The impact of mining

Community natural resources destroyed for mining at KPC coal mine, East Kalimantan (DTE)

DTE 99-100, October 2014

This article is drawn from a substantial two-part essay by Siti Maimunah, of the Women and Mining Working Team (TKPT), and Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM). It was published in Etnohistori in May 2014.[1]

In Indonesia, poverty caused by the extractives industries hits women the hardest. Why is this so? Because mining companies, supported by the government, plunder the places where women and their families live, removing everything productive that is below and above the surface, causing irreparable damage. They also close down women’s room for manoeuvre within their communities and within wider society. They confine women’s space, from the domestic to the political.

In their everyday lives in the community, women play several roles: domestic, productive, reproductive and social-political, all of which are inextricably linked.

 In rural areas, the productive role of women usually involves owning and managing agricultural land. Satariah an indigenous Dayak Siang woman from Puruk Cahu, Central Kalimantan, for example, owns fields totalling 10-15 hectares within her family’s customary lands. She also owns a traditional gold mining pit which she inherited from her parents. Before, while she worked in her fields, her husband, Atak Lidi, dug for gold in their mining pit. Satariah harvested more than enough rice from her own fields for her family’s needs and didn’t need to buy any. She also had the income from gold. As a landowner, Satariah used to be economically independent. But since PT Indo Muro Kencana came to the area, and took over her land and mining pit, she has had less land to survive on, and engages in less economic activity. She has become poor.

Women’s domestic role involves the daily supplying of food, fresh water, power and other basic needs, for the family. This role requires women to be closely in touch with natural resources: land, forest and water sources. It can’t be separated from women’s reproductive role, which includes giving birth to and caring for their children. All this has been experienced by Sofia Ba’un, a woman from Molo in East Nusa Tenggara province.

Sofia Ba’un lives near Mount Batu Naitapan, Tunua Village, Timor Tengah Selatan district. She gets up at 5am, prepares food for her children and goes out to fetch water. She used to go to the nearby water source at the mountain. Local people believe the mountain, which they call Fatu Naitapan, provides water and has a water source within in. It only used to take Sofia 15 minutes to get there and come back again with the water.

But since the provincial governor, Piter Tallo, issued a mining licence to PT Teja Sekawan in 2003, everything has changed. Just four months after the company cleared the trees and started cutting into the mountain, Sofia Ba’un, together with 25 other people, were hit by a landslide. On top of that, marble mining waste contaminated the water around the mountain. She lost her garden used for growing food, and it’s now difficult to find fresh water. She must now walk to another mountain, called Fatulik, near the neighbouring village. It takes around two hours to get there and back, every day.

The experiences of Satariah and Sofia Ba’un show that when women’s spaces are restricted or disappear altogether, this pushes women who were once landowners and economically independent into poverty, eventually becoming economically dependent on men - whether these are their fathers, husbands, brothers or male relatives. This is also what happened to women living near the PT Kaltim Prima Coal mine, owned by the Bakrie family in Sekerat, Sekurau, East Kalimantan. In 2002, when the community lands were grabbed by the company, the men’s way of making a living changed, they became fishermen or loggers. For women, there was less choice: once it was no longer possible to farm, the only livelihood option left was making palm sugar, and when it became impossible to do that, there was nothing left. As a result, they became totally dependent on the men.

“Before, we didn’t really mind very much if the men went off somewhere; we could still eat: there was rice, there were vegetables and if we wanted fish, we just had to fetch some from our fishpond, all for free. But since our land has been taken by KPC, we’ve lost all that we once owned. Women can’t eat if the men don’t go to work in the forest or another job that brings in money. We have to pay for everything now. Life is really difficult now.”

So said Ibu Mar, a woman living in Sekurau Bawah.

Large-scale destruction of productive land, and the disposal of waste over huge areas, destroys women’s bodies, impoverishes them and can even kill them. In modern mining, the extraction of minerals from the rocks that contain them involves the disposal of 95% - 99.9% of the processed rock. These tailings can be extremely reactive and carry serious environmental risks, from acid rock drainage and the release of toxic metals and toxic reagents used in the ore processing (Mining Watch Canada 2009).

However, although their water sources are polluted with waste rock, their economic limitations and the  distance from clean water sources mean that women have no other choice than to use the polluted water. In Buyat Bay, North Sulawesi, women and children were forced to use the Buyat River, which was muddied and polluted, for bathing and washing their clothes.  Meanwhile, the water supplied by the mining company Newmont, was discovered to be contaminated too, with arsenic (Tim Terpadu 2004). The most recent National Women’s Commission report on their health condition said the health problems experienced by the Buyat women, included lumps on the breasts, armpits and neck.[2] Apart from headaches and itching over the whole body, the women fisherfolk also experienced disruptions to their menstrual cycle. One woman, Puyang, died after a lump on her breast ruptured, and this is strongly suspected to have been caused by heavy metals pollution.

Around the PT Freeport mine, women face multidimensional problems, from the company, government, security guards and also from their husbands. When PT Freeport came, the land changed function, became a mining area and the women were displaced. PT Freeport destroyed the women’s means of providing for their families. The government never asked women’s opinion about this mine and their right to receive or manage the compensation money was denied. Later the women became victims of violence due to the compensation money.

Prolonged protest action which halted operations several times, forced PT Freeport to negotiate. The local Papuans were represented by LEMASA (Amungme Customary Council) whose management was 100% male. PT Freeport agreed to pay compensation equalling 1% of its gross income, which was paid to the male heads of households. Consequently, the compensation didn’t reach the home, but was spent by men on getting drunk, prompting an increase in alcohol consumption in Timika. Men visited bars and brothels more often.

 “The men got compensation money from PT Freeport. They bought alcohol, got drunk and beat us,” said Yosepha Alomang.

“Women bore the consequences, when their husbands came home inebriated, having finished playing around with other women, and their homes became a place for violence. The compensation money caused an increase in cases of domestic violence.”

In the patriarchal cultural system, women have been impoverished through the marginalisation of their roles. Add natural resources exploitation to the mix and the process of impoverishment is accelerated. If we trace it back, impoverishment starts when people lose their right to manage natural resources in their areas, when the government decides to give a mining concession to a company. Alongside the demolition that happens at the mine site, there is a process of physical change that happens in the ecology of the wider landscape, which destroys water sources, land, rocks, forests, and seas which are governed according to customary values and which now become so damaged that they can’t be used any longer.

Next come changes to the economic order: starting with the systems of production, consumption and distribution within families. These changes are triggered by the destruction of the natural landscape, so that the system of natural resources management is lost, and communities are forced into the market. Local modes of production change, from non-cash to the cash economy and dependence on the market mechanism. Meanwhile the high cost brings migrants in, changing the local social, cultural and economic life of the community.  A collapse of socio-cultural relations between families and other community members happens when they are deprived of their land and natural resources. Consumerism takes over, and the community’s ‘social memory’ starts to fade. Health suffers too, either as a result of pollution from mining waste, or because of previously unknown diseases brought in by miners.

Finally, politically, women are confronted with a collapse of the local leadership system. This should provide protection for the community, but now local leaders support the company. Here, women’s existence is not recognised in decision-making. Negotiations only allow space for men as heads of households.

The women’s movement and natural resource conflicts

Wherever there are natural resource conflicts, there are women who resist, alongside men. One or two of them even take the lead - take Aleta Baun on the island of Timor, who led the successful campaign against marble mining on her community’s land, and, together with the Tiga Batu Tungku indigenous people, transformed her resistance into a struggle for the restoration of indigenous peoples’ sovereignty.[3] Meanwhile, other women resisters are rarely reported by the mainstream media.   

There are many more women who voice concerns about mining’s destructive impacts while all the men are discussing compensation. Take Satariah who resisted the Australian mining company Aurora Gold in Puruk Cahu, Central Kalimantan.[4] Also Natasya Rireq, A Dayak woman who was raped by a Rio Tinto manager along with five other women at their gold mine, PT Kelian Equatorial Mining, in East Kalimantan.4[5] Also Surtini Paputungan and Johra Lombonaung in North Sulawesi, who voiced the problems of families and the environment which Newmont, a USA-based mining company, failed to answer.

But these cases are like waves rising and falling, their voices become drowned out by many other issues that emerge, and which submerge the struggle of these women. Meanwhile in the cities, the women’s movement, especially at national level, tends to focus on the mainstreaming of women’s civil and political rights. The choice of this agenda is based on cases of organised state and civil violence, and domestic violence which are believed to have been triggered by the political and economic situation in Indonesia, especially at the end of the 1970s.[6]

Many women are the victims of violence, at household, community and public level. Even in the process of searching and monitoring the victims of sexual, physical or verbal violence, they are so traumatised that they are not able to identify the perpetrators. Usually, further investigation shows that the violence they have suffered has a clear link to social and political problems, as was the case in the rape of women during the 1998 riots.

These facts inspired the birth of the Women and Mining Working Team (TKPT) in Banjar Baru, South Kalimantan, in 1999. Early on, TKPT carried out a lot of research on cases of large-scale mining in Kalimantan, especially South, Central and East Kalimantan. More recently, the team has found it difficult to renew itself. Not many activists, let alone women, are interested in working on the extractives industries. Ten years on, their voice can occasionally be heard responding to the issue of mining in East Kalimantan. According to the TKPT- East Kalimantan, investigations into human rights violations with natural resources conflict as a trigger, are still very limited even though there are widespread cases of sexual violence that happen around natural resources exploitation areas.

Clearly there is much work to be done to stop the impoverishment of women by mining. The different impacts of mining on men and women need to be fully researched, documented, understood and  accepted by governments, companies, CSOs, and decision-makers at all levels, from the international level to village level, within the communities themselves. Women resisters need to be supported; their concerns listened to; and their right to have say in their own futures upheld.

[2] Author’s additional note: men were similarly affected.

[3] See also 'Women lead mining opposition' section in 'Indigenous Women's workshop at AMAN Congress', DTE 74, August 2007 at  for more background to this case.

[4] Author’s additional note: She took part in actions together with the men and together with the community she performed a ritual to show that people’s mining had a history in that place; she also travelled to Jakarta to campaign and join the plaintiffs in a lawsuit.

[5] Author’s additional note: She spoke up about the rape, revealed that she had given birth to a child as a result of the rape; she spoke to the media and only accepted compensation once she had been promised that her child would receive compensation. She also visited Jakarta at the time of Rio Tinto’s mine closure, to challenge the company. See also ‘Perempuan Dayak Korban Perkosaan Berunjuk Rasa’, Tempo Interaktif, 02, Dec/2004.

[6] Author’s additional note: this was a period of high economic growth with the rise of extractive industries like oil, mining and logging. This was the start of violence against women, because it destroyed women’s living spaces.