An important issue that is often ignored in environmental impact assessments is that of gender. Although one might be inclined to believe the consideration of gender might be associated with radical feminism, this is a great misconception. Sharma (2010) demonstrates the importance of gender in decision-making in her article “The impact of mining on women: lessons from the coal mining Bowen Basin of Queensland, Australia”. This article is eye-opening to the different aspects of coal mining that have an impact on women. It is first important to understand that gender would most likely be considered within a social impact assessment (SIA), which in Australia, is “undertaken as a subset of environmental impact statement at the project permitting stage” (202). Generally speaking, an SIA “encompasses empowerment of local people, enhancement of the position of women, minority groups, and other disadvantaged members of society, development of capacity building, alleviation of all forms of dependency, increase in equity and a focus on poverty reduction” (Sharma 2010, 201). Although SIAs are undertaken, they often regard women as a homogenous group and fail to understand the complexity of their role in a community (201).
In relation to the coal mining situation described in the article, the author points out to different impacts on women including “harsh climatic and structural conditions of the towns, physical separation from friends and relatives, limited resources and opportunities available in remote localities, and atypical work schedules of mining jobs” (202). The mining sector does not employ many women and they are thus excluded from the decision-making related to the project with which they are associated. Another issue is the fact that most mining workers have 12-hour shifts, which overloads women as they are also employed and are also responsible for the care-taking of their home and family. Another issue that is often overseen is the fact that women often feel unsafe when they are alone in the mining towns and are therefore often confined to the domestic sphere. Also, male mining workers often make a lot more money than their partners, engendering women’s dependence on their husbands. These issues are often left out when considering the impacts of mining on a community. Sharma (2010) ultimately states that “a consideration of gender is a prerequisite for truly sustainable decisions” (212). Although this was a very specific example, I believe that gender is a very important issue and unfortunately, it is often a forgotten topic not only in project EIAs but also in EIA courses. This topic definitely needs more research and consideration in the future.
Sharma, S. (2010). “The impact of mining on women: lessons from the coal mining Bowen Basin of Queensland, Australia”. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal 28(3): 201-215.