Gender and Extractivism

Extractivism refers to the overexploitation of natural resources through practices such as mining, oil exploration, industrial livestock farming and monocultures. The term is mainly used in Latin America to describe the destruction of territories and the environment for the purpose of obtaining raw materials and food for the capitalist market. Extractivism has a strong colonial background, because this form of economic activity was introduced into the Global South by the colonial powers and brutally implemented at the expense of indigenous communities and people enslaved from Africa, as well as nature. Today, the extraction of mineral resources is mainly carried out in the resource-rich countries of the Global South by multinational companies of the Global North. On the one hand, this aggravates social inequalities between North and South, on the other hand it fuels social conflicts within the affected country. The major mining projects are usually carried out in areas of indigenous and farming communities, which often leads to displacement, expropriation, forced resettlement, intimidation and social tensions.

Extractivism is extremely damaging to the climate and the environment, as it is not only the basis for the production of non-renewable energy, it is also actively accompanied by the destruction of territories. Industrial livestock farming, for example, is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gases (FAO). Mining, especially coal mining, contributes to 64.4% of global methane gas emissions (Bhanu Pandey et. Al.: 265). In addition, the extraction of natural resources involves, among other things, the contamination of groundwater and soil with Mercury through gold mining, deforestation of rainforests for the cultivation of oil palms, drying up of rivers through water diversions for coal mining and pollution of coasts through leaking oil.

Gender dimensions

Extractivism exacerbates existing gender inequalities in the following aspects:

1.) The situation of women working in the mines is precarious, as they are often exposed to sexual exploitation in addition to economic exploitation and generally suffer from more insecure working conditions, routes and forms of employment than men. This is particularly true for LBTIQ, pregnant women, older women and women with small children.

2.) Gender-based unequal access to resources: Men and women have unequally distributed access to land and land ownership. Women and also LBTIQ have significantly less secure land titles or inherited land than men. In Brazil, for example, land titles of land inherited by women are often still written in their husbands' names. If, for example, a mining project is then decided upon, the land is often taken into possession without adequate compensation if no formal land titles are available. Especially in rural conflict regions, this has serious consequences for women, e.g. in Colombia. Since women are often the heads of families and those who cultivate the land for family supply, but often without formal legal land titles, families are often driven from these areas so that raw material mining projects can be set up there shortly afterwards. The land conflict and the unequal distribution of land make Colombia the country with the most internally displaced persons worldwide, with 7.7 million people (UN 2017).

3) Unequal access to power and decision-making (which is already structurally less for women). Since the decision-making level in the resource extraction sector is usually extremely male-dominated, decisions on land use or resettlement are often taken without the consultation, consent or knowledge of women.

4) Gender division of labour and available time: the traditional division of labour between the genders means that women in rural areas have to spend more time on family care through mining projects, e.g. when fetching water, as the water sources otherwise used are contaminated and other, more distant sources have to be sought. Also, the more common diseases (e.g. respiratory diseases) of their children need to be treated more often, which is usually the task of women. Due to this higher expenditure of time, women have less time for other activities, such as education, gainful employment, political participation, etc.

5) Impact on health and safety of women. Existing health systems are generally not gender-sensitive, i.e. they do not address the needs of women and LBTIQ, or do so only inadequately. Extractivism generally worsens the health status of affected communities, especially of women and LBTIQ, often resulting in women being inadequately treated compared to men for respiratory problems or other signs of contamination. Security for women is also deteriorating in areas of extractivism, in particular regarding sexualised violence by armed groups and private security forces who are supposed to protect mine projects is increasing (AWID 2017). Domestic violence is also demonstrably increasing (Fondo de Acción Urgente 2016). On the other hand, the consumption of drugs and alcohol is increasing in these regions, which also raises the rate of violence (ibid.) Women who oppose extractivism are often subjected to intimidation, threats and even murder (see the murder of the indigenous resistance fighter Berta Cáseres in Honduras in 2016, because she resisted a planned dam project on the territory of her community) (see AWID 2017).


Women reject and mobilize against extractivism more often than men (Fondo de Acción Urgente 2016). In particular indigenous women have in the past made the linkage between the exploitation of their bodies and the exploitation of their territories. The "Feminismo Comunitario", which was developed by indigenous women from Bolivia and Guatemala, can be taken as an example. This form of feminism fights for the defense of the "territorios-tierras-cuerpos" (territory-land- bodies), since according to it, the control over the indigenous territories for extractivist purposes often happens through the control of the bodies of indigenous women (see for example Cabnal 2010). This is expressed in systematic sexualized violence against indigenous women in their territories, which are often rich in natural resources. In the cosmovision of indigenous groups in Latin America, aggression against a single person means an attack on the entire community, which is why violence against women is specifically designed to drive indigenous groups from these territories. 

In order to reduce the impact of extractive economies on climate and women, structural changes are needed above all. The report "Beyond Extractivism: Feminist Alternatives for a Socially and Gender Just Development in Africa" by Zo Randriamaro, published in December 2018 by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, analyses the effects of economies based on extractivism in Africa from an eco-feminist perspective. She explains the social and environmental costs that are normally not taken into account in economic calculations.