Dissertation Woman Mining

INTR 30805 – BA (Hons) International Relations Dissertation

Academic Year 2009-2010


Mining and the Environment in Peru: A Gendered Perspective


Dorian Tito Martinez


This dissertation is submitted in part-fulfilment of the requirements for the BA (Hons) in International Relations at The Nottingham Trent University.  In submitting it the author undertakes that it is substantially the result of work undertaken exclusively for this specific project, and that it is the result of their own endeavour except where indicated through references and footnotes.  All other help, material or argument used, other than that of the supervisory tutor, is fully acknowledged in the text.


Special thank you to Dr. Clare Newstead for providing invaluable support and guidance in tackling a complicated and fascinating subject, and to Glevys Rondon from the Latin American Mining Monitoring Programme for taking time out of her busy schedule to respond to my requests for information.





















List of Acronyms

APRA – Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana

CEZ – Critical Environmental Zone

DAWN – Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era

ECLA – Economic Commission for Latin America

FDI – Foreign Direct Investment

FTA – Free Trade Agreement

GAD – Gender and Development

GDP – Gross Domestic Product

GIA – Gender Impact Assessment

GRUFIDES – El Grupo de Formación e Intervención para el Desarrollo Sostenible

IFI – International Financial Institution

LAMMP – Latin American Mining Monitoring Programme

MEM – Ministry of Energy and Mines

MDG – Millennium Development Goal

NGO – Non-Governmental Organisation

OAS – Organisation of American States

ONERN – Oficina Nacional de Evaluacion de Recursos Naturales

PSG – Peru Support Group

SAP – Structural Adjustment Programme

SEDACAJ – Empresa Prestadora de Servicio de Agua Potable y Alcantarillado Sanitario de Cajamarca

ULAM – Union of Latin American Women

UN – United Nations

UNDP – United Nations Development Programme

USEPA – United States Environmental Protection Agency

WAD – Women and Development

WHO – World Health Organisation

WID – Women in Development


  1. Introduction – 6
  2. The Environmental Impacts of Mining in Peru – 25
  3. The Gendered Impacts of Environmental Change – 41
  4. Conclusion – 60
  5. Bibliography – 66
  6. Dissertation Diary – 73














This dissertation explores the connections between mining, environmental change, and the human security of women in Peru.  Despite the advances made in recognising the particularly gendered impacts of environmental change arising from development projects in the global South, this has not always resulted in the necessary changes to mitigate such ill-effects.  It is an issue that is replicated in many countries of the developing world, considered here in the Peruvian context owing to the proliferation of mining projects in the country over the last two decades.  Utilising a feminist political-ecological perspective to guide my research, the study finds that mining has negative implications for the quality and maintenance of soils, water resources, and ecosystem integrity in those areas affected by mining sites.  Furthermore, the degradation of ecological life-support systems for many rural and indigenous women was shown to have clear associations with reduced access to land and water resources, plus detrimental effects on health due to mining pollution were also established.  Those women who contested the conditions of their diminished existence were also shown to be marginalised by the state to the point where they became the focal point of abuse in their own communities.  This raises serious questions as to the credibility of such gender mainstreaming initiatives put forward by the World Bank, when it would appear that gender remains an unresolved determining factor in establishing who benefits and who does not in the development process.






1. Introduction

Mining, Gender and the Environment in Contemporary Peru

The mining industry in Peru has undergone a period of rapid expansion in the preceding twenty years, a direct effect of the policy reforms introduced by the incoming Alberto Fujimori government in 1990 (Bebbington et al 2007: iv).  His decade in power signalled the beginning of big investments in exploration, which underwent a twenty fold increase in Peru between 1990 and1997.  By way of comparison, the worldwide increase in exploration stood at 90%, whereas Latin America experienced a 400% increase for the same period (ibid.).

By 2003, mining accounted for 57% of all exports and 37% of FDI in Peru (ibid.).  Furthermore, the worldwide surge in mineral prices pushed the economic growth rate, in terms of GDP, up to 9% in 2007 and 2008 (CIA 2009).  The Peruvian economy has been exposed to mining to such an extent that by the end of the 1990s, approximately 55% of Peru’s campesino or peasant communities lived on land influenced by mining (Bebbington et al. 2007: iv).  The proliferation of mining concessions in the country is evidenced in Figure 1, which highlights the exponential growth of such claims in the northern departments of Trujillo, Cajamarca and Chachapoyas between 1990 and 2008.

Figure 1

(Bebbington and Bury 2009: 17297)

This situation is only likely to worsen as current President Alan García continues to aggressively pursue trade liberalisation, ratifying the US-Peru FTA on February 1st 2009.    Yet there are serious doubts as to the ability of the mining industry to deliver sustainable local development.  In a country that exports large quantities of valuable commodities such as copper, gold, zinc, petroleum and coffee, why is it that as of 2006, 44.5% of the population were still living below the poverty line (CIA 2009)?  Moreover, at what cost is this economic growth being achieved?  In two reports delivered on the environmental impact of mining by ONERN in 1986 and 1991, numerous CEZs were identified.  These were “areas in which major processes of environmental degradation have become or are on the brink of becoming irreversible” (Warhurst 1999: 139).  In a damning indictment, the report concluded that “no other production industry shows such a widespread incidence in CEZs” (ibid.).

The negative effects of export-led development policies are also feared by many women’s rights NGOs, such as LAMMP (2009c), to disproportionately affect women.  In part this is most likely due to the prejudices inherent in an essentially patriarchal society, whereby women experience inequality in all aspects of life.  However, the specific objective of this project will be to determine how exactly this is replicated in the context of mining development and the changing environment.  Indeed, a general indicator of women’s disadvantaged place within Peruvian society is that of literacy.  While illiteracy may afflict a sizeable 12.8% of the population in total, female illiteracy constitutes 73% of this number in what are mostly rural and indigenous areas (PSG 2005).  Similarly, the rate of children born per woman stands at 3.5 in Peru, compared to 2 in the United States, but this rate jumps to 7 children per woman in rural areas compared to 2.8 per woman in urban areas (ibid.).

It is indicators of poverty such as these that have been specifically targeted by the UN, as shown in the creation of the MDGs in the year 2000.  Focusing on eight specific targets, the MDGs sought significant progress in areas such as poverty alleviation, gender inequality, environmental conservation, and universal primary education by the year 2015 (UN 2008).  Yet, as McNeely has pointed out in Dodds and Pippard (2005: 145), it is pertinent to recognise that the MDGs are all dependent on environmental sustainability.  Figure 2 outlines the levels of interconnectedness between the environment and the MDGs:

Figure 2

MDG 1: Eradicate poverty and hunger: Poor people often depend on natural resources and ecosystems for income and livelihoods (food, shelter, etc.).  The economy of the poorest countries relies on natural resources exports, such as agricultural commodities and raw materials, and ecotourism.MDG 2: Universal primary education: Time spent collecting water and fuelwood by children – especially girls – can reduce the time at school or prevent school attendance.

MDG 3: Gender equality: Time spent collecting water and fuelwood by women can reduce the time for schooling, for undertaking income-generating activities, and for participating in the community’s decision-making activities.  Unequal access to land and other natural resources limits possibilities for decision-making and empowerment.

MDG 4: Reduce child mortality: Children are more vulnerable to environmental related health problems because their immune systems are not fully developed and their metabolisms are different from those of adults.  Environmental related diseases (diarrhoea, acute respiratory infection, leukaemia, childhood cancer, etc.) are primary causes of child mortality.

MDG 5: Improve maternal health: Indoor air pollution and carrying heavy loads of water and fuelwood negatively affect women’s health, can make women less fir for childbirth, and are at greater risk of complications during child pregnancy.

MDG 6: Combat disease: Most diseases in developing countries are environmental in origin, as specific environmental conditions may contribute to the growth and the spread of illnesses and limit access to treatment facilities and supplies.  For example, a range of environmental factors affect malaria, as stagnated water and increasing temperatures associated with climate change create favourable conditions for disease-carrying mosquitoes.

(UNDP 2005: 11)

The linkages outlined above affirm the view held here that biological diversity and conservation are the fundamental prerequisites for the human security and well-being of Peru’s women, a condition that may be placed under increasing threat from the mining industry.  Human security has been defined as the freedom from want and freedom from fear, which together describe a condition of existence in which basic material needs are met, protection is afforded to ensure survival is not threatened, and human dignity is realised through meaningful participation in the life of the community and gaining control over one’s life (Thomas in McGrew and Poku 2007: 108).  It is conditions of existence such as these that will be identified throughout the study to ascertain whether mineral development has led to a reduction in the levels of security experienced by women in Peru.

The Historical Context

Mineral extraction is by no means a new affliction in Peruvian society.  It has a long, sad history dating back to the imperial Spanish conquests of the sixteenth century.  Throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, a lust for gold and silver developed as the precious metals were seen as the “keys to open the doors of paradise in heaven” (Galeano 2009: 14).  The Andean altiplano held these metals in large quantities, and it wasn’t long before the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro bore down on the city of Cuzco in 1533 and seized the heart of the Inca Empire (ibid.: 16).  The native Indian inhabitants were massacred, ravaged by the influx of European diseases, and enslaved in the mines.

Figure 3

(University of North Carolina at Pembroke 2008)

Figure 4

(Living in Peru 2010)

Similar developments occurred throughout the rest of Latin America, to the point where the estimated amount of silver shipped to Spain in little more than one hundred and fifty years (1503-1660) exceeded by three times the total European reserve (Galeano 2009: 23).  Even with the advent of independence throughout Latin America from the nineteenth century onwards, mineral extraction remained the primary means by which to earn foreign exchange and assist development.  In Peru’s case, the beginning of the twentieth century saw a shift from the export of precious metals to the production of base metals such as copper, lead and zinc (Warhurst 1999: 138).  Yet the 1980s saw the return of gold and silver to prominence, highlighted by the construction of the Yanacocha mine in northern Peru, currently Latin America’s largest and most profitable gold mine (Newmont 2009).  To place Peru’s mineral extraction industry in a global context, as of 2010, Peru was the world’s largest silver producer, second largest copper producer, third largest zinc producer, fourth largest for tin, and sixth largest gold producer (Quigley 2010).

Western Developmentalism

Peru’s quest to develop has followed an altogether familiar path as espoused by the Western IFIs.  It is an orthodoxy that was established in the post-World War Two era, when much of Europe lay in ruins and ‘developmentalism’ was brought to the fore by President Truman as a means of enhancing global security.  An ideological programme was pursued which sought an interventionist, managerial, and planned approach to growth and development along much the same lines as Keynesian and neo-classical economics.  At that point in time, it was a “major displacement of the hegemonic liberal view of the market as self-regulating and orderly” (Saunders 2002: 2), a view which has once more become dominant with the advent of the globalised capitalist economic system.

However, since its inception the manner in which ‘development’ is assessed has for the most part been subject to much scrutiny.  The dominant mode of thought within the major IFIs and global development institutions in this post-war era was that of ‘development as economic growth’.  This held the view that the standard of living of people was to be measured by the total amount of goods and services produced per head of the population, known as GDP per capita.  Yet, in viewing development in this manner, economists were ignoring the pre-requisites for social development.  This is because development as economic growth “pays no attention to how that output is distributed amongst the population; it says nothing about the composition of output, and it gives no indication of the physical, social and economic environment in which the output is produced” (Desai and Potter 2002: 42).

The onset of the debt crisis in the 1980s, a decade where foreign indebtedness of developing countries to the western IFIs almost doubled, signified the continual conditions of ‘dependence’ that characterised relations between countries in the global North and South (Kreye in Chew and Denemark 1996: 116).  While many countries who adopted SAPs and stabilisation measures to repay the conditions of their loans achieved impressive economic growth rates, an emergent view was that the accrued wealth did not ‘trickle down’ to the majority as had been promised.  Some came to see the Western notion of ‘development’ itself as the problem.

The Structuralist Critique

Dependency theory, a theory informed by Marxist critiques of imperialism, originated in 1960s Latin America.  This was arguably its greatest strength, as it was a theory emanating from a group of dependistas in the ‘underdeveloped’ global South, not from the typically European or North American scholars theorising about the Latin American condition.  Its most prominent advocate, André Gunder Frank, argued that development and underdevelopment are one and the same thing.  He proffered that the core capitalist industrialised nations used development economics to aid the ‘development of underdevelopment’, whereby the process of development enriched the core countries whilst causing greater levels of underdevelopment and dependency within Latin American countries (Desai and Potter 2002: 97).

This was achieved by progressively manipulating the terms of trade between those countries in the industrial core, and those states engaging in primary production on the periphery of the modern world-system.  As ECLA’s analysis has made clear, the demand for primary products on the central markets, besides fluctuating and causing serious distortions in the peripheral economies, “was increasing only slowly and evidently lagging behind the growth of income in the industrial centres” (1970: xvi).  This was compounded by the diminishing share of primary inputs in the value of end products as technology progressed, protectionist policies in the industrialised countries which impeded access to their markets for the primary products produced essentially by the periphery, and sluggish demand for raw materials and agricultural goods in the core countries together with the periphery’s marked propensity to import manufactures (ibid.: xvii).  The end result of this process was the impaired position of primary products on the world market, the strengthened position of manufactures, and a decline in the terms of trade and the corresponding possibilities of retaining productivity gains in the core and in the periphery (ibid.).

To Frank, dependence had become a condition so severe that it was not solely “a condition that lay between Latin America and world capitalism, but was part and parcel of Latin American society itself” (Desai and Potter 2002: 95), so for Frank, national liberation hinged on socialist revolution. An earlier influential text by Baran entitled Political Economy of Growth described the reasons for Latin America’s underdevelopment as a consequence of the developed nations forming special relationships with the elite classes in underdeveloped countries.  These relations enabled the advanced capitalist countries to “maintain systems of surplus extraction, thereby making domestic resources continuously available and making economic development of Latin American countries unlikely, since any surplus generated was appropriated by the elites” (ibid.: 97).

While there were disagreements between Dependency theorists as to how true independence could be gained, all concurred that the dominant core capitalist countries had an endogenous capacity for growth that could not be matched by the underdeveloped periphery as the accrued wealth continued to accumulate through conditions of unequal exchange (ibid.: 94).  However, the degree to which this is a condition of dependence or just a by-product of capitalism more generally has been the subject of much debate, with Lall (1975) offering that the characteristics found in dependent Latin American societies were also observable in other non-dependent states elsewhere (ibid.: 100).  Despite its criticisms, the passion and urgency with which Frank and other scholars from the global South argued their cause ensured a lasting critique of neo-classical economics, and, perhaps more importantly, drew the world’s attention to the intrinsically unjust nature of the global economic system.  From this it was apparent that the post-war development agenda did not achieve ‘security for all’, but in fact did much to undermine it.

Feminism and Development

As the world moved into the 1970s, a critique of neo-classical development economics emerged from the rising liberal feminist movement in the Western hemisphere. This was portrayed by the seminal work of Ester Boserup, whose book Woman’s Role in Economic Development argued that gender was a basic factor in the division of labour, and was prevalent across all countries and regions (Visvanathan et al. 1997: 42).  A major aspect of her work was that it began to delineate the detrimental effects that colonial rule and the introduction of capitalism into subsistence societies had on the status of women, as far from liberating women, colonial rule contributed to their loss of status (ibid.: 42).  Additionally, Boserup challenged the notion that the benefits of development would automatically ‘trickle down’ to the poor, citing the example of societies making the transition from ‘traditional’ to ‘modern’.  Here she contended that the prevailing norms of male privilege in training and access to credit meant that men advanced in the modern sector while women languished in the backward, poverty inducing, rural and informal sectors which reproduced women’s dependence on men.

This led to calls for the inclusion of women in Western development agencies, or the WID approach, as not only were these agencies seen to be male dominated, but it was claimed they fundamentally misunderstood the needs of the world’s women. Yet this attracted criticism as WID still espoused Western models of development, whereas a more radical alternative, WAD, an approach that highlighted the structures of patriarchal domination the world over and thus called for women’s only development projects, similarly failed in uniting the global feminist movement into a coherent position on the issue of development.

As the world moved into the 1980s, many women from the developing world began to feel as if neither WID nor WAD addressed the fundamental reasons for the inequity between women and men.  Furthermore, both approaches emanated from a middle-class Western background that was deemed incapable of capturing the lived experiences of women in the developing world.  This was most articulately conveyed through the organisational grass-roots experiences and writings of a group of Third World feminists called DAWN, a project originating in Bangalore, India.  DAWN challenged the top-down approaches propagated by Western development institutions, affirming that “it is the experiences lived by poor women throughout the Third World in their struggles to ensure the basic survival of their families and themselves that provide the clearest lens for an understanding of development processes” (Sen and Grown 1988: 10).

Prioritising improvements in women’s day-to-day existence, DAWN saw liberal capitalism as a determining factor in the marginalisation of basic needs, a process which made survival for the majority of people in the developing world extremely difficult.  In contrast to the approaches of WID and WAD, DAWN rejected a monolithic view of the world’s women, affirming heterogeneity and diverse feminisms.  Yet their approach could still be seen as an elitist Third World organisation of activists and scholars speaking out on behalf of women, as opposed to giving them their own voice.  Nevertheless, DAWN became synonymous with the new GAD approach, which has consequently advanced to form the basis for many of the ‘gender mainstreaming’ initiatives put forth by the UN and IFIs, in addition to its ideas featuring prominently in the aforementioned MDGs.

Women, the Environment and Development

Much of the dissatisfaction with this state of affairs led to the evolution of post-development thought in the 1990s. Generally speaking, post-development serves as a powerful critique of all other forms of development that preceded it, but has a multitude of viewpoints.  One of these is ecological feminism, or ecofeminism, a viewpoint which serves as “a critique of male domination of both women and nature and an attempt to frame an ethic free of male-gender bias about women and nature.  It not only recognises the multiple voices of women, located differently by race, class, age, (and) ethnic considerations, it centralises those voices” (Merchant 1996: 7)

However, there are various tenets of ecofeminism which underscore different aspects of women’s closer relationship to nature.  Of these, cultural ecofeminism, an approach which identifies the powerful and positive link between women and nature, particularly through such reproductive functions as child-birth and menstruation, has been used as justification for women’s preferability over men as advocates of nature.  Conversely, social ecofeminism argues that because women and nature have both been subjugated by a society dominated by men, their shared experience lends women the ability to more ably speak out on behalf of nature (Buckingham-Hatfield 2000: 35).

Two of the leading proponents of this approach are Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva.  Mies has reasoned that women’s role in reproduction, coupled with the provision of the basic necessities for family survival, constitute women’s closer relationship with nature, the direct consequence being a superior understanding of nature than men (Visvanathan et al. 1997: 57).  Shiva on the other hand, utilises the Hindu concept of the ‘feminine principle’, or prakriti, as the source of all life.  This is used to construct the practical relation between women and nature in rural India, which is seen by Shiva to be the embodiment of the feminine principle.  Shiva sees “the dominant mode of development as western, patriarchal, and based on a reductionist model of science and technology that serves the global market and is effectively destructive for women, nature and all others” (ibid.).  Although both positions have been criticised for their idealism and essentialism, they have formed the basis for much ecofeminist work.

Similarly, feminist political ecology suggests there are real gender differences in the experiences of, responsibilities for, and interests in ‘nature’ and the environment.  Unlike ecofeminism however, feminist political ecology doesn’t view these differences as rooted in biology per se, but instead as derivatives from the social interpretation of biology and social constructs of gender.  This, it is argued, can vary by culture, class, race and location, and are subject to individual and social change (Rocheleau et al. 1996: 3).

It is an approach that amalgamates a variety of perspectives including feminist cultural ecology, political ecology, feminist geography and feminist political economy. Through this matrix of perspectives, feminist political ecology seeks to understand and interpret local experience in the context of global processes of environmental and economic change.  It achieves this by concentrating on a number of critical themes including gendered knowledge, gendered environmental rights and responsibilities, and gendered environmental politics and grassroots activism, the latter two forming key components of this study (ibid.: 4).  In assessing the lived experiences of women in Peru, the study will take gendered responsibilities in the household and the relationship with the environment as its starting point, broadening its scope to include issues such as women’s grassroots activism as further linkages become apparent.  As a result of this broad scope of analysis, feminist political ecology will guide my research in analysing the gendered environmental impacts of mining in Peru.

Core Aims of the Study

Thus, the core question of the study is as follows;

–         How has environmental degradation impacted upon women’s lives in the communities influenced by mining?

To be sub-divided into two further questions;

–         What are the environmental impacts of mining in Peru?

–         How has this impacted upon women?




In the course of my research I have selected a wide range of sources, both qualitative and quantitative in nature.  These include articles published on various online international news service networks such as the BBC, IPS News, Environment News Service, the Peruvian Times and El Comercio, together with publications from an array of NGOs both in Peru and the Western world, which have included Amnesty Canada, Oxfam Australia, PSG, GRUFIDES, LAMMP, Christian Aid and the Tebtebba Foundation.  Publications from independent research institutes such as the International Institute for Environment and Development and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture were also sought, whereas reports from inter-governmental organisations such as the WHO, World Bank, and the UN were also utilised.  Together with a host of academic reports published in a wide range of journals focusing on environmental, health, mining and gender issues, a broad scope of research has been established.

The second chapter centres on the environmental impacts of mining in Peru, which can be sub-categorised into that of surface and underground mining.  However, only data relating to the impacts of surface mining will be utilised in this chapter owing to a lack of available research on the impacts of underground mining.  However, although the techniques involved in underground mining are divergent to that of surface mining, to the best of my knowledge many of the environmental impacts listed here are replicated in underground operations, as certain extractive processes are similarly utilised.  Moreover, mining in Peru incorporates the extraction of metallic ores, non-metallic minerals, and fossil fuels, yet the latter has evolved into a separate industry with a specialised technology of its own.  Thus, the environmental impacts of fossil fuel extraction will not be covered in this chapter.

The third chapter will be sub-divided into four key areas where there was sufficient data available relating to the gendered impacts of mineral extraction and environmental change.  These include women’s relationship with the land, with water, the impact on women’s health, and women’s activism and oppression.  While the latter is not a direct impact of environmental change, it is a key focus of research owing to the necessity of women’s experiences being valued and recognised by the broader community.  It also ties in neatly with my theoretical approach, drawing on the political aspects of opposition to mining development.  The use of two narratives in this section is to further underline the personal nature of mining’s effect on women, and how it may impede their ability to live in a secure and safe environment.

For both chapters, information has been sourced from a variety of locations in the country to gain a comprehensive understanding of the related impacts arising from extractive processes.  However, as I have undertaken secondary research this has not been a controllable variable, and thus, I have utilised all the available data relevant to the specific topics of the study.  This has resulted in a large volume of my research emanating from major mining sites in Peru such as the Yanacocha mine in Cajamarca, the smelting facility at La Oroya, the Río Blanco project in Piura, and the effects of informal mining in Madre de Dios, as these sites have attracted the most international interest.

My research has been largely internet-based, making use of various search engines such as Google and Yahoo in the process.  This is a further uncontrollable variable, as search engines have their own methods of ranking results to maximise the chance of producing the required information.  I have endeavoured to do my utmost to ensure the authenticity, credibility, representativeness, and meanings of the collated research are valid, and wherever possible have justified its inclusion in this report through methods of triangulation, whereby results from one source are verified by one or more others (Macdonald in Gilbert 2008: 299).  Epistemological concerns relating to the reproduction and analysis of secondary qualitative data will also be taken into account, namely the degree of correlation between the original data and my secondary research area.  However, I intend to re-use only parts of the existing qualitative data set that fit the purposes of my study, and in gathering enough sources I feel I am able to attain a broad level of analysis to ensure that the data utilised is directly relevant to my topic.

The major limits to the research have been that of language and geographical distance from the region of study.  In drawing on sources from both Peru and the English-speaking Western world, I have attempted a holistic analysis of the problems attributable to mining development in the country.  However, I am conscious of the fact that my own limited knowledge of the Spanish language and the lack of primary research included in the report have impaired my ability to better represent the concerns of those people living in mining communities.  In the course of my research, there are some Spanish language reports that I may have neglected to include in this body of work as a matter of oversight, where the language barrier has meant that certain sources were not identified by me as relevant to the study.  However, I have adopted an extremely diligent approach towards the Spanish language resources I have come into contact with, and feel that this report still accurately reflects the environmental and gendered impacts of mining in Peru.

As a theoretical standpoint, feminist political ecology serves as a useful tool of analysis in understanding the gendered impacts of mining in Peru.  This is because it makes no presumptions about the biological differences between men and women that could be seen to affect their relationship with nature.  Instead, it pays credence to heterogeneity and diversity, while focusing on gendered environmental impacts, resource access and control, and the sexual division of labour within the household, all key components of the study.  The research will be normative in that I hold personal values on how development should be undertaken with respect to ecological sustainability, which in turn will enhance the well-being of people.  Thus, from my prior knowledge of extractives-based development in Peru I expect to uncover the negative impacts of mining development in Peru, on both ecological systems and domestic social structures in the communities in which mineral extraction is undertaken.  However, I will remain objective to the point where data pointing to the contrary will not be ignored but included as part of the analysis.  I hope that the combination of these processes will provide a solid basis upon which to ground my research.

The main body of the study will be approached in two chapters, each addressing the sub-divided questions referred to previously in this chapter.  The first will examine the environmental impacts of mining in Peru, initially giving an overview of mining processes, before continuing to explore the impact on soils, water, and ecosystems.  The second will assess how women’s lives have been affected by this, specifically concentrating on women’s relationship with the land, with water resources, the resultant health implications, and women’s attempts at grassroots activism to combat these changes.  This will be followed by a discussion section where the relative weaknesses of the research will be reviewed.  Finally, the study will conclude with an overview of the findings of the research, plus a look forward to what the immediate future holds for Peru politically and socially, plus some suggestions as to how future development projects can be undertaken in an alternative manner so as to mitigate any ill-effects felt by women and other marginalised groups in society.



2.  The Environmental Impacts of Mining in Peru

This chapter sets out to examine the effects of the mining industry on Peru’s natural environment.  It is a core issue amongst development policy planners and practitioners alike, and is regularly cited by those opposed to such mining projects throughout Latin America and the rest of the world.  Indeed, since the 1980s the environment has emerged as a fundamental strategic issue for the mining industry itself.  This is because of the increasing pressure from NGOs, national governments, and social movements for mining companies to improve their social, developmental, and environmental performance (Bridge 2004: 206).  The chapter will commence with an introduction to mining processes, and then proceed to explore the impact on soils, water, and ecosystems.

Mining Processes

Mining is the activity, occupation, and industry concerned with the extraction of minerals.  The most common method of mining is ‘open-pit’ or ‘open-cast’ mining, whereby near-surface deposits are mechanically mined in benches or steps, such as the Yanacocha mine in the province of Cajamarca.  The process of open-pit mining necessarily involves the excavation and relocation of large quantities of rock to gain access to the mineral deposit, known as ‘ore’.  Once the ore has been extracted, it undergoes a process of cleaning and concentration to transform the mineral into a higher quality product.  Currently, cyanide leaching is the dominant process used by the minerals industry to extract gold and silver from geological ores (Lottermoser 2007: 183).  In this process, as Lottermoser explains;

The gold ore is extracted, sometimes crushed, and then piled onto plastic lined pads….a dilute solution of sodium cyanide is sprayed onto the heap and allowed to percolate down through the ore.  Over time, the cyanide solution trickles through the heap and dissolves gold and silver along its path.  The solution is captured by the plastic or rubber pad underlying the heap.  The ‘pregnant’ leachate is then channelled into a holding pond for further processing and gold extraction (ibid.: 187).

However, mineral processing of hard rock metal ores such as copper, lead, and zinc undertake a different extraction process.  Firstly, blocks of hard rock ore are reduced to only a few millimetres in diameter by first crushing, then grinding, and finally milling the ore.  While the crushing phase is a dry process, the grinding phase involves the abrasion of the particles suspended in water.  The ore minerals are then separated from the gangue (minerals of non-economic value) through gravity separation, magnetic separation, or flotation.  The resultant products are the ore mineral concentrate and large quantities of waste ‘tailings’, typically in the form of fine-grained sediment-water slurry which is stored in dams and ponds, or piles of waste rock stored on site (ibid.: 153).  The extracted ore can then often be subjected to further refinement or concentration during a process of conversion and smelting to become finished consumer products.  The most illustrative example of this process in Peru is in the central Andean highland smelting complex at La Oroya.

Furthermore, mining in the Peruvian context can be subdivided into that of formal and informal (artisanal) mining.  While the former are often state-directed or privately owned mines that extract an array of ferrous and non-ferrous metals, informal mining is carried out by individuals in the pursuit of gold only.  Informal operations have proliferated in Peru due to a combination of survival and opportunity, and can be found in mineralised areas that have always been worked by traditional methods.  This includes areas such as Puno, where the exploitation of gold dates back to the colonial era.  However, artisanal operations can also be found in abandoned mines, where the holding company has run into financial difficulties, and at high-grade deposits which don’t hold sufficient reserves to justify large-scale investment (Kuramoto 2001: 3).

One of the three more widespread methods of artisanal extraction consists of one or two people diverting a water stream to a previously dug-out small ditch.  The water flow is used to wash the gravel, and a rug is placed at the end of the ditch to capture the coarse mineral particulates.  Another method involves the use of high pressure hoses and is popular in the foothills to remove material from the terraces, whereby the mineral is directed to ditches where the gold is deposited.  Finally, dredging the river bed on floating vessels extracts the material hydraulically through the use of suction ducts and pumps, with the gold being separated from the gravel in what are known as ‘sluice boxes’.  If the financial resources are available, front-end loaders can be utilised to scrape off the vertical face of the earth and deposit the material to washing platforms (McMahon et al. 1999: 38).  In all instances, once the material is washed, mercury is used as an amalgam to capture the gold particulate, before it is fired off leaving the gold intact.

Impact on Soil

The primary concerns relating to the impact of mineral extraction on soil are that of contamination and erosion.  While few formal studies have been carried out in Peru to this effect, there are some notable exceptions.

One such study was carried out at the formerly operative Canchaque mine in Piura, northern Peru.  Located high in the western Andes at an altitude of 2,600m, the Canchaque operation primarily extracted copper ore, with native farmers living downstream from the mine observing unidentified toxic effects on the surrounding vegetation and wildlife.  Taking samples from six different locations, the study found potentially phyto-toxic (harmful to plants) levels of arsenic, cadmium and copper in most of the locations.  Even at the site registering the lowest levels of toxicity, arsenic and cadmium were nevertheless above ‘normal’ total concentrations.  Not only this, but contamination was shown to pass into the surrounding vegetation, with significant linear relationships between average extractable soil arsenic and copper concentrations and average leaf arsenic and copper concentrations being identified.  However, it is noteworthy to mention that no significant correlation was found between average zinc soil and leaf concentrations, and different plant species reacted differently to metals contamination (Bech et al. 1997: 5).

Similar findings were also uncovered in other areas of the country.  One such example is a report by Peruvian NGO, CooperAcción, into contamination generated by the Tintaya copper mine in Espinar, southern Peru.  Here the soils surrounding the nearby village of Alto Huancané were also found to be inundated with heavy metals contamination, with 42% of the local residents questioned stating it had led to deterioration in the quality of their farmlands (Christian Aid 2005: 19).  Furthermore, research conducted by GRUFIDES studied the environmental impact of the Yanacocha gold mine in Cajamarca, owned by US-based Newmont Mining Corporation, Peruvian company Buenaventura, and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation.  It concluded that the contaminated water used to irrigate the soil in the vicinity of the mine had, most probably, altered the characteristics of the soil in the process.  Yet the report goes on to lament the availability of a baseline study into the quality of the soils with which to compare and contrast their results (Arana 2005: 11).

However, a recent unrelated study into the contamination of soils surrounding the La Oroya smelting complex in the central Andean highlands produced less equivocal results.  Owned by US firm Doe Run, and named in the top ten of the world’s most polluted places by the Blacksmith Institute (2007), emissions of lead, cadmium, and arsenic from the smelter were shown to have contaminated soils over an area of 2,300 km², an area equivalent to 83% of metropolitan Lima, since its inception in 1922.  The report, compiled at the request of the state-run environmental enterprise Activos Mineros, initially covered an area as large as 3,404 km², and found the most affected area to be that of La Oroya Antigua, located just two miles south of the metallurgical complex.  Furthermore, the soils were not only found to just be contaminated over this vast area, but had rendered 2,049 hectares of land as completely unusable for agricultural activities (Solís 2009).

The study goes on to indicate that while no minimum standards exist in Peruvian law to determine the allowable levels of lead and arsenic concentrations in soil, those found well exceeded Canadian residential standards.  At just three miles from the smelting facility, lead concentrations were found to be between 3,000-16,000 micrograms per kilo (mg/kg), whereas arsenic concentrations were recorded at between 500-5,710 mg/kg.  This contrasts with the Canadian standard of 400 mg/kg for lead, and 50 mg/kg for arsenic, elucidating the exorbitantly high levels of toxicity generated at La Oroya (Solís 2009).

In the department of Madre de Dios, mining has had similar negative effects on the quality and character of soils.  Artisanal mining has caused an alarming increase in erosion due to the cutting and burning of forests, and the large volumes of earth moved to exploit deposits of gold (Kuramoto 2001: 27).  Alfredo Herrera, director of the regional office of natural resources in Madre de Dios, has said that mining has now edged out agriculture as the leading cause of deforestation in the region and that small-scale miners are encroaching on national parks and nature reserves (see Figure 5).  This is illustrated by the fact that miners were shown to have deforested 13,340 acres in the region in 2006, growing to 23,750 acres in 2008 (Fraser 2009: 3).  Not only does this increase the occurrence of erosion but it also has serious effects on the presence of soil microbes.  As Warhurst and Franklin explain;

Of those organisms present in the soil, there are a series of fungal or bacterial symbionts that may form associations with forest plants and trees.  Plants benefit from maintaining this symbiotic association, which may provide: increased effective root surface area; increased availability of soil nutrients; increased availability of atmospheric nitrogen; increased heat and drought tolerance; increased tolerance to heavy metals; deterrence of infection by disease organisms….and ecosystem stability (2001: 185).

Figure 5

(Butler 2007)

Although mine site restoration goes some way to replacing the flora and fauna, this is made less likely by the compaction of soils caused by the use of front-end loaders to remove waste material from the mine site.  Furthermore, the dumps produced through treatment of the gold gravels reduce the capacity of the soil to retain humidity and impede the growth of vegetation.  In the department of Puno, great movements of earth have been observed on the flanks of the mountains and in the river courses.  This has also led to erosion, and contributed to the possibility of landslides, the sedimentation of rivers, and the loss of pasture lands (Kuramoto 2001: 27).

Impact on Water

The rapid expansion of mining over the last twenty years has placed a great deal of pressure on water resources in Peru, already classed as the most water-stressed country in South America (Bebbington and Williams 2008: 191).  Although estimates state that the industry currently uses only around 5% of the country’s water resources, this belies the significance of this use.  For instance, many mining concessions are located in the headwater areas of the high Andes, giving mining the potential to affect the quality of large volumes of freshwater.  Figure 6 illustrates the number of mining concessions located in the headwaters of the rivers supplying greater Lima:

Figure 6

(Bebbington and Bury 2009: 17298)

A recent study estimated that mining and metallurgy release over 13 billion m³ of effluents into Peru’s watercourses every year (Bebbington and Williams 2008: 191).  The impact of this can be illustrated by a number of case studies, the first of which centres on Minera Yanacocha’s activities in Cajamarca.

Due to its proximity to the city, and location at the head of a river basin, the Yanacocha mine not only impacts upon water quality in rural areas but also has implications for the urban population as well.  The municipal water company, SEDACAJ, detected as early as 1998 the presence of heavy metals in drinking water that far exceeded national regulations.  The values given by SEDACAJ include cyanide levels of eight parts per million (ppm), chromium at 375 ppm, and iron at 5,900 ppm.  When compared with the expected levels of metal concentrations in water, cyanide was forty times greater, chromium 7,500 times greater, and iron was 17,700 times greater than normal levels (Arana 2005: 4).

Although Minera Yanacocha did not admit responsibility for the elevated levels of metal concentrations in the city’s drinking water, their complicity in the contamination of the department’s waterways was further outlined by research carried out by Australian scientists Burke and Gibbins in 1999, as cited by Arana.  Taking 52 water samples from 24 different locations to determine the level of contamination in the region’s irrigation canals, Burke and Gibbins discovered that all pH permissible limits were exceeded on 26 occasions, with all permissible limits for total suspended solids being exceeded on 18 occasions.  Furthermore, heavy metal contamination was evidenced with all limits for copper exceeded on seven occasions, iron on 13 occasions, the WHO permissible limit for lead once, for mercury four times, for selenium on 12 occasions, and manganese was exceeded on 29 occasions.  Thus, they concluded;

It is clearly visible in these results that the contaminated waters flowing from the acid water treatment plant and other discharges from the mine contaminate the irrigation canals downstream from the mine (Arana 2004: 9).

Yet this is not an isolated case.  The Mantaro river valley in the central Andes, east of Lima, is affected by its proximity to 17 operational mines, the metallurgical facility at La Oroya, and 67 abandoned mines.  The river originates in Lake Junín, which due to its persistent contact with mine wastes is now considered to be 80% contaminated.  Moreover, the level of contamination along the river’s course was studied by the ‘Mantaro Revive’ project, which sampled water at 53 separate points.  Their results indicated that, in general, the river water does not even meet the low quality standards outlined in the country’s General Water Law, let alone those of the WHO.  The project identified the San Juan, Yauli and Anticona tributaries as the most contaminated, with standards not being met for acidity, turbidity, or toxic metals such as lead, cadmium, chromium and arsenic (PSG 2008: 20).

Not only does this destroy aquatic life and present a danger to humans and animals, but it threatens agriculture also.  It is estimated that each year the irrigation canal along the left bank of the river, from which it draws its water, receives 147 tonnes of copper, 389 tonnes of iron, 13 tonnes of lead, and 10 tonnes of arsenic.  As a direct consequence of this, Peru’s booming agro-export industry has been affected, with exports of artichoke failing to pass quality standards due to the presence of metals (ibid.).

Equally, the Rimac River, located on the western flank of the Andes, originates in the highlands of the Huarochirí province and enters the Pacific Ocean as a brown trickle near the Callao metropolitan area.  It provides more than 70% of the entire supply of Lima’s drinking water.  However, a large number of mines are located in the Rimac River Basin.  A 2004 study by Wilder Méndez of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, provided a chemical analysis of water samples taken at ten points along the river’s course.  It discovered that high concentrations of cadmium were present at all sampling locations ranging from 0.0002 mg/l at the Blanco River to 0.011 mg/l at Parac Creek, a point at which water is supplied for domestic use.  Furthermore, other trace metals such as copper, zinc, lead and arsenic showed high levels of concentration at most sampling sites, thus posing a biological risk in accordance with Swedish environmental guidelines (Méndez 2004: 1).

Although these concentrations can be remedied to some extent in water treatment plants, Méndez makes reference to the fact that the Lima Waterworks Company treats water for domestic use with fewer techniques than those used in Sweden (ibid.: 19).  Moreover, there is the very real danger that Lima’s entire potable water supply could be contaminated through the failure of tailings dams in the upper courses of the river.  In an open letter to President Alan García in July 2008, Peru’s ombudswoman Beatriz Merino contended that the failure of the San Juan S.A Mining Company to protect its tailings dam from existing subterranean water infiltration and seismic activity put the city’s eight million people at risk.  The cost of such a clean-up operation would be far greater than the recent estimate by Chaclacayo mayor, Alfredo Valcárcel Cahen, who posited that it would take up to $100 million and five years to clean up the already heavily polluted Rimac River (Anniether 2009).

Conversely, in the department of Madre de Dios, the contamination of waterways is more apparent in the alluvial areas as the washing and separation of gravel requires large quantities of water.  Likewise, the largely utilised method of separating the gravel from the gold in sluice boxes has the effect of increasing the turbidity of rivers.  Turbidity is the “ability of water to disperse and adsorb light” and is caused by “suspended particles floating in the water column” (Lottermoser 2007: 119).  The suspended fine particulates, especially clay particles, have the capability to bind ions due to their negative electrical surface charge and attract positively charged metal and metalloid ions.  Due to the minute nature of the fine particulates, they can be transported as suspended load over large distances and spread metallic trace elements in the process (Persson 2008: 9).

This becomes problematic in the mining areas of the Amazon basin because much of the amalgamation and panning is carried out at the river’s edges.  Liquid mercury losses into the river systems are high during this process, as are the losses generated through the firing of the amalgam and the consequent release of the vaporised mercury into the atmosphere (Kuramoto 2001: 28).  The molecules suspended in the atmosphere are then precipitated by rainfall and also end up in the surrounding river systems.  A study conducted in 2008 by the Ministry of Production found mercury levels in the river waters of Madre de Dios registering between 3-25 times the limit set by Peruvian law for conservation of aquatic life in tropical ecosystems (Fraser 2009: 2).  This, together with the evidence already presented, outlines the severity of mining’s impact on water resources in Peru.

Impact on Ecosystems

Due to the propinquity of many mines to the headwaters of river and water sources, mining can have detrimental effects on the aquatic life of such systems.  In Madre de Dios, heavy machinery is estimated to remove 36 km² of the region’s river banks every year, causing the loss of vegetation and the sedimentation of rivers in the process (Bedoya in Roy et al. 2004: 194).  This causes excessive turbidity which, before the mechanisation of mining in the region, would clear during the dry season and allow for the regeneration of aquatic vegetation.  However, since the turbid waters are now a year-round phenomenon, aquatic plant photosynthesis is severely impeded.  This has a direct effect on the animals which are sustained by them, who must migrate to clearer waters as a result.

Perhaps the biggest aquatic concern is the release of large quantities of mercury into the river systems and its consequent impact on marine wildlife.  This is because mercury can be absorbed into species living near the source of the effluents, which can then be carried in their bodies over large distances as they migrate to cleaner waters.  A 2006 study carried out in the Lake Titicaca watershed in southern Peru highlighted the ability of mercury to be absorbed into the food chain.  The study reported the presence of artisanal mining on a relatively large scale in the La Rinconada and Ananea mining camps in the department of Puno.  Moreover, these mines were said to be located near the headwaters of the Río Ramis, the largest tributary to Lake Titicaca, which supported a commercial fishery that largely consisted of rainbow trout, carachi, and pejerrey.  The report indicated that these species of fish formed the staple diet of many local inhabitants and were also popular with tourists (Gammons et al. 2006: 639).

The study found that the mercury content of pejerrey “generally increased with fish length and mass…and is symptomatic of bioaccumulation” (ibid.: 644).  It discovered that 27% of the total sample of pejerrey in Lake Titicaca exceeded the 2001 US EPA fish tissue-based water quality criterion level, as did 75% of the carachi samples.  It was concluded that substantial consumption of these fish species would be harmful to human health, and that any other fish of greater mass than those sampled could be assumed to contain significantly greater mercury levels (ibid.: 645).

Similarly, fish and other wildlife in Cajamarca have been affected by Minera Yanacocha’s activities.  The area surrounding the mine site had previously been recognised as an area of rich biodiversity, with Burke and Gibbins recording the presence of 250 species of plants and approximately fifty vertebrate species encapsulated in the 20 km² region of the mine.  The study also revealed the presence of five different species of frogs and toads, in addition to rainbow trout (Arana 2005: 3).

However, the residents of nearby Porcon Tual, Huambocancha, and Huacataz, have since reported the extinction of these species in rivers and water sources.  The effect on rainbow trout has been shown to be of particular concern.  Adult rainbow trout can tolerate acidic waters up to pH 5.0 but only for short periods, and anything below pH 5.0 is considered lethal exposure.  After all the adult rainbow trout were killed at the La Posada Puruay fish farm (4km from the city of Cajamarca) in March 2001, tests on the acidity levels showed that in the days leading up to the trout’s death, pH levels were recorded at 4.7.  Yet this was not an isolated incident, Figure 7 gives an indication of the destructive effect of Minera Yanacocha’s activities on aquatic ecosystems in Cajamarca.

Figure 7

Date Event Place
September 1998 Death of trout in the River Llaucano Paccha – Hualgayoc province
December 1998 Ammonium nitrate spill kills fish in River Jequetepeque Tembladera – Chilete
January 2000 Arsenic kills fish within 180km of Jequetepeque basin and kills 12,000 trout in Porcon fish farm Porcon – Gallito Ciego
January 2001 Death of 10,000 trout in the Ahijadero fish farm Llaucano River basin
March 2001 Heavy metals detected in the River Grande – acidic pH. Death of trout in River Grande fish farm and Posada del Puruay Puruay – 4km from Cajamarca city.
August2001 Acidic water – mass mortality of trout Porcon
May 2002 Death of 8,000 trout Porcon
August 2002 Death of 2,200 trout Porcon
October-November 2002 Death of 26,500 trout Porcon

(Arana 2005: 4)

Although these studies have primarily documented the negative effects on different fish species, further studies have sought to identify the impact on other wildlife.  One such study undertaken in 1997 investigated the impact of high mercury levels in fish on the endangered giant otter in the Manu National Park, Peru.  Located next to a gold mining area in the vicinity of the park’s borders, the researchers found that mercury concentrations in the livers of the otters studied were greater than 30 mg/kg, the value proposed to be the critical tissue concentration for otters.  Although no traces of the toxic methylmercury were found in the otters, small traces of inorganic mercury were found.  The study went on to conclude that, although no definitive data was available on giant otter tissue concentrations, when compared to tissue concentrations of the European otter, a significant risk of mercury intoxication in the giant otter was posed (Gutleb et al 1997: 511).  Considering that this data was recorded in the early stages of Peru’s current ‘gold rush’, it can be postulated that the severity of the risk has only intensified.

Yet it is not just marine life that has been affected by mining’s activities.  There has been much public outcry over the perceived destruction of Peru’s biological diversity.  In the province of Candarave in February 2008, 99% of the voters in a referendum voted against mining’s access to underground water.  This was a function of the population having witnessed the consequences of Southern Copper’s activities in the neighbouring provinces of Huaytire, Vizcachas and Suchas.  Describing the ecological effects of the mine, provincial mayor Mario Copa Conde was quoted as saying “the flow of the Collazas, Tacalaya and Calientes rivers has diminished and our production is less; the wetlands of Jacopunco and Vizcachas are now dusty plains where the number of llamas and alpacas has fallen” (PSG 2008: 18).

Additionally, in the northern Andean region of Piura, a study by a team of researchers from the University of Texas showed that the exploration phase of the Río Blanco project being undertaken by the British firm Monterrico Metals and their Peruvian subsidiary, Minera Majaz, had been done so at great environmental cost.  Peruvian biologist Martha Bustamente was quoted as saying; “damages were caused during the drilling in the process of exploring for minerals.  The damage to biodiversity in the area is undeniable, and medicinal plants and endangered species of animals have been put in danger” (Salazar 2007).  Ms Bustamente went on to allege that the exploratory project had endangered the breeding of rare animals such as the spectacled bear and the Andean tapir, both indigenous to the mountainous cloud forest region surrounding Piura.

Furthermore, realising the scale of the environmental threat, 95% of Piuran voters cast their ballots to overwhelmingly oppose the exploitation of the Río Blanco project.  The proposed copper mine site would impact upon the headwaters of vital rivers such as the Chinchipe and Quiroz that serve the major reservoirs, towns, cities and agricultural areas of the region.  Not just this, but they also serve to sustain the wild habitats of such rare and endangered species as the aforementioned spectacled bear and Andean tapir, as well as white-winged guan, condors, hummingbirds, orchids, lizards and reptiles (Environment News Service 2007).  While this may stave off the mining company for an indefinite period, Minera Majaz still hope to begin exploration of the mine in 2011, although this is subject to the approval of an environmental impact assessment by the MEM.  To this end, it should be pointed out that to date no mining project has been rejected by the MEM solely on environmental grounds (Bebbington et al. 2007: 5).

3. The Gendered Impacts of Environmental Change

Quintessentially, this chapter will assess the impact of environmental degradation caused by the extractives industry on the well-being and human security of women in Peru.  The World Bank defines ‘gender’ as referring to “culturally based expectations of the roles and behaviours of males and females”, and “distinguishes the socially constructed from the biologically determined aspects of being male and female” (World Bank 2001: 1).  With this in mind, the chapter will take women’s lived experiences as the central focus of the study, and attempt to elucidate the myriad and diverse effects that mining has upon women’s lives as a result of their socially constructed position within Peruvian society.

Women’s Relationship with the Land

Across the developing world women are placed at the heart of subsistence food production, and to this end, access and control over cultivable land form “the basic resource for meeting food needs and often for servicing livelihoods” (Davidson 1993: 5).  Despite this, women seldom own land in its own right, with access to ‘public’ land often being costly and uncertain.  In Peru, and especially in the Andean region, agricultural production is adapted to the harsh terrain by utilising different ecological zones which vary with altitude and microclimate (Szablowski 2002: 257).  Whereas some ecological zones are exploited for livestock (cattle, sheep and pigs) grazing and herding, others are used for the production of crops such as tubers, corns and grains.  In this way, families and communities have ensured the availability of a mixed basket of goods through engaging in a “diverse portfolio of production techniques to meet their subsistence needs” (Bury 2005: 234).

Within this system there traditionally existed a sexual division of labour within the household whereby the women and children would tend the animals, an extremely time-intensive activity, in addition to assisting the men in agricultural crop production.  However, in assessing the productivity of rural households and the sexual division of labour in peasant agriculture in Andean Peru, Jacoby (1992: 281) noted how households with little land needed to supplement their incomes with non-farm activities.  In most instances this led to the male members of the household spending more time off the farm in search of a cash income, leaving women responsible for relatively more of the crop production.  This had the cumulative effect of doubling the amount of work undertaken by women, as not only did they have to care for their children, but also meet the family’s basic subsistence needs through livestock rearing and crop production.

The same could be said to happen in Peru as a result of mining development in the vicinity of rural communities.  Bury’s (2007: 383) study into migration patterns amongst local populations surrounding the Yanacocha mine in Cajamarca revealed that more often than not, it was the male members of the household who undertook short-term (less than 6 months) or inter-seasonal migrations to the urban or coastal centres, a process facilitated by the construction of roads connecting the mine with the principal ports in Peru.

Furthermore, Bury (2004: 87) recorded how the price of land in the vicinity of the Yanacocha mine has dramatically increased since it began operations in 1993.  Whilst carrying out surveys to assess the impact of the mine’s operations on livelihoods in the region, Bury noted how several respondents in the community of Ladera indicated that they were now not able to feed their families because they did not have enough land and could not purchase any more because it was too expensive.  For many families such as these, permanent or more frequent migration, salaried labour, or the purchase of smaller parcels of land in neighbouring communities have become the only alternatives (Bury 2005: 236).  Yet with a disposable cash income not readily available to many families, migration of the male members of the household has become the only viable option.  As noted previously, this has effectively doubled the amount of work that women must perform in maintaining their subsistence way of life.

For these women too, with no means of purchasing land away from a mine’s operations, many are left to persevere with livestock rearing and crop production in a polluted environment. The effect that this can have on their ability to meet their family’s basic needs can be severe.  In her testimony of living conditions in Yauli, near the La Oroya smelting complex, herder Gregoria Alvarez describes how she brought thirty sheep and fourteen llamas from the village of Pomacocha to Yauli where they subsequently died due to lead poisoning.  The disease, Gregoria explains, causes “the animal to spin round and round as if it’s drunk and then it falls over” (Mountain Voices 1995), and was caused by the animals grazing on contaminated grass and breathing in the lead-laden fumes emitted from the smelter.  After this the only work she could find was tending to the communal livestock, and in the process lost her independence to provide for her family.

This is just but a few examples of the hardships endured by women and the degradation of their land in the vicinity of mining operations.  Yet access to cultivable land forms only one part of the natural environment that women and their families require to meet their basic needs.  The following section will take the next step and explore the relationship between women and water resources in Peru, and how this has been impacted upon by the mining industry.

Women and Water Resources

As the WHO has pointed out, despite the abundance of literature concerning women’s direct relationship with water resources in terms of provision and use, little formal research has been carried out to establish the effects on women of insufficient and poor quality water in terms of household coping strategies and effects on health (WHO 2004: 2).  This is especially relevant in the case of Peru, a particularly water-stressed country where water pollution, floods and other waste related disasters have directly affected every aspect of the country’s life and economy (Guillén 2006: 8).  In such cases, the effects have primarily been felt by the country’s poor, and in particular it is women who have borne the brunt.

However, one recent report published in Canada sought to identify how women’s lives have been impacted upon by the operations of Minera Yanacocha in the vicinity of their pasture lands.  Like many other Andean peasant communities, Tual, located near the mine, depends to a large extent on the success of dairy farming, sheep herding and small-scale agriculture as the main drivers of economic activity in the area.  Yet all such activities depend on water and are primarily the responsibility of women.  The water that sustains these activities is sourced from a network of irrigation canals that span the department, yet many were found to be directly impacted upon by waste from the Yanacocha mine.

Of particular significance was shown to be the case of the Tupac Amaru canal, a canal that runs almost 40 km in length, with its water spring source now located within the property of Yanacocha.  As the mine expanded its operations in 2002, runoff from the mine’s tailings contaminated one of the streams that feeds the canal, rendering it unfit for human consumption. Although compensation was paid to two hundred of the canal’s users, and Minera Yanacocha agreed to pump chemically treated water into the canal to make up for shortfalls in water flow, this still did not adequately address the negative impacts that the mine had caused the community, and more specifically its women (Li 2009: 100).

This is because the water being returned to canal users from the mining company’s treatment plant did not sufficiently compensate for the water they had lost – “neither in quality nor quantity” (ibid.).  According to members of the community it had a different taste and colouration, meaning that they could no longer drink it.  Although Minera Yanacocha had treated the water according to standards set out in the country’s General Water Law, they did so only for the purposes of irrigation, and not for the provision of potable water.  In doing so, the mining company had completely disregarded the fact the before the mine’s arrival the canal was used not only for irrigation but for drinking, cooking, washing clothes, and other household activities (ibid.).

The findings demonstrated here were corroborated by Bury’s previous study which concluded upon investigation that in each of the three case study communities surrounding the mine, Minera Yanacocha had “impacted household access to water resources in three domains: potable water, watershed resources and irrigation water supplies” (2004: 85).  Furthermore, residents of Ladera indicated that the water was cloudy, smelled and tasted terrible, and believed it was responsible for human and animal health problems as well as crop yellowing and stunting (ibid.).  Similar examples of water degradation can be found elsewhere in Peru, with resident of Alto Huancané, Gavina Cuti, claiming the operations of the Tintaya mine had led to contamination of the Huinumayo River.  “Tailings entered the river, damaging it.  In addition, the river has dried up – we’ve been left without water for our animals and for human consumption.  There’s simply no water” (Christian Aid 2005: 18).

The cumulative effect in these cases has been that additional water for these activities has to be sourced from further afield, increasing the workload of women who must spend more of their time acquiring it.  This directly affects the amount of time women have to carry out their other domestic and agricultural responsibilities, thus increasing the pressure women are placed under to carry out their ‘double-day’ duties.

Moreover, certain health issues may arise when faced with contamination of water supplies.  For instance, studies carried out in the shanty towns of metropolitan Lima indicated that with water scarcity came the increased tendency amongst families to avoid hygienic measures such as washing hands after coming into direct contact with faecal coliforms.  Although knowledge of sanitary practice was shown to be adequate, hygienic practices were poor, presumably owing to the lack of water (Gilman et al. 1993: 1557).  While this study was applied in an urban context, it could be postulated that similar measures such as washing hands less frequently may be undertaken to conserve the little water available to rural households impacted upon by mining activities.   However, there are other health implications that do arise as a result of environmental contamination, of which the following section will cover.

Environmental Degradation and Women’s Health

As the previous sections have shown, the increased burden upon women to provide for the basic needs of their families has been brought about by the negative impacts that mining has had on the natural environment.  With less and less subsistence needs being met by agricultural crop production as a result of contamination of pasturelands and water sources, it is imperative to assess the effect that this has had on women’s health.  One primary area of contention is that of gender differences in the nutritional status of individuals whose communities are suffering from a reduced availability of natural resources.  The WHO has claimed that in many poor households in the developing world, women work harder than men but eat less, and go on to state that “given the high energy costs of poor women’s combined productive and reproductive roles, the impact on their health of a heavy workload and insufficient nutrition is substantial” (WHO 2004: 31).

While no formal research has been carried out in Peru to this effect, certain inferences can be drawn by assessing prior research into the social conditions prevalent in Peruvian households.  One such study investigated the effect of household economic standing on women’s energy intake in a small indigenous farming community in Peru.  Ura Ayllu, located in the southern department of Puno, is a particularly poor and remote village in the Andean mountain range which experiences two distinct seasons, that of wet and dry.  Drawing on previous research, Graham (2004: 2292) predicted that seasonal energy stress would be at its greatest during the rainy, pre-harvest months, where the burden was thought to fall equally on men and women.

However, combining a quantitative analysis of food intake with qualitative data on household behaviours and beliefs about food and hunger, Graham was able to show that there were distinct differences between the women’s nutritional status even in marginally dissimilar economic circumstances.  The study found that during the pre-harvest season, poorer women were consuming significantly fewer calories (1269 kilocalories) than women from wealthier households, who consumed up to 1785 kilocalories.  Taking a mean average, poorer women were found to meet only 70% of their estimated energy needs, whereas women in the wealthier group were consuming 99% of their predicted energy requirements for that time of year (ibid.: 2296).  Furthermore, during the same pre-harvest months, children from poorer households were found to be meeting 98% of their predicted energy needs, while the children from the wealthier households were consuming on average 104% of their requirement (ibid.: 2297).

By any estimation this has serious implications for health.  Andean ethnomedicine stresses the core concept of debilidad, or vulnerability, which symbolises the “perceived fragility of human existence within a threatening environment”, with one of the central tenets being that humans leave themselves exposed to illnesses if they fail to eat regular meals (Larme 1998: 1009).  Applying this concept to the previous study, it could be hypothesised that women become more susceptible to illness as they eat less and work more.  A two year study (1983-85) carried out in the district of Nuñoa, Puno, sought to establish whether household economic standing had a bearing on the prevalence of illness amongst rural women.  Not surprisingly, it found that health status among town households was associated with economic status, and in particular, with a steady source of income.  Those women from households with a steady source of income or moderate wealth reported fewer illnesses, whereas poorer women reported roughly 8% more symptoms and more than twice the days of lost work per two week period than more prosperous households (Leatherman 1996: 486).

Given that illness and health complications can negatively affect the ability of women to carry out their domestic and agricultural work, it would be prudent to examine the other primary risk factors caused by the mining industry’s contamination of the environment.  One such issue relates to the chronic exposure of communities to mine tailings and what dermatological effect this has on the body.  A case study carried out in the communities of Mayoc, Daza and Tamboraque, located in the district of San Mateo de Huanchor, sought to analyse whether living within close proximity of a mine had a direct bearing on the incidence  of skin diseases, as opposed to those communities that were not exposed to mine tailings.

The initial results indicated that amongst the adult population, 71% of the exposed group had some non-infectious dermatological disease compared to 34% in the non-exposed group.  Similarly, amongst the child population, 69% of the exposed group had some form of non-infectious dermatological disease as opposed to 30% in the non-exposed group (Ramos et al. 2008: 169).  Moreover, upon further investigation, residents in the exposed group were shown to not just be suffering from non-infectious dermatological diseases such as hypopigmentation and contact dermatitis, but an association was also found between the high levels of arsenic in the mine’s tailings and the appearance of pre-cancerous lesions such as arsenical keratosis (see Figure 8).  Although none of the participants in the study had skin cancer, this was suggested by the researchers as possibly being owed to the insufficient period of exposure to the mine tailings, as the presence of cancer associated with arsenic requires exposure of more than ten years, whereas the studied population had been exposed for six (ibid.: 173).

Figure 8

(ibid.: 173)

Similar harmful effects on human health have been documented near the smelting complex at La Oroya.  A 2004 Health Ministry survey discovered that 99.7% of the children living in La Oroya Antigua, situated directly opposite the main stack, had dangerously high levels of lead in their blood.  Correspondingly, a research team from the US headed by Fernando Serrano says he was ‘scandalised’ to find children with blood lead levels higher than those of US workers who have been exposed to handling the substance.  The researchers found not only high levels of lead, but also cadmium, arsenic, mercury, antimony, caesium and thallium, constituting a toxic cocktail of metals (Fraser 2009: 5555).  Children are by no means the only ones affected however, with expectant mothers being equally vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead exposure.  Studies have shown both groups to exhibit symptoms associated with lead poisoning (Christian Aid 2005: 26).

While these last studies have not been gender-specific, they nevertheless have their own gender dimension.  As has been noted in the studies on illness in households of lower economic standing, women are burdened by their additional workload, and in times of food scarcity, have been shown to sacrifice their own nutritional well-being for that of their children.  When faced with the additional threat of dermatological diseases and high blood lead levels such as those in the previous two case studies, this only decreases women’s ability to meet their subsistence needs.  Furthermore, the emotional distress that women must suffer as a result of watching their children succumb to such ailments is incalculable in any scientific study.  It is these stresses and anxieties at the changing nature of the environment around them that has led women into leading the fight against many mining operations in their country.  The experience of women who have sought to follow this path will be reviewed next.


Women’s Activism and Oppression

According to Amnesty Canada, female activists are among the most vulnerable groups of women in Latin America (2006: 2).  Centuries of marginalisation has meant that for many women, their status as stakeholders has not been considered relevant where mining is concerned.  The same is true in Peru, where at the community level women face the invisible barrier that mining has a distinctive male image and is perceived as a technical activity (Rondon 2009: 91).  Maria Gonzalez, president of the Association of Women Defenders of Social and Environmental Rights, based in Arequipa, has reported that women who turn up to community meetings to discuss mining activities are made to feel as if their opinion is not important.  Yet when women do step out of their traditional roles as housewives to protest against the deterioration of their environment, they do so at great personal cost.  This is because their collective voice of resistance triggers deeply ingrained machismo and hostility against them, which in turn increases their marginalisation (ibid.).  The following cases will explore this in more detail, whilst illustrating the impact that mining activity has had on women’s livelihoods in Peru.

Margarita Anchiraica

With her mother and two young sons, Margarita lives in Glorieta de Mayoc, a village 80km east of Lima which has suffered due to the arrival of large-scale mining.  Many members of the community have contracted arsenic dermatitis and other such dermatological diseases due to exposure to the mine’s tailings, with the community’s children in particular suffering from skin and respiratory ailments.  As a result, in 2003 Margarita and the Committee of People Affected by the activities of the Tamboraque mine filed a complaint with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission of the OAS, alleging violations to the right to life, health, property and freedom of assembly.

The complaint was upheld, yet when production of gold and silver continued in 2006 following the takeover of the mine by Canadian company Gold Hawk, company officials began pressing committee members to withdraw their complaint as it reflected poorly on the company’s image.  Offering work and handouts in exchange for compliance, many committee members succumbed to the company’s advances leaving Margarita as the sole member refusing to accommodate the mining company.  The defiant nature of her stance subsequently drew the anger of mine workers and other members of the community, who subjected her to constant harassment and abuse.  Margarita explains; “stones were thrown onto the roofs of our houses…one of the mine workers…came to my door to insult me and threaten to blow me up” (ibid.: 93).  Similarly, her niece was threatened with rape, and an angry mob threatened to throw her in the river.

Despite this, Margarita struggles on to win the environmental protection she feels her community deserves.  Yet the community itself is divided between those who favour the investment the mine brings, and those who are pushing for stricter environmental standards.  To add to Margarita’s woes, in 2007 the company constructed a new tailings pond to store more than a tonne of toxic waste left over from the extraction process, although due to safety fears the mine was closed a year later after it threatened to contaminate the water supply of the River Rimac, Lima’s principal water source.  However, the mine’s lasting legacy has been the contamination of the area’s soil, with Margarita no longer able to farm her animals.  Coupled with the loss of her cleaning job with the council due to her activism, Margarita is now totally dependent on her family to meet her basic needs.  Furthermore, the mine was recently bought by Nyrstar who have plans to restart operations in the near future (ibid.: 94).

Elizabeth Cunya

A resident of Piura, in the northern cloud forests of Peru, Elizabeth opposed the Rio Blanco project on the grounds that it is situated in the headwaters of the River Rio Blanco, a life source for Piura’s inhabitants who depend on it for the production of vegetables and fruits.  As reported by the Guardian (2009: 6), in August 2005 a group of up to 5,000 people marched up into the mountains to the ‘Henry Hill’ mining camp in an attempt to force the authorities and mining company into a dialogue.  However, the police were waiting for them upon arrival, at which point 28 of the protestors claimed to have been detained, hooded with hands tied behind their backs, beaten with sticks and whipped.  Elizabeth was one of only two women to be detained for a period lasting three days, during which time Elizabeth was subjected to “degrading sexual abuse” and torture (LAMMP 2009b: 10).

After being released, Elizabeth sought medical attention as she had partially lost hearing in her left ear due to the blows received to her head, and was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress.  Labelled as one of the ‘ringleaders’ of the protest in the lawsuit filed against her by the Public Prosecutor, Elizabeth lost her job and regularly received threatening messages saying she was being watched.  With the legal process still ongoing to the present day, Elizabeth has remained defiant, and has taken encouragement in the report she has received from ULAM.  Still, she has lamented the impunity with which the authorities operate under, as the police are perceived as simply not being interested in investigating complaints from the many women who suffer abuse at the hands of pro-miners and the local authorities.  In her view, “women need to work together to overcome the barriers that marginalise us” (ibid.: 11).

What these case studies have sought to elucidate is not only the abuse suffered by women who seek to end the damage to their environment, but also the manner in which their opposition has been criminalised by the state to the point where they become pariahs in their own communities.  The isolation and marginalisation experienced by these women as they have lost their jobs and any means of securing their livelihoods is compounded by the abuse their families suffer in the process.  Only through working together, as Elizabeth has propounded, can a form of ‘collective defence’ against oppression be achieved and their voice heard by the authorities.


Throughout this chapter, women’s dependence on natural resources and the increased burden upon them as a result of environmental contamination has been shown.  However, with the exception of Fabiana Li’s research into the effects of Minera Yanacocha’s activities on women’s use of water resources in Cajamarca, all the other evidence presented here is pieced together as a set of inferences drawn from prior research into other aspects of rural life in Peru.  Despite the wealth of literature concerning women’s closer relationship with the environment, the advent of mining over the past two decades as the principal source of FDI in the country does not seem to have facilitated research into how the industry alters this relationship.

Key areas remain unexplored.  For instance, there appears to be no present study into how mining has directly altered women’s relationship with the land, in terms of the diminishing resources available to women as a result of environmental contamination and the consequent effect this has.  Similarly, while Li’s research charts the effect that contamination of water sources has had on women in Cajamarca, this remains the principal research of its kind, with the experience of women elsewhere in the country living under differing conditions as yet neglected.

Furthermore, while the detrimental impact that mining has had on people’s health in Peru has been investigated to a considerable extent, a gender-specific analysis is still lacking, with a complete absence of research evident in the reported instances of respiratory illnesses prevalent in those communities exposed to mining wastes.  Take for example the testimony of Margarita Anchiraica, who began to vehemently oppose the Tamboraque mine on the basis of having witnessed members of her community suffering from skin and respiratory ailments.  Scientifically, the link between mining and respiratory illnesses has been backed up by Eisler, who found that exposure to gold mine tailings with a mean arsenic concentration of 21,000 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) was associated with the presence of lung, stomach, and respiratory diseases in miners and residents of surrounding areas (2004: 136).

Of equal importance is the necessity to analyse the impact that such effects have on the educational opportunities for girls living in communities affected by mining.  Mies and Shiva have argued that the more time spent by women working to sustain the family due to environmental degradation, the more likely it is that female children take on part of the mother’s burden.  Citing examples of high female school dropout rates in India, coupled with higher levels of illiteracy amongst female workers as opposed to males, the correlation is established (1993: 85).

In comparison, Peru exhibits similar discrepancies between male and female literacy rates.  Just 2.4% of urban men are illiterate compared to 7.4% of women, yet it is in rural areas where the differences are more profound. With 33.7% of rural women classed as illiterate in contrast to 10.9% of rural males, it would suggest that similar societal structures are prevalent in Peru as they are in India (PSG 2005).  Evidence from Nigeria also supports this hypothesis, with a study into environmental change and male out-migration associated with oil extraction on the livelihood patterns of women in Ibeno, a rural community.  It established that in the majority of instances, girls are withdrawn from school by their mothers in order to assist on the farm or to take care of younger siblings while the mother undertakes farm work (Okoko 1999: 376).  However, what has not been formally established as yet in Peru is the presence of a causal link between mining, environmental degradation, and female school dropout rates and illiteracy, which should be a focus area of research.

A further under-researched area involves the breakdown of family relations that supersedes mining development as a result of the changed nature of the family structure that arises as communities are progressively incorporated into the market economy.  Violence directed against women is already a tolerated crime in Peru, especially in the domestic realm between husbands and wives.  For example, 49% of women in urban Lima to 69% in rural Cusco are reported to have experienced physical violence at some point during their lifetime (Boesten 2009: 1).

Yet as the typical rural Peruvian family has been historically a unit of production and consumption, with women at the centre of managing the family’s resources, the sudden need for cash to supplement their subsistence activities results in a major dependence on the husband earning money.  In cases such as these symptoms of subordination have been reported (Estremadoyro 2001: 7).  Moreover, the influx of cash into such communities can create conflicts over how that money is spent, with men taking ownership of their incomes and spending it on such things as alcohol instead of food or medicine for the security of the family.  In Peru, there is a perceived link between the rise in alcoholism and domestic violence, with many women who experience violence at the hands of their husbands and partners citing alcohol as a key factor (ibid.: 8). Significantly, among those women that Estremadoyro interviewed in her study of domestic violence in Andean communities, some reported that their husbands beat them as a result of their failure to fulfil their agricultural and domestic tasks (ibid.: 16).  As mining increases the difficulty of these tasks due to the contamination and degradation of natural resources, a causal link between the two can also be drawn.  However, as mentioned previously, no such research has been undertaken to establish this link.

Although not documented in Peru thus far, the linkages between mining and domestic violence have been ascertained in other regions.  On Misima Island, Papua New Guinea, Oxfam Australia conducted an investigation into the social problems arising from mining development.  They discovered that the increased availability of cash within these communities led to excessive alcohol consumption amongst men with women and children bearing the brunt of the resultant violence.  Repeated reports of wife-beating and rape compounded this and indicated an overall increase in the level of violence meted out to women.  In addition, Misima experienced an overall increase in divorce rates and the numbers of abandoned wives and children (Macdonald and Rowland 2002: 31).

This leads onto assessing just what impact the out-migration of male members of the community for long periods of time can have on Peruvian women.  In their search for cash to supplement their reduced income from subsistence activities, men often migrate to economic centres such as mines or urban areas for extended periods of time as shown in the research of Jacoby and Bury.  As noted above, this increases the risk of abandonment by their husbands, who may take up second wives in the mining communities or cities.  This reduces the level of economic security for those rural women left to look after their families by themselves.  As a result many women may enter into the informal economy as a means of earning an extra income, as shown by Oxfam’s research in the Philippines and India.  For women in these countries, the loss of traditional livelihood opportunities has forced them into informal work outside of their communities.  In such instances, labour can often be menial with women serving as maids, servants, construction labourers or even as prostitutes (ibid.: 22).

In Peru’s case, women workers are being forced into the informal economy on a large scale.  Currently, more than 60% of the women workers in the country are forced into informality, with only 15% enjoying health coverage and a mere 4% having retirement benefits.  This is compounded by the fact that Peruvian labour laws discriminate against women, with many companies forcing women to work longer hours for less than minimum wage in many instances (Acensios 2009).  While not wholly attributable to mining development and the depletion of natural resources available to rural women, the rise in informality amongst women workers does have some of its roots in these issues, and as yet sustained research into the linkages has not been undertaken.

In sum, what this points towards is a startling lack of attention into the detrimental effects of mining activities on women by the development community as a whole.  Not only are many of the signs visible, but these are consequences which many feminists have identified as a being of critical concern over the last three decades, if not more.  Not to say that there has been a complete dearth of research into women’s altered relationship with the environment due to mining development, but rather that it has been too little and too far in between to be of any sustained value.  This is particularly true in Peru’s case, where the issue of women and the environment appears to have been especially neglected as this discussion hopes to have illustrated.

Yet what is all the more striking is that these effects are not unknown to the major institutions that instigate such projects.  The World Bank, for example, has espoused the need to recognise the gendered dimensions of the extractive industries in particular.  When the extractives industries pollute or change the landscape, the World Bank realises that “women often have a…difficult time finding water or gathering food.  When these tasks take more time and effort, women and girls often have less time for other activities – such as schooling or other work” (Eftimie et al 2009: 17). Similarly, in recognising health implications of access to contaminated water, the World Bank notes that “mothers must then devote more time to seeking and giving family health care, taking time away from income generation, farming, or other tasks that might benefit the family or community” (ibid.: 18).

What this shows is that whilst lip-service is paid to the issue of gender, and policy recommendations are subsequently made, it would appear to be having little real effect for those women in Peru who are still suffering the discriminatory effects of mining development.  Ultimately, this only serves to confirm the feminist belief that women are marginalised in the development process.  Certain parallels drawn by ecofeminists with regard to male dominance over nature and women could also be evidenced in this context, yet it would appear that it is the socially constructed position of women that determines their closer relationship with nature, and thus, their inferiority in Peruvian society.  Only with a concerted effort to comprehensively catalogue the deleterious effects of mining on rural women’s lived experiences can the situation begin to change.  Until that point, freedom from fear and freedom from want will not be achieved for the women of Peru.






4.  Conclusion


The preceding chapters have covered an extensive range of issues related to the impact of mining on the environment, and subsequently women’s security.  In the second chapter, clearly identifiable changes were observed in the quality of soils in Piura, La Oroya, Cajamarca and Madre de Dios.  This was a combined effect of the contamination generated by the mining operations, in addition to the deforestation and consequent soil erosion in the Amazonian lowlands.  Correspondingly, water resources were shown to have been contaminated in Cajamarca and Madre de Dios, whereas key sources of potable and irrigation water such as the Rimac and Mantaro Rivers were shown to be equally affected.  At the systemic level, the cumulative effect has been harmful to aquatic life, with instances of mass mortality of trout exhibited in Cajamarca, and high mercury tissue levels identified in fish in Lake Titicaca and its surrounding tributaries.  Furthermore, mercury contamination showed signs of transference in the food chain, with tests on the giant otter revealing elevated levels of mercury in muscle tissue.  Damages to the natural habitats of rare, endangered species such as the Andean tapir and spectacled bear were also evidenced during the exploratory phases of the Rio Blanco copper project in Piura.

The following chapter sought to establish the intimate relationship that women had with the environment in Peru, and how this relationship had been affected by the changes brought by mining development.  However, in contrast to the previous chapter, where prior academic research had already established the degrading nature of the extractive industries on the environment, there was a distinct lack of research into the gendered impacts of environmental change caused by mining development, and thus, a more nuanced anthropological approach was pursued.

In establishing women’s connection with land and water resources through observing sexual divisions of labour within rural communities, I attempted to convey how the diminished access to natural resources, as confirmed in the previous chapter, had altered women’s ability to provide for their families, and thus increased the burden upon them.  Clear evidence of this was outlined in the analysis of women’s use of irrigation canals in Cajamarca for a host of domestic activities, whereas pollution of water resources was also shown to impact negatively on women’s livestock rearing duties in La Oroya and Alto Huancané.  Moreover, the effect this had was shown in rural women’s tendency to eat less in times of scarcity, thus susceptibility to illnesses were also increased.  Together with the more observable health implications of environmental contamination such as dermatological diseases and lead poisoning, coupled with the exclusion and victimisation of women activists who protested their marginalisation in this process, a broad scope of analysis was achieved.

However, the observable absence of prior research exploring the gendered impacts of environmental change caused by mining development was alluded to in the discussion section, and it is this which casts uncertainty over what the future holds for mining, the environment, and women in the country.

Future Implications

The possibility of environmental protection has been enhanced somewhat by the setting up of Peru’s first environment ministry in 2008, with President García claiming it would help protect the country’s Amazon rainforest (Collyns 2008).  However, much of the impetus for setting up the ministry appears to have been due to its inclusion as a condition in the US-Peru FTA, and it is yet to be established how seriously the ministry intends to take its role in environmental conservation.

On one issue, however, its stance seems less equivocal.  The rapid advance of informal mining throughout the Amazonian basin in Peru has devastated large swathes of pristine tropical rainforest, and it is this that the government appears primarily concerned with reigning in.  Yet in reality this may have much more to do with the large-scale tax evasion and lack of royalties being paid to the state as a result of the informal nature of the industry (Luna 2009).  The recent deaths of six protestors challenging a presidential decree aimed at imposing environmental controls on informal mining in Madre de Dios illustrates the tensions inherent in the extractives industry, as livelihoods are intimately bound up in mining development throughout the country (Collyns 2010).

Economic concerns are clearly an issue.  As one of the nations that will be most affected by climate change in the coming decades, it has been predicted that Andean countries could lose up to $30 billion over the next 20 years as a result of this process (Collyns 2008).  Initiatives such as reforestation programmes have been put forward as a means of mitigating this effect, but there remain important questions as to how this will be funded.  Similarly, Marco Arana of the Peruvian political party Tierra y Libertad has claimed that it could take anything up to $1 billion to clean up and ecologically restore the mine-affected areas of the country, but the political will to achieve this remains questionable when so much of the country’s economy is reliant on mineral exports (Arana 2009).

Despite the controversies surrounding mineral extraction in Peru, the opinions and concerns of the country’s women appear for the most part to have been relegated to the periphery of political, economic and social discourse.  As evidenced in the latter stages of this study, there are many negative consequences for women that arise specifically through mineral extraction.  Yet while this has been recognised internationally as a principal area of concern, there appears to be little to no attempt at addressing these gender-specific issues in Peru at present.

One possible solution could lie in the promotion and institutionalisation of GIAs into the proposal stages of mining development, an accompaniment to the environmental and social impact assessments that are a pre-requisite for any project seeking approval from the MEM.  Besides the harmful effects on women that such assessments hope to avoid, a key objective of GIAs is the promotion of women’s empowerment and political participation and representation at the community, regional and national levels.  As Scaife (2009: 8) has contended, such assessments should have a clear understanding of the sexual division of labour within households and communities, the experiences of women as distinct to that of men, gendered control over access to and benefits from resources, the subordination of women, and a focus on women’s practical needs and strategic interests.

Furthermore, the criminalisation and marginalisation of women who protest at the deteriorating conditions of their natural environment remains a fundamental problem that is unlikely to be remediated so long as structures of patriarchal domination exist in Peruvian society.  Despite this, important strides are being taken by NGOs in Peru and throughout the world to give those women most affected by mining the chance to voice their opinion and meet other women similarly affected by the same issues.  This is being carried out in a number of ways.  In creating ULAM, the network of female activists uniting women around Latin America, the profile of its members has been raised along with the reduction in isolation and vulnerability to intimidating attacks.  Moreover, the organisational capacity to protest mining development has been significantly enhanced in the process.  Other networks, such as the Women and Mining network, aim to open public spaces for women so that they are able to raise public awareness of the impact that mining has on their communities, and have provided financial support to assist in the specialist training of women in issues such as mining, biodiversity, indigenous rights and public speaking (LAMMP 2009a: 3).

Underscoring this whole process, however, it cannot be forgotten that the political climate in Peru will to a large extent determine the future of mining development.  With the national elections staged to take place in 2011, Garcia will be forced to cede control of the country he has presided over after serving the maximum permissible term in office.  Yet an examination of the early contenders to succeed him would seemingly offer little hope for change from the present neoliberal course.  When Peruvians do go to the polls in just over a year’s time, they are likely to be offered the choice between two basic options; a continuation of the neoliberal, export-led economic and political model as typified over the preceding ten years, or a more interventionist and nationalist alternative.  García still holds a great deal of influence within his ruling party, APRA, and a similar pro-business candidate is likely to be put forward by them next year.  The current mayor or Lima, Luis Castañeda Lossio, has also been widely tipped to run for president and is equally inclined towards the free market.  Furthermore, Keiko Fujimori, daughter of disgraced ex-President Alberto Fujimori, will offer a similar pro-business but illiberal alternative to those Peruvians wishing to usher in another conservative government (PSG 2010: 1).

For those concerned with the deleterious effects of Peru’s mode of development and governance over the last twenty years, the Left offers hope in the form of two early candidates.  Ollanta Humala lost out to García in the second round of voting in 2006, and will be preparing a second bid for the presidency in 2011.  While he has not proved the most effective ‘leader of the opposition’, he retains a large support base in the southern highlands and in the Amazon jungle, where most of Peru’s poverty is located.  Competing for his support will be environmental and human rights activist, Marco Arana, a figurehead whose publications for GRUFIDES have featured intermittently throughout this report.  An outspoken critic of the socio-environmental consequences of mineral extraction in his native Cajamarca, Arana has riled corporate and state interests to the point where his life, and that of those around him, has been placed under threat.  However, his political party Tierra y Libertad has not got off to a strong start, paving the way for other potential candidates to emerge over the next twelve months (ibid.: 2).

Regardless of the candidate chosen to succeed Alan García, a solution to the conflictual nature of the development process should be sought to allay the fears of those who stand to lose a great deal from mining in the country.  As of 2009, there were 33,393 active mining claims that covered an area as large as 13,997km², equivalent to 11% of the country’s surface area (Bebbington and Bury 2009: 17297).  While not all concessions become active mines, it shows the predisposition of the government to countenance the livelihoods of those citizens living under concession, which creates uncertainty and unrest amongst the population.  Yet mining is essentially an unsustainable process, and the future would look much brighter for Peruvians if a diversification of the economy was sought.  There is much to be gained from preserving the pristine beauty of the country’s natural resources, with ecotourism a viable alternative to the current export-led strategies.  Although this wouldn’t generate the same level of revenue as mineral extraction alone, it would perhaps be prudent to achieve slower and more sustained economic growth rather than seeking to consistently accumulate ever more capital as so many ‘developed’ countries strive to do.  Either way, it is the country’s people who should be put first.  Rural and indigenous women, as one of Peru’s most excluded minorities, have the right to live in a society that grants them the freedom and security to live as they wish, in an economy that harmonises with its people.  As Arana has contended, “an economy that doesn’t have an ethical dimension cannot lead to a better way of life” (Arana 2009).

Word count – 16,375.


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