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Down to Earth No. 56, February 2003

Women suffer worst impacts of mining - cases from Indonesia

The severely damaging impacts of mining on women have been highlighted in a new report, launched by Oxfam Community Aid Abroad on November 25th, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Oxfam Community Aid's report, Tunnel Vision: Women, Mining and Communities, is a compilation of papers presented at a forum convened in Melbourne in June last year to explore the impacts of mining on women in local communities. The contributors provide examples of mining activities in Indigenous Australia, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea which have overlooked or disregarded women's rights, resulting in the further marginalisation and impoverishment of women. There were two contributions on Indonesia, and one on West Papua.

In her critique of Indonesian mining policy, Meentje Simatauw, programme co-ordinator with the Indonesian NGO Pikul, says the Indonesian government's policy has "boldly pawned the fate of generations to come, ensuring the destruction of the living environment, the suffering of traditional communities, a decreased quality of life amongst local populations, increased violence against women, and the destruction of the islands' ecology".

Ms Simatauw's paper describes how mining legislation is geared toward serving the interests of investors and the government and how community rights over land and resources are swept aside in the rush to extract minerals. As examples of mining companies linked to human rights abuses, she lists PT Freeport Indonesia, operators of the massive gold and copper mine in West Papua which is part-owned by Britain's Rio Tinto; PT Indo Muro Kencana, operators of the recently closed Central Kalimantan gold mine, run (until last year) by Australia's Aurora Gold; and PT Kelian Equatorial Mining, the Rio Tinto-owned company which mines gold on indigenous land in East Kalimantan.

Women in Indonesia have been affected by mining in different ways:

The impact of PT IMK's mine on one Dayak Siang Bakumpai woman's life is described as follows:

[DTE note: Dayak communities affected by the IMK mine are suing Aurora for damages of around $40,000 and loss of 380,000 grammes of gold (see DTE 55). The case is currently going through the South Jakarta state court.]

The report also outlines how women in mine-affected communities may suffer doubly at the hands of a mining company. Not only are they evicted from their lands, and their resources which provide the basis of their livelihood degraded or destroyed, but any compensation the company offers is usually paid to men only, causing further marginalisation of women. This is what happened to Amungme women living near the Freeport/Rio Tinto mine in West Papua, according to the report. The fact that only men received the compensation payments has resulted in increases in alcohol consumption, bars and sex workers, violence against women and domestic violence.

At Rio Tinto's Kelian mine in East Kalimantan women suffered sexual abuse at the hands of mine employees. Women jobseekers at the mine were "often forced to fulfil the sexual needs of higher ranked employees"* But these abuses often remain hidden. Male-dominated labour organisations and mine workers do not raise cases of human rights violations against women, but tend to focus on pay and conditions.

* Details of sexual harassment and incidences of rape of local women by PT KEM employees are included in a report by Indonesia's National Commission for Human Rights, completed in 2001, but as yet unpublished. The crimes undermine the company's claims to be committed to human rights principles - see also item on Rio Tinto below.

(Source: The Polarisation of the People and the State in the Interests of the Political Economy and Women's Struggle to Defend their Existence; a critique of mining policy in Indonesia. Meentje Simatauw, translated by Laurinda Bailey, June 2002)


Anthropologist Kathryn Robinson's paper focuses on women living near the nickel mine and smelting complex in Soroako, South Sulawesi, operated by an Indonesian subsidiary of the Canadian company, Inco. Here fundamental social as well as environmental changes have been wrought by the mine, with young men from the Soroako area almost universally working for the company or its contractors. "The distribution of power between men and women and definitions of masculinity and femininity has been transformed both by the new labour arrangements associated with the mine's domination of the local economy, and the traditional ideas of gender roles imposed by the Suharto regime."

Robinson describes an incident which shocked the villagers. A woman, first thought to be dead, was diagnosed at the company hospital as undernourished and suffering from TB. The sick villager was a landless widow with two children, who, before mine development, had assisted other people in their fields in exchange for a proportion of rice harvested.

"The changed economy, with no more wet rice fields [the wet-rice lands were forcibly taken by the company for mining] made it difficult for her to make a living in this way. Instead she had only casual work…Her teenage son provided the bulk of the family income through the arduous task of collecting rattan in the jungle. After contracting TB, she was unable to perform even simple jobs, and her situation worsened. Her story illustrated the impact of the monetisation of the economy."

(Labour, Love and Loss: Mining and the displacement of women's labour, Kathyrn Robinson, Senior Research Fellow, Australian National University.)

Mining and HIV in West Papua

The Freeport/Rio Tinto mine in West Papua has brought many well-documented impacts to the local community and environment. One aspect that is less commonly publicised is the impact on health - particularly through HIV/AIDS. In her paper, Dr Nurlina Silitonga, an Indonesian general practitioner, outlines this problem and its specific impact on women in the mining town of Timika, which has the second highest AIDS rate in West Papua. West Papua itself has the highest rate in Indonesia. Local women are especially vulnerable as they have low levels of literacy and knowledge about the AIDS virus and there are increasingly high levels of alcohol-related violence, infidelity, rape and prostitution in the town.

(Mining, HIV/AIDS and Women Timika, Papua Province, Indonesia, Nurlina Silitonga with A. Ruddick, Wignall FS)

Tunnel Vision can be accessed online at

Impact on women

Some of the impacts of large-scale mining operations on women identified in the Oxfam CAA report are:

  • Companies entering into negotiations only with men, making women neither party to the negotiations, nor beneficiaries of royalties or compensation payments. As a result, women are stripped of their traditional means of acquiring status and wealth;

  • Companies not recognising the religious and spiritual connections of indigenous women to their environments and land, especially when they are displaced by mining activities;

  • Women generally having little or no control over and access to any of the benefits of mining developments, especially money and employment. They therefore become more dependent on men who are more likely to be able to access and control these benefits;

  • The traditional roles and responsibilities of women becoming marginalised as the community becomes more dependent on the cash-based economy created by mine development;

  • The workload of women increasing as men work in a cash economy created by mining operations and women have increased responsibility for the household and food provision through traditional means;

  • Women becoming more at risk of impoverishment, particularly in households headed by women;

  • Women bearing both the physical and mental strain of mine development, especially when it involves resettlement;

  • Women suffering from an increased risk of HIV/AIDS and other STD infections, family violence, rape and prostitution - often fuelled by alcohol abuse and/or a transient male workforce; and

  • Women suffering active and often brutal discrimination in the workplace.

Tunnel Vision: Women, Mining and Communities, Forum Report, November 2002

CAA report covers IMK, Rawas, Gag and Kelian

Community Aid Abroad's Mining Ombudsman's report for 2001-2002 is now available at

The report includes useful updates on the now closed Indo Muro Kencana gold mine in Central Kalimantan which was recently sold to Australia's Archipelago Resources; PT Barisan Tropical Mining's Rawas gold mine in South Sumatra; BHP's proposed nickel mine on Gag Island, West Papua; and Rio Tinto's Kelian gold mine in East Kalimantan.

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