Can Gender Impacts of Mining in Haiti be Prevented?

By Elaine Zuckerman, Gender Action


Mining Controversy in Haiti
Over the past 10 years, American and Canadian companies have invested more than $30 million to explore for gold and other metals in Haiti.  In late 2012, the government issued three gold and copper mining exploitation permits.  In 2013, the Haitian Senate passed a resolution that called for a moratorium on mining, including the issuance of permits, based on concerns about lack of transparency and harmful environmental impacts.  Although this resolution lacked the force of law, it likely inspired a hiatus in mining activity.

In 2014, the World Bank Group (WBG) provided support to redraft Haiti’s mining law.  The WBG private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), had previously made an equity investment in Canada’s Eurasian Minerals, a company operating a joint mining venture in Haiti with the US Newmont Mining Corporation, the world’s second biggest gold producer.

The proposed new mining law has generated a fair amount of controversy.  On one side, Prime Minister Lafontant has declared mining to be an economic priority that will generate needed national revenues.  On the other side, the Haiti Mining Justice Collective (Kolektif Jistis Min an AyitiKJM), a collection of social movement organizations that supports communities affected by mining, has called for a moratorium or prohibition on all mining.

Mining companies are urging quick passage of the law so they can recommence activities.  The vast majority of mining permits held by companies under the current 1976 mining law have expired, with only three remaining valid. Mining Corporations pin their hopes on Haiti’s Massif du Nord.  The Massif sits atop land believed to be mineral-rich with significant deposits of gold, copper and silver.  The area is largely occupied by farmers, and women compose most unpaid or underpaid agricultural workers.

Harmful Gender Impacts
Residents living near Massif minerals have reason to fear gender as well as environmental, social and health impacts because large-scale mining worldwide demonstrates that it will depend on:

  • Cutting Haiti’s nearly depleted forests. The current practice of women and girls collecting wood for fuel should be replaced by climate-friendly energy sources but not by environmentally-damaging mining.
  • Causing poor female and male farmers to lose their livelihoods and homes to land grabs. Many will have to relocate to cities and some out of desperation to survive will have to send their children, especially daughters, to work as restaveks (indentured servants in Haitian kréyol) in better-off households.
  • Destroying soil fertility through hazardous chemicals employed by mining. Women and men in Haiti already suffer acute arable land shortage and widespread food insecurity.
  • Poisoning waters with toxins such as arsenic and cyanide. This has a tremendously harmful impact on women, who primarily collect water for household drinking, cooking, washing, and crop irrigation.
  • Emitting greenhouse gases that will exacerbate watershed flooding and other climate change effects. These natural calamities most heavily impact women because of their primary natural resource management role.
  • Employing male workers to mine and construct roads and ports to transport minerals. Worldwide patterns demonstrate that absent strong preventive measures sexual assaults and rapes repeatedly occur in these settings.[ii]
  • Engaging militaries to protect mining sites. In similar global contexts, the deployment of soldiers routinely results in sexual assualts on women and girls, sometimes for payment.

Historical Mining in Haiti
Mining in Haiti would not be a new phenomenon.[iii]  The Spanish conquistadores forced Haitian slaves to pan all alluvial gold until it was depleted by 1500.  A US corporation operated a bauxite mine from 1956-82 that displaced thousands of Haitians from their land and destroyed their coffee farming.  A Canadian corporation mined copper in Haiti from 1960-72.  Past mining activities reduced land fertility and contaminated waters.

Notably different in proposed future Haitian mining is its expected large number of open pit operations.

No Local Consultations; International Financial Institution Roles
The World Bank Group (WBG) assisted Haiti in drafting the new national mining law that aims to increase foreign investment in the sector.  The drafting process did not invite inputs from women and men living around Haiti’s mineral-rich areas, thereby violating the WBG’s local consultation requirements.  In addition, when the IFC, the WBG’s private arm, provided equity financing for Eurasian-Newmont’s exploration activities, the IFC likely violated its environmental and social performance standards by failing to respect Haitian women and men’s rights to protect their land.[iv]

We do not know whether the WBG or the Inter-American Development Bank – Haiti’s largest multilateral investor, would directly finance mining, but they will indirectly support it: At the least their multiple energy, road and port projects will provide infrastructure that supports mining activities.

Mining Militarization and Sexual Assaults
Worldwide, corporations and governments hire military and police to protect mining sites.  Women and girls routinely experience sexual assaults by these state and private militaries.  Some destitute women and girls, tempted by small payments, engage in transactional sex with the militaries.

Militarization epitomizes imbalanced power dynamics between corporations and governments protecting mining projects, and women and girls lacking power to protect themselves from assaults.  Haitian militaries already have a record of behaving brutally with impunity.

Rights and Community Voices
It is the right of Haiti’s poor marginalized women and men whose livelihoods depend on farming and natural resources to decide the future use of their land after receiving full information about mining plans and processes.  However, the Haitian state, which is legally required to provide information to Haitians living around minerals, has failed to do so.

Once informed, residents might choose either to prevent involuntary land dispossession or to relinquish their land if mining corporations and governments provide full compensation with specific provisions for women.

The citizen-led Haiti Mining Justice Collective (Kolektif Jistis Min an Ayiti – KJM), a coalition of Haitian organizations formed in 2012, is sharing information about mining and human rights issues with communities and helping promote their interests.  International citizen organizations are trying to amplify Haitian voices and provide information.[v]

Women who primarily steward Haiti’s land, forests, water and eco-systems that sustain their households and the planet could lose their natural resources and livelihoods and suffer sexual violence triggered by likely mining.

Although pressured by mining corporations and tempted by expected revenues, Haiti’s parliament should not approve the draft mining bill before providing full information to women and men living in mining areas and obtaining their feedback.  Corporations should not be permitted to explore or mine minerals without the free, prior and informed consent of women and men living atop and around potential mining sites.

In weighing options Haitian women and men could consider questions including: Does Haiti’s government have adequate regulatory laws and the capacity to enforce them to protect: (1) women from mining and infrastructure’s unequal power relations including sexual exploitation and livelihood loss; and (2) the environment from land, forest and water resource grabbing and poisoning?

Perhaps Haiti’s poor population and fragile environment cannot tolerate mining.  It is Haitian men and women’s right to decide.

Elaine Zuckerman is Gender Action President and Haiti Advocacy Working Group Gender & Human Rights Chair

[i] CHRGJ/HJI – Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, New York University School of Law & the Haiti Justice Initiative and the University of California Hastings College of the Law.  2015.  Byen Konte, Mal Kalkile? Human Rights and Environmental Risks of Gold Mining in Haiti;
Oxfam. 2015. Ready for gold?: Haiti backgrounder: Assessing Haiti’s governance and regulatory capacity for large-scale mining.

[ii] World Bank. 2017. Working Together to Prevent Sexual Exploitation and Abuse: Recommendations for World Bank Investment Projects: Report of the Global Gender-Based Violence Task Force;   Elaine Zuckerman & Betty Abah. October 3, 2016.  World Bank Project Evictee Becomes Women’s Rights Activist – Bimbo Oshobe. Ms Magazine;  Elaine Zuckerman.  February 23, 2016. Why don’t World Bank projects safeguard women’s rights?. The Guardian.  Gender Action. 2011. Broken Promises: Gender Impacts of the World Bank-Financed West-African and Chad-Cameroon Pipelines; Gender Action. 2006. Boom-Time Blues: Big Oil’s Gender Impacts in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Sakhalin.

[iii] Ibid CHRGJ/HJI.

[iv] Ibid CHRGJ/HJI provides examples of how mining exploration companies and financiers failed to abide by Haiti’s land access agreement terms.

[v] Ibid CHRGJ/HJI.