Roles and Status of Women in Extractive Industries in India: Making a Place for a Gender-Sensitive Mining Development


Lahiri-Dutt, Kuntala. 2007. “Roles and Status of Women in Extractive Industries in India: Making a Place for a Gender-Sensitive Mining Development.” Social Change 37 (4): 37–64.

Author: Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt


In tracing women’s roles and analysing their low status in the extractive industries in India, particularly coal mining, this paper highlights the need of sensitizing the Indian mining establishments ranging from educational, research and training institutions to the Ministries and Bureaus as well as the industrial organizations so as to provide equal work opportunities for women. It shows that mining is not a ‘non-traditional’ area of work for women as is commonly thought. It also raises the importance of class, caste and locational juxtaposition in understanding institutionalized sensitivities towards gender. The author argues that the formal extractive industries continue to exclude women and remain sites of rewards of production for men because of the entrenched social bias as traditionally those working in the collieries were largely from lower caste, poorer classes and indigenous communities.


  • The article discusses “three differential aspects in gendering the extractive industries in India: gender roles, gendered social identities in the mines, and gendered status of workers.” (40)
  • The lack of women’s ownership rights over land lies at the core of disenfranchisement of women in almost all natural resource management sectors. FAO (1996) notes: ‘Land rights can serve multiple functions in rural women’s lives, which are not easy to replicate through other means.’… In extractive industries, this lack of access to mineral resources in terms of lack of property rights put women in a position of poor bargaining power both as a group and as individuals.” (45).


“…women’s participation as producers often remains invisible. Women’s contribution in a range of work in and around the mines demolishes many myths about gender roles of men and women at work. Women’s work in mining blur the rigid boundaries of gender roles and show that… the spheres of men and women’s work are not necessarily separate but overlap.” (38)

“The culturally propagated myths are supported by formal laws that restrict women’s work in mines… such restrictions result in a concentration of women only in lower level, manual, less safe and more insecure jobs. Better paid or technical jobs in mines do not usually go to women… Women do not own the mines due to limited access to and control over resources such as land, including what lies under or over it. The inequity gets transmitted from the industry to the community of its location; the unequal economic and social relationships between men and women imposed by the social organization of mining industry reinforce the subordinate position of women in the mining regions.” (38-39)

“A gender perspective will deepen our understanding of the labour dynamics of the extractive industry. It will show how the differential positions of women and men in the spheres of industrial production reflect the social relations of gender and are perpetuated by gender ideologies, whereas economic differences among women result from the inequalities of class and ethnicity, structured by the mode of production…” (41)

“Women’s involvement in mining work is a critically important challenge in ‘engendering’ the extractive industries sector in India… in most parts of the country, and in almost all natural resource management sectors, the lack of equity is evident in their poor status in formally determining resource utilization. Throughout India women comprise a disproportionate segment of the chronically poor population, face gender discrimination throughout their lives within the family, society and at places of work, have low levels of control over property and resources, and bear shocking burdens of work.” (44)

“The focus of national policies and programmes has been more on employment generation for women rather than ownership and control over resources. In general, these policies tend to pay least importance in addressing women’s needs and priorities or to involving them in decision-making roles.” (45)

“Trade unions in the coal mining industry have also been less responsive to women workers’ needs and interests than their male members’ interests. The attitude to women workers tends to be condescending and in their ‘noble’ efforts to ‘protect’ the weak women, trade unions often fail to look after women’s issues and interest in a substantive way.” (47)

“Women’s proportional employment in the formal sector has been steadily declining since independence… Since women’s employment in all industrial categories has increased in recent years, this decline can be attributed to their substitution by men in formal and large mines. Consequently, small mines and quarries have been able to absorb the cheap labour of women in large numbers as contract workers under conditions of bondage and exploitation… throughout Asia the numbers of women engaged in informal mining have been rising… Given the seasonality of these jobs, insecurity and low wages, and the global trend of feminization, informalization and casualization of women’s labour, it can safely be assumed that the work participation of women in the informal mines will also rise.” (50-51)

Topics: Caste, Class, Economies, Extractive Industries, Gender, Gender Roles, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Indigenous, Livelihoods, Rights, Land Rights Regions: Asia, South Asia Countries: India

Year: 2007

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