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Halting illegal activities and improving safety of women miners in the Guianas

5 November 2018

Artisanal small-scale gold mining in the Guianas causes deforestation and pollution of entire river systems. Women in this sector face harsh working conditions. An innovative monitoring system promotes responsible mining practices, resulting in better working conditions for women and better protection of ecosystems.

“In the Guianas, deforestation due to gold mining has increased by an alarming 100.000 hectares in the period 2008-2015,” says Caspar Verwer, Expert Nature Conservation at IUCN NL. Over 40.000 km waterways are affected directly or indirectly by gold mining.

There is insufficient governmental capacity to monitor illegal activities. “This lack of control poses a threat to biodiversity and the functioning of ecosystems. It also makes mining areas a dangerous place for women,” Verwer explains.

A growing number of women are involved in gold mining, either as regulators, owners of land or equipment or as operators in the field. “These women are strongly motivated to make a decent living, so their children can go to school, they can help their families and develop their communities,” says Urica Primus, President of the Guyana Women Miners Organization (GWMO). “Yet, they have to face harsh conditions in the field: bullying, gender based violence, corruption, even trafficking.”

Improving safety of women miners

In the far out mining sites in dense forests, with hardly any facilities, the lack of control makes women even more vulnerable. With support from IUCN NL and WWF NL, GWMO came up with an innovative solution to halt illegal activities and improve the safety of women miners. GMWO is now preparing to use drones and a monitoring app that allows people in the field to report illegal activities real time.

Halting illegal activities

“GWMO is the only civil society organization working intensively with the mining communities to address the social and economic issues in mining,” Verwer explains. “By acting as eyes and ears in the field, they are well positioned to detect illegal activities such as deforestation, poaching and prospecting outside of legal concession areas.” The organization works in close cooperation with police departments to improve enforcement.

“The app enables women to report misconduct, threats and even injuries, immediately,” Primus explains. “It gives them a lifeline to the appropriate authorities.” The system also encourages and empowers women to take part in decision-making processes and bodies around their environment. “The monitoring data and reports will help them steer towards evidence based planning decisions, such as the best location for assistance or health clinics.”


While safeguarding ecosystems, improved monitoring and enforcement also contributes to better working and safety conditions of women miners. Promoting responsible mining practices and enhancing inclusiveness go hand in hand. 

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More articles by: Caspar Verwer