Ugandan Women Reclaim Their Mine Site

The Mubende Women Gold Miners Association are used to facing many challenges as the only women led, all women group of artisanal gold miners in Uganda. But they weren’t prepared to completely lose access to their mine site—and their livelihood.

Known by the acronym MUWOGOMA, the group originally began in 2014 with 30 women artisanal gold miners applying for a permit for a mine site in Central Uganda. Today it has grown to over 200 members.

Gold mining requires pre-financing and in September 2020, MUWOGOMA entered into a new investment deal with unfavourable conditions for the association. IMPACT’s previous research has found that when women receive credit, it often comes with severely unfavourable repayment conditions, such as high interest. Importantly, IMPACT’s research also found that the members of the association have low literacy levels, which poses a challenge in reviewing and negotiating investment contracts.

In addition to the increasing debt load, MUWOGOMA had applied to renew their registration certificate, but the authorities hadn’t moved on their file. MUWOGOMA believed they were getting the run around from officials because they were a women’s mining association.

As a result, in late 2020, mining stalled when they were not able to access their mine site. Many of the women began to seek livelihoods from other income generating activities, such as selling food or soap. Some women continued mining activities at other mine sites by panning for gold, getting paid at most 5,000 UGX or $ 1.70 CAD per day.

The Executive Committee of the association brought in two men to attempt to try to resolve the licensing and debt repayment with the investor. However, not only were the issues not resolved, the two men silenced all of the women on the Executive Committee and took charge of the decision making.

As part of the Digging for Equality project, IMPACT began working with MUWOGOMA in late 2020 to analyze its access to the mine site and structure of the association, in order to support women’s empowerment in artisanal mining.

IMPACT’s Digging for Equality project aims to improve security, gender equality, and women’s empowerment in the artisanal mining sectors across three countries—Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. The project supports women working in the artisanal and small-scale (ASM) sector to reduce the barriers that they face and support their efforts towards gender equality.

Through capacity building with the Executive Committee and development of a strategic plan, MUWOGOMA held a membership meeting and voted to replace the men on the Executive Committee. The association once again became a women-led group.

IMPACT accompanied MUWOGOMA in identifying a women-led legal firm to negotiate terms and debt payment with the investor. Additionally, through capacity building and accompaniment, MUWOGOMA continued to push for its license renewal, which was finally granted.

As a result, MUWOGOMA gained access to their site and began mining as of April 23, 2021. The association has made the decision to no longer rely on outside investment, and will instead use savings from their income to finance their operations.

The Digging for Equality project has continued to work with MUWOGOMA and build the association’s capacity to advocate for its members’ interests. The project is providing training and skill building for the women miners to increase the economic benefits they receive from mining.

For more information about the Digging for Equality project, visit IMPACT’s website.

The Digging for Equality project is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.