to critical resources and mobility. The internalization of gender ideology, and the dependence of women on men, prevents women from challenging existing gender roles and power structures in society.” (1)

“Western researchers, she argues, have misread matriliny as matriarchy. They have misinterpreted the relative indepdence of Maroon women as their deliberate choice for Western-style feminism (1988: 127). My experience in Suriname support Price’s argument that gender inequality is present below the surface of Maroon society. Inequality between Maroon women and men limits the access of women to political power, money, capital assets and contacts with the outside world.” (7)

“Mining for gold used to be a temporary activity, performed when people needed cash. At present, gold mining has become the primary source of subsistence for many Ndjuka households. Now gold mining has increased in importance, it has become less of a family enterprise. Wives of today’s gold miners occasionally pay visits to their husbands, but they have been excluded from the mining process… mineral extraction became a male dominated activity with increased modernization and market orientation.” (12)

“Ndjuka women in the forest face significant gender-based barriers to entry into gold mining… many women blamed their lack of mobility on the refusal of male kin or husband to provide transport… women mentioned they could not go to the mining area because they needed to take care of the household and children, or because husbands objected. Women themselves may perpetuate some of these restrictions by internalizing the belief that women should be mothers and farmers…” (14)

“Most serious is the damage of small-scale gold mining to human and ecosystem health. Recent research in Suriname revealed a relationship between the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and the presence of sex work in and around mining camps… Gold mining also enhances the spread of malaria and other tropical diseases, and prevents their control.” (15)

“The invisibility of the health impacts of gold mining, and the clear economic benefits, explain the positive view of Ndjuka women hold of gold mining.” (15)

“Few women find that the economic opportunities offered in the mining camps make up for the hardships they experience. Only a lack of alternatives keep them going…Travel to and in the Sella Creek area is exhausting and expensive, as is the transport of merchandise. In Addition, women frequently confront malaria and sexual harassment. Traveling women also regret having the leave their children in the care of others for long periods.” (17)

Topics: Economies, Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Gendered Power Relations, Health, Reproductive Health, Households, Livelihoods Regions: Americas, South America Countries: Suriname

Year: 2000

© 2017 CONSORTIUM ON GENDER, SECURITY & HUMAN RIGHTSLEGAL STATEMENT All photographs used on this site, and any materials posted on it, are the property of their respective owners, and are used by permission. Photographs: The images used on the site may not be downloaded, used, or reproduced in any way without the permission of the owner of the image. Materials: Visitors to the site are welcome to peruse the materials posted for their own research or for educational purposes. These materials, whether the property of the Consortium or of another, may only be reproduced with the permission of the owner of the material. This website contains copyrighted materials. The Consortium believes that any use of copyrighted material on this site is both permissive and in accordance with the Fair Use doctrine of 17 U.S.C. § 107. If, however, you believe that your intellectual property rights have been violated, please contact the Consortium at info@genderandsecurity.org.