A Snapshot of Women Miners in Indonesia

Posted March 6, 2020

Rosna, a woman miner in Hulawa Village, North Gorontalo - Photo by Catharina Indirastuti

Women miners are an important part of small-scale gold mining in North Gorontalo. Women are not only involved in supporting the mining logistics, but also directly involved in gold processing by using a simple method called panning.

Rosna, 52 years old, came from a neighboring district to find a job at a gold mining area in Hulawa. This place is very well known for its gold; ‘Hulawa’ in the local language means ‘gold house.’ Rosna and her family are living on  rented land with a small house. Her husband works as a farmer while Rosna and her mother both work as gold miners.

Rosna has been working in gold mining for more than ten years using the traditional method of gold panning. She pans the tailings left behind by other small-scale gold miners and ore processors, who dump theirmercury-contaminated mining waste into the rivers. The waste contains not only mercury, but also very small amounts of gold that Rosna and other miners like her want to collect.

For almost 10 hours a day, she pans gold at the river with half of her body dipping in the water. She does not use any protective gear such as gloves or waterproof jumpsuits. At the end of the panning process, she collects a small amount of mercury which she uses to extract gold. Within a week, she can produce one gram of gold that is worth around 400.000 rupiah, or $29 USD. The gold provides an income, however she is exposed to the dangers of mercury every single day. Without any safety equipment, she is being directly exposed to mercury which can lead to serious illness in the future.

The Global Environment Facility-funded planetGOLD project in Indonesia, GOLD-ISMIA, is working in North Gorontalo to raise awareness about the impacts of using mercury in mining, and to help Rosna and other women like her protect their health and the environment around them by shifting to mercury-free technologies for extracting gold.

Women gold miners in Sekotong, West Lombok - Photo by Catharina Indirastuti

Women in Sekotong in West Lombok contribute significantly to the area’s artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) sector. They are involved in transporting the ore 300-500 meters from the transfer station to the processing site, where they crush the ore. In this process the women break the larger ore into smaller rocks that are ready for processing in a trommel (a rotating cylindrical sieve).

Female gold miners here are not involved in mining ore directly inside the tunnel; they are mostly doing the ore processing activities on the ground with high risk of working accidents. Their working stations are typically located next to the trommel, where the waste containing mercury is dumped.

The risk of mercury exposure and work accidents is very high for women miners because all of these activities are carried out without adequate protective equipment such as safety boots, gloves and eye protection. In addition, women miners in the villages do not experience the same benefits as men involved in gold mining.

This imbalance is seen in position and income. If a woman works as a carrier or ore crusher, she will be paid a flat fee based on the number of ore sacks that she fills. For filling one sack of crushedore weighing around 20 – 30 kg, she will get paid 20,000 rupiah, or $1.50 USD. This income will be added to her husband’s income, which will be spent primarily on feeding the family each day. On the other hand, the income the male miners will be paid is based on the amount of gold that is produced and sold to the buyer. Men also have the power of managing the income.

The GEF-supported planetGOLD project in Indonesia, GOLD-ISMIA, is supporting women miners in West Lombok and working to achieve gender balance: to give women and men the same access to technology, the same roles in ASGM, the same wages, the same opportunities for political participation, and the same access to social protection programs.

Learn more about our work in Indonesia