Women pallaqueras achieve recognition

09 September 2018

In artisan small-scale gold mining, women find themselves at the bottom of the pile. So argues Solidaridad, a Netherlands-based international civil society organisation founded in 1969. The organisation played a key role in developing the Fair Trade movement.

Since the 1990s, the need for socially responsible mining has been gaining prominence in their work. The organisation has carried out projects in Africa and in Latin America (Peru and Bolivia) to help support formalisation and the certification of artisanal and small-scale gold producers.

Solidaridad sees the gender dimension of this work as of great importance. In Peru, in artisanal mining, women around the fringes of mining camps find no better way to seek a tiny income than through 'pallaqueo' or sorting.

The 'pallaqueras' sort through the stones and rocks that are discarded by the miners, collecting tiny fragments of gold. This produces minuscule returns because there is so little gold to be found. Also, since they cannot engage in formal trade as they are unrecognised, they must sell anything they get in the illegal market.

They work in very difficult and dusty conditions, bad both for them and the small children they have to bring with them. And their marginality has a social dimension: even today, says Solidaridad, superstitions continue about women in mining bringing bad luck.

Today, the organisation can announce a small but significant success. In July, the Peruvian government, through a statement from the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM), acknowledged pallaqueo to be a valid activity, enabling pallaqueras, at least in principle, to engage in legal trading activities with traders and processors. 

What may seem an insignificant step represents, Solidardidad points out, the possibility of formalisation, and thus access to labour rights and safety and health at work. It can readily be imagined how much more effort will be required to achieve formalisation. But though a tiny beginning, this is a start.

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