The State of Gender Based Violence in the Artisanal Small-Scale Mining Sector


Gender-based violence (GBV) has become a widespread problem in Zimbabwe[1]. GBV (which disproportionately affects women, men, and girls) is systemic, and deeply entrenched in institutions, cultures, religions, and traditions in Zimbabwe including in the Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM) sector. This situational report will therefore examine GBV in Zimbabwe’s mineral resource rich areas of Zvishavane, Mberengwa, Bubi and Umzingwane Districts while exploring what different actors are doing to respond to the violence in the ASM sector.

For the past two decades, ZELA has been working in the extractives industry focusing on responsible sourcing, Artisanal Mining and Livelihoods, Gender, and Extractives. ZELA is a member of the Platform on Gender and Extractives whose common interest is to see Zimbabwean women actively participate and benefit from the country’s mineral resources. This situational report was compiled during the women’s month as a way of shining a light on the challenges faced by women in the ASM sector; a fast-growing sector and livelihood to many.


Extractives affects the lives, bodies, and territories of women, in the promotion of mining projects positively through livelihoods, negatively through displacements, loss of livelihoods such as agriculture and pollution. Most of the socio-environmental costs of the extractive industry are felt by the rural populations of extractive regions, however, women are often disproportionately impacted. The presence of extractive projects is associated with the increase of gender violence, including an upsurge in activities such as commercial sex work (Carney etal, 2020). In some communities where mining operations take place challenges such as restriction of women’s freedom have been recorded. The increase in alcoholism and the use of drugs associated with an increase in extractive projects also has direct repercussions on the increase of gender, psychological and physical violence. For some, the use of drugs has become a coping mechanism to escape the realities of life such as poverty, and this creates an ideal environment for violence to take place. Many women and girls who are not directly involved in mining are sucked into commercial sex work and many become victims of abuse perpetrated by men who take advantage of them. This contributes to high incidences of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases as well as increase in gender-based violence.

Methodology and Data Collection

This report outlines violence against women in the Extractives sector specifically those in the ASM sector undertaking their operations in Zvishavane, Mberengwa, Bubi and Umzingwane. Women have been participating in the mineral value chain stages from production to selling, however the report focused on women on the mine site and at the production level. Data collection was done through key informant interviews and Focus Group Discussions with Artisanal and Small-Scale Miners, Traditional Leaders, Rural District Council, Miners Associations, and the Zimbabwe Republic Police.

Knowledge on Gender Based Violence

There are many different definitions of GBV, but it was broadly defined by interviewees as “the general term used to highlight an act of violence that occurs because of the normative role expectations by society associated with biological make up, along with the unequal power relationships between genders attributed to economic affluence, within the context of a specific society in this case mining society.

ZELA assessed the level of GBV knowledge.  Most of the respondents were conversant on GBV issues, they articulated well the types of GBV and went further to clearly share the types of GBV that they face in the ASM sector. The types of violence identified include sexual harassment, intimate partner violence, child marriages, emotional, psychological violence physical, sexual, and financial, or structural. GBV can be perpetrated by intimate partners, acquaintances, strangers, and institutions. One respondent from Marange said that GBV can be defined as an act of abuse, physical assault, emotional or verbal directed to a person, male or female. Speaking with participants from Umzingwane they demonstrated knowledge of GBV in the ASM and described it as the abuse of people, the conflict among people living together.

The expectations associated with different genders vary from society to society and over time. Patriarchal power structures dominate in the areas, in which male leadership is seen as the norm, and men hold most of the power. Patriarchy is a social and political system that treats men as superior to women – where women cannot protect their bodies, meet their basic needs, participate fully in society and men perpetrate violence against women with impunity and always seem to get away with it even after women report the violations, in fact it now seems like the normal scenario which women must get used to (IGF, 2018). As a result, the women find themselves vulnerable and are exposed to GBV as they try to infiltrate the male dominated sector.

Despite having good knowledge on GBV, the interviewees exhibited limited understanding of the legislative framework and the social protection measures that are available for them to get redress and access justice for GBV related cases, a gap which was identified by ZELA during data collection.

Drivers of Gender Based Violence in the ASM

During the data collection, it was revealed that most women that are working in the ASM sector have been victims of GBV in one way or another where they have faced psychological and emotional violence.

Myths and Misconceptions

According to the participants the drivers of GBV are vested around cultural and religious beliefs coupled with rising poverty levels that systematically exclude and limit women from participating in the mineral value chain. For instance, some of the myths include that of women experiencing their menstrual period and are not allowed to be near mineral extraction sites because it is believed that it makes minerals disappear and affect mineral production. Women are deemed to be weak and because of that their participation is limited giving them an economic disadvantage compared to men.

It was also revealed that drug and substance abuse by male counterparts in the ASM sector causes and perpetuates GBV cases. When male miners get money, they use alcohol and alleged drugs and substances that have seen them exuding an aura of aggression and some of these violent actions have seen women falling victims. This causes phycological abuse and sexual harassment.

Attributed to unequal resource distribution, women are usually found in the low paying stages of the mineral value chain such as supply chain-cooking services and men are found as mine owners, gold buyers. As a result of this uneven distribution of wealth and women’s place in the value chain, men in the ASM sector view women as sexual objects and tend to sexually abuse them. This makes it hard for women to access supply chain services without being sexually abused, harassed, threatened. When the women do not comply to the sexual demands, access to the supply chain or lucrative roles is denied. All this is attributed to the power of economic affluence, dominance and men who are usually leaders of the supply chains or owners.

Socially Constructed Fear to Report

Women also highlighted that some of them have decided to suffer in silence because they must submit to men this social acceptability of violence makes it particularly challenging to address GBV effectively, especially where reporting is deemed a crime more than a crime itself. For married women it is difficult for husbands to continue trusting them and makes them more insecure because of the male dominated working environment in which women miners work. One of the interviewees shared that, “When you report sexual assault or abuse, the whole sector starts to side-line you and you risk being labelled the ‘raped’ woman or the sexually offended.” There is defamation of character on the part of a women who has boldly spoken out to access justice. After being victimised women further suffer emotional trauma and phycological stress due to name calling (Prostitutes) by their male counterparts and even other females. All the women that ZELA spoke to did not see the adequacy of social protection mechanisms in Zimbabwe and the advantages of speaking out, to them it brings other forms of problems which are worse off than the violation because some men know that some women do not report sexual harassment or assault, they continue violating women and abusing them. Where a woman reports there is poor action and response by the police due to poor evidence at the mine sites which are usually remotely located, poor access to justice and most times the perpetrator is set free without any penalty.

Patriarchy and Social Norms

According to the responses by interviewees, gendered power inequality rooted in patriarchy is the primary driver of GBV. GBV (and Intimate Partner Violence in particular) is more prevalent in their communities where there are deep-rooted cultural values, and where male superiority is treated as the norm that should be accepted by all. A belief in male superiority can manifest in men feeling entitled to sex with any women they want, strict reinforcement of gender roles and hierarchy, women having low social value and power, and associating masculinity with control of women even when that woman holds a position of power.

These factors interact with several drivers, such as social norms (which may be cultural or religious), low levels of women’s economic empowerment and education levels, lack of social support, socio-economic inequality, and substance abuse among men which cause them to disrespect women and demand access to their bodies anyhow[2].


Participants in Umzingwane and Bubi shared that the drivers of GBV is attributed to Poverty – when there is shortage of finances or resources in homes, it can result in a conflict. Violence becomes the way out of frustrations. Sometimes women talk a lot, and they instigate the violence in certain situations especially when dealing with men who are short temper. Relatives and parents can also be a cause through their involvement in the relationships/marriages. They tend to cause friction between the spouses.

Effects of Gender Based Violence

GBV is a human rights violation with a public health consequence according to the constitution of Zimbabwe, however the legislative framework does not give stiffer penalties for the GBV perpetrators. Several women miners highlighted that they are failing to access mineral supply chain from production to selling without being asked for sexual favours. This happens when they take their ore to the mill, they are put last in the line with all the men going in first. For women to get access, they must have a man behind or give sexual favours to the miller. The same happens when a woman wants to own a mining claim it does not come easy with the office bearers in offices asking for sexual favours to quickly process the mining title papers. Women mostly suffer on property rights and ownership when they are married, especially when the mines are in the name of the husband, when the husband dies-relatives seize the properties from the woman issues of property rights and inheritance remain a huge challenge in the ASM sector.

Women suffer land grabbing when their mines are lucrative, men take over violently with their teams and get all the ore and leave when its finished, by the time the women seek redress they would have finished extracting the minerals. Men grab lucrative mines from women, they claim their mines and brush them off, but it usually happens for women only. Several women have also lost their tributes. In some instances when men realise the high returns from a claim, they can hijack women properties at any given time. It was revealed that Law enforcement agents are also accelerating the rate of Violence against women when they delay action which assists perpetrators to defy the law.

Although accurate statistics and cases of GBV are difficult to obtain for many reasons (including the fact that most incidents of GBV are not reported, under reported where an intimate partner is the perpetrator or family member, it is evident that Zimbabwe’s mining communities has particularly high rates of GBV, including Violence against women and girls. Case-based surveys from the stories that were shared show extremely elevated levels of intimate partner violence (IPV) and non-partner sexual violence (SV) , with IPV being the most usual form of violence against women which has been treated as a norm especially with the marriage set ups that exists in the country and the legislative framework which is weak on stiffer penalties for GBV offenders.

The victims and informants reported that domestic violence, prostitution and substance abuse and alcohol-fuelled violence have increased and caused personal trauma, family break-ups, health related issues and broad community insecurity and disruption in social protection measures which are difficult to access in remote mining sites. Where there is a gold rush there is an increase in violence against women where some men express the eagerness to explore women’s bodies by luring them with the money that they would have got from the gold rush. Some of the victims are as young as 12 years old, sent by their parents to sell food staffs and provide services such as cooking in the mine sites but end up being attracted by the money which seems to be more lucrative but comes with a price of being sexual harassed and exploited by male miners.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases, unwanted pregnancies, child marriages and sexual assault were cited as the most prevalent effects of GBV in the ASM sector. Most of the perpetrators of sexual abuse do not use protection thus exposing each other to sexually transmitted diseases. Furthermore, some women get embarrassed to go and seek medical attention which further exacerbates the effects when it ends up being fatal. Most women are giving birth to children they do not know who their fathers are, because they would have been raped. HIV/AIDs and STIs are rapidly spreading in the ASM sites mostly because of Gender Based Violence.

Snippets on Victims’ Lived Realities and Experiences these are their stories

  • One of the participants shared that they witnessed a man hitting a woman. The man was both emotionally and physically abusing the woman calling her names. To add salt to the injury, this was being done in front of their children.
  • Another participant shared that she was once a victim of gender-based violence.  For her, she believed as women they play a role in leading to the violence. She said she was too talkative and provocative. According to her, she was responsible for the abuse that she suffered.
  • A participant shared that they also witnessed a situation in a family where the man of the house would be denied food and shouted at whenever he was not successful in his mining endeavors. He would only get food when he brought food.
  • It was also highlighted by the discussants that there is a possibility that conjugal rights get to be denied in these instances.
  • It was also highlighted that the people who sell goods in the mining areas succumb to abuse and harassment perpetuated by male miners.

Access to remedy and social protection in the ASM

ZELA visited the access to remedy services that are available in the areas which include the Zimbabwe Republic Police, and the Local traditional courts were most cases are resolved using traditional standards and values. The avenues available to report and get justice are difficult to access in terms of distance and the requirements tend to be difficult to get for a solid case that can result in justice for the victim. For example, when it comes to rape, evidence and remedy must be accessed and pursued within 72 hours, which is a brief period for a victim who is in a remote area, who may not have the resources to go to the nearest clinic or the knowledge on were to report. Most of the participants are aware of ZRP Victim Friendly Unit as a means of getting access to justice but reporting is not motivating because the perpetrator still goes without any form of punishment which even empowers them to continue abusing women. Reporting GBV cases is not taken seriously because of difficulties in accessing evidence coupled with intimidation by perpetrators who sometimes defile the course of justice through corrupt means. Most of the women respondents felt that reporting will not make you access justice or remedy but make you an outcast which will limit your access to resources and fair chance to a livelihood.

It was also revealed that most GBV cases such as IPV that are reported end up being cancelled when women withdraw. This seems to have caused Police Officers not to take women who report IPV cases seriously because they are under the assumption that the couple will settle the grievance and forgive each other which has been the normal for many couples.

Stakeholder Efforts to end GBV on the Ground

Efforts by Local Leaders

The local traditional courts are functional and assist in providing remedy for GBV cases, however these are biased on providing remedy which is linked to cultural and traditional values and norms. These cultural traditional values and norms are also the drivers of GBV. Traditional leaders are effective and give punishment which is in the form of wealth-cattle, goats, chickens, money paid to the victim’s family if it is a fatal case-death of victim, or rape of a miner. Due to awareness campaigns and education, traditional leaders are no longer taking lightly issues of child marriages and exploitation offences.

Efforts by miners’ associations

The Zimbabwe Miners Federation-particularly Mberengwa miners association also protects its women miners by facilitating access to remedy through reporting cases. Mberengwa Miners Association (MBEMA) expressed interest in developing a sexual harassment and safeguarding policy.

 In Zvishavane, women miners have an association called Zvishavane Women Miners Association, the association is a form of protection for women miners. The association protects its members and assists by facilitating access to remedy where they experience GBV or theft by male counter parts.

Efforts by Government

Through the Ministry of social welfare, social protection measures are being put in place to ensure protection of miners especially the girl child. The Ministry of social welfare in partnership with other civil society organisations (CSOs) working on sexual reproductive rights has a one stop shop on GBV, local based behaviour change facilitators who help to facilitate access to remedy for GBV victims. The Government continues to raise awareness about GBV, what the victims can do to access remedy and what society can continuously do to address the scourge.


  1. Alignment of laws and policies with the constitution and other pieces of legislation such as the Marriages Act, Sexual Offences Act and Domestic Violence Act.
  2. Implementation of laws and policies that ensure social protection
  3. Mining Associations should protect their members from GBV and assist in facilitation of remedies
  4. Awareness raising on GBV at mine sites and access to remedy mechanisms near mine sites and promoting understanding of GBV especially amongst local traditional leadership structures and religious structures who live within the mining sites is critical.
  5. Partnership and complimenting of work for CSOs working in the mining sector such as ZELA, CNRG and CSOs working on sexual reproductive rights such as Musasa, Adult Rape Clinic.
  6. Encourage ASM to register their claims and operate as formal business entities
  7. Local Authorities assistance in identification of land for more rehabilitation centers for victims of rape, drugs, and substance abuse.
  8. Grassroots level support groups for Miners to seek redress where they are not comfortable to report by themselves/
  9. Exchange visits among Miners, Communities, and traditional leaders so that they can share experiences and co-create solutions to end GBV in their areas

Reference list

  1. Castañeda Camey, I., Sabater, L., Owren, C. and Boyer, A.E. (2020). Gender-based violence and environment linkages: The violence of inequality. Wen, J. (ed.). Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. 272pp.
  2. Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development (IGF). (2018). Women in Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining: Challenges and opportunities for greater participation. Winnipeg: IISD.

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Published by: Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA)26B Seke Road, Hatfield, Harare; @ZELA_Infor, Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association

Compiled by Nobuhle M Chikuni, Joyce N Machiri, Joshua Y Machinga, Tatenda Mapoodze, Fadzai Midzi and Effort Dube



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