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Unlocking Gender Potential. A Comparative Study of Women in the Mining Community in Thailand and Lao PDR

von Nattavud Pimpa (Autor) Timothy Moore (Autor) Kabmanivanh Phouxay (Autor)

Studienarbeit 2017 13 Seiten

Asienkunde, Asienwissenschaften



Management literature refers to unspoken roles and arrangements that govern workplace and community structure as well as gender dynamics. These elements of organisational culture are subjective yet powerful. They have the potential to limit women’s opportunities in various aspects. A number of studies in gender and management have revealed the role of gender, sexuality, and power in shaping the experience for women.

This study pursues this line of investigation to further address the gap in our understanding of the impact of organisational and community settings on women’s experience in the mining community and industry in Thailand and Lao PDR. Women in the local community in both countries can be affected by various actions and activities by various stakeholders in mining industry. A number of women, who live in the community, also work in various roles in this male-dominated international industry. The on-going issue is equality among men and women in mining industry. Traditionally, work area and space for women in the international mining industry include food preparation, cleaning, and office administration. To further understand, gender-specific roles of women in the Thai and Lao mining community, we interviewed 45 women residing in Pijit, Thailand, and 53 women from Savannakhet, Lao PDR.

Findings from this study confirm that Thai women remain skeptical about roles and gender issues in the mining industry, while women in Lao can actively engage in various economic and political policies in the mining community. A comparative aspect between Thailand and Lao PDR shows that women in the mining community aspire for equity among people of all backgrounds (gender, education, age, and location) to work in this industry.

Keywords: Gender; Equity; Mining: Hegemonic Masculinity


Mining industry has considerable potential to help reduce poverty and accelerate human development, through the promotion of gender equity, by increasing government and community revenues and generating employment among women in the community (Pimpa, 2017). Management of mining impacts in developing countries, however, can be complex and challenging for all stakeholders. Extraction of natural resources such as mining is limited within a particular geographical area. Often its activities are conducted in or near communities and have direct or indirect impacts on community resources, capabilities and well-being, thus leading to a state of poverty, violent behavior, and resentment by communities towards businesses, and other forms of human deprivation such as water and air pollution, land access, farming and toxicity (Jamali et al, 2015).

Several factors can be attributed to gender disengagement practices among stakeholders in mining industry such as mining multinational corporations (MNCs), local authorities, community, NGOs and local government agencies. The failure to promote engagement among these stakeholders, and existing unstable and weak national institutions, leads to gender-based disadvantages (Jamali et al, 2015).

Whilst there is evidence of increasing effective and sophistication developmental activities on gender equity by stakeholders such as the local Government and mining MNCs, there is no clear understanding on various approaches adopted by these stakeholders. Due to their significant economic and social roles, we need to understand how mining MNCs promote gender equity, and integrate women into their operations. More importantly, factors promoting women in international business organisations (such as mining MNCs) must be comprehended in order to support long-term strategies to empower and promote women in this male-dominated industry.

As gender equity in international business is a salient issue, it has been rather difficult for mining MNCs to state unawareness of their contribution in this area. This, however, has not led to constraints on mining MNCs to behave according to norms that would be conducive to mitigate this important issue in host countries such as Lao PDR and Thailand. More importantly, changes in social policies in both countries act as the catalyst for mining MNCs to engage women in various activities that can potentially influence their lives.

Previous studies (i.e. Pimpa et al, 2015; Oxfam, 2016) reveal that discrimination of women in the mining community remains significant in the current climate. It is important to elucidate factors underlying this condition, in order to enhance gender inclusiveness and, ultimately, community economic development.

Although the Governments of Lao PDR and Thailand place a high priority on gender equity and reducing poverty, disproportionately women from both countries still struggle to overcome poverty, and gain equitable social, political and economic participation. In both countries, where the concept of gender equality remains debatable, there is evidence to show that women bear the greatest responsibility in the rural economy and that empowering rural women economically is key to unlocking rural development (Pimpa et al, 2015; Oxfam, 2016). Women face systemic discrimination in all phases of an extractive industry (Oxfam, 2016). Entrenched gender bias not only prevents women from engaging with and accessing economic benefits, but manifests in how companies and Thai and Laotian governments engage with communities at all stages of project activities.

It is important to understand the need to significantly alter workplace policy and practice in order to promote such participation and economic empowerment in mining industry. In many natural resource-rich locations in rural Southeast Asia, development of these resources, especially through mining, is becoming the dominant economic activity and source of employment for men and women. In this regard, discrimination of women in the workplace and wider community means they often are grossly under-represented in this new economic activity. It is important to elucidate factors underlying this condition, in order to enhance gender inclusiveness and, ultimately, community economic development.

The broad question the authors seek to address in this paper is whether mining industry indeed serves its purposes in the host countries (Thailand and Lao PDR), particularly in relation to improving gender equality and the quality of life of women in the mining community.

Why Thailand and Lao PDR?

Thailand and Lao PDR are the key location for this study because of their socio-cultural contrasts and similarities. Lao PDR has long suffered rural poverty that impacts indigenous people or vulnerable groups with little economic opportunity. The majority of Laos’ rural environmental poor live in marginal dry land and wet land areas and their numbers are likely to increase in the future with global warming.

In Thailand, urban poverty is prevalent and manifested by, for example, sanitation and environmental conditions, the poor economic status of migrant workers, and inadequate housing and infrastructure. In developing countries such as Lao PDR and Thailand, the legitimacy of MNCs has been increasingly questioned in recent years. The rise of MNCs in South East Asia has been evident since the end of the cold war. This has persisted during the era of trade liberalisation in South East Asia. MNCs contribute to both countries by means of a raft of economic and social actions such as job creation, promotion of education and training and human rights (Pimpa , 2017).

Although Lao PDR has made impressive progress in economic growth, with the proportion of poor people falling from 39 per cent of the population in the mid-1990s to 27.6 per cent in 2010, poverty among women remains most common in mountainous regions where the majority of the country's ethnic minority peoples live. In upland areas, the poverty rate is as high as 43 per cent, compared with about 28 per cent in the lowlands (World Bank, 2005). The poorest groups in the lowlands are those who have been resettled from mountain regions. The UNDP confirms the most disadvantaged households among Laotians are those which are located in areas vulnerable to natural disasters; have no livestock; include a large number of dependents; and are headed by women.

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP)'s Human Development Report 2010, the Lao People's Democratic Republic is one of the 10 "top movers" in the world in terms of progress on human development over the past 20 years. However, the country remains one of the poorest and least developed in South-East Asia. Although improvement is evident against social indicators, human development is still among the lowest in the region (Thuvachote, 2011). One of the key problems is poverty among ethnic groups in Lao PDR. The concentration of the Lao PDR’s ethnic groups in remote and inaccessible upland areas contributes to conditions of chronic poverty among them (Rigg, 2005).

The condition of poverty among women in Thailand is different from Lao PDR. Most prominent agencies in Thailand and from the international arena acknowledge poverty is as much a political as it is an economic issue (World Bank, 2005). Prior to the Asian financial crisis in 1997, Thailand made rapid progress in economic development, with the poverty level falling from 33 percent in 1990 to 14.75 percent in 1996 (Vora-Sittha, 2012).

In both countries, the Governments focus on different strategies to empower women and girls. Poverty among women in Lao PDR and Thailand remain crucial and need ongoing strategies from various stakeholders. The World Bank (2012) suggests shared prosperity, responsibilities and mutual collaboration are crucial to sustained alleviation of poverty in the region. One important aspect which is evident in Lao PDR (Rigg, 2005) and Thailand (Vora-Sittha, 2012) is MNCs from various sectors must work with local government to empower the poor by allowing it to participate in economic and political processes in order to guarantee legitimate transfer of power to the poor. In this regard MNCs can be key actors in Lao PDR and Thailand because of their significant economic and social contributions to both countries.

The impact of mining industry and companies on women in both countries are relevant to modern economic development. Mining companies often operate in areas of developing countries, such as Lao PDR and Thailand, which are characterized by limited governmental presence, a high incidence of poverty, a lack of basic social infrastructure, and other social and political problems (AusAID, 2013).

Gender Equality: Hegemonic Masculinity Theory

Hegemonic masculinities are defined as the form of masculinity in a given historical and society-wide setting that structures and legitimates hierarchical gender relations between men and women, between masculinity and femininity, and among men (Ekvall, 2014).

The hegemonic concept of masculinity can be identified as a ‘contextually’ specific pattern of gender practice that “ideologically legitimate[s] the global subordination of women to men” (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005). While few men fully embody this set of practices, it is accepted as an ideal, and other masculinities are stratified in relation to it.

Men construct masculinity differently based on various other factors such as race, class and sub-class, or sexual orientation - making studies on masculinities intersectional - and such constructions position them differentially in the overall masculine hierarchy (Ekvall, 2014; Pyke, 1996). Positions within this hierarchy also differ according to the particular version of masculinity constructed (Ekvall, 2014). Some men may exercise power both over women and over other men. Other men, such as those who are disadvantaged by sexual orientation, education, economic, race or social class, may not enjoy as much power. However, these men might still find some rewards within this system by expressing masculine qualities that display overt dominance over women such as aggression, physicality, and control (Pyke, 1996). Thus, men who are marginalized in other ways can be complicit in accepting and expressing many hegemonic characteristics associated with “being a man.” Further, a clear link between socialization into stereotypical norms of hegemonic masculinity and an increased risk of experiencing violence has been documented (Hong, 2000), linking hegemonic masculinities to both gender inequality and violence (Ekvall, 2014).

In the Thai-Lao cultural contexts, hegemonic characteristics can be expressed via various norms such as being a Buddhist monk, leading the family as a husband or father, participating in the military conscription (in Thailand), and leading communities in various socio-political activities. Space for women in these activities can be limited, and even questionable by men (Donaldson, 1993).

Research Locations

Thailand : Tab Klor (ทบคลอ) and Khao Jed Luke (เขาเจดลก), Pijit, Thailand

Tabklor and Khao Jed Luke are two districts in Pijit province, Thailand. They are located in the West of Pijit. Originally, the key economic activities in this area are rice farming and animal husbandry. Tabklor’s original name was Tab Taklor (the place for Ta Klor tree), due to its fertile land and high volumes of Ta Klor tree in this area.

This area is home to Chatree goldmine, operating by Akara Resources Pltd. Akara is a subsidiary of Kingsgate Consolidated Limited; an Australian Securities Exchange ("ASX") listed company. The Kingsgate Group held 48.2% of our outstanding share capital as of June 30, 2013.

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Figure 1: Tub Klor Area

Chatree, Thailand’s first and largest gold mine, is 280km north of Bangkok and consists of 840 hectares. It commenced open cut mining in 2001. Since commissioning of the Chatree Mining Complex in November 2001, and up to June 30, 2013, the mine has produced over 1.3 million Oz of gold and over 5.8 million Oz of silver. In the year ended June 30, 2013, Akara resources produced 133K Oz of gold at a total cash operating cost of US$767 per Oz after royalty (Akara resources, 2014). Our research team randomly selected nine villages from the mining community in both districts as study site in Thailand.

Lao PDR: Vilabouly (ວລະບລ)

Vilabouly is a district in Savannakhet province. It is also a host to Sepon mine, the country's first significant foreign mining in 2002.

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Figure 2: Vilabouly

Sepon is an open-pit copper and gold-mining operation in Southern Laos. Lane Xang Minerals Ltd. (LXML) is the registered name of the company that operates the Sepon mine. Lan Xang is the Lao name for the Kingdom of Laos, and means ‘one million elephants’. MMG LXML owns 90 per cent of Sepon in partnership with the government of Laos which owns 10 per cent. Sepon gold project commenced production in 2002; its copper operation commenced in 2005.

In February 201, 5 the Lao Government acknowledged that Vilabouly District, where the Sepon mine is located, has graduated from the list of 46 poorest districts in the Lao PDR (MMG, 2015). Vilabouly is also home to various ethnic groups such as Bru, Phu Tai, Tai leu etc. From 46 villages in this area, our team randomly selected seven villages in Vilabouly district. They include (i) Ban Vangyang, (ii) Namkeep, (iii) Ban Noonsomboon, (iv) Padong, (v) Boungkham, (vi) Nongkadeang, and (vii) Ban Huay Suan.

Data Collection

The data for this paper tap into extensive rounds of fieldwork undertaken between 2013 and 2016 in two mining communities in Thailand and Lao PDR. In Lao PDR, we selected participants from seven villages. We interviewed 76 participants from seven villages (including workers from mining company, community leaders, family members of the workers, men and women from different ethnic groups). 62 per cent of the participants are women. Interviews were conducted in Lao, Bru and Phu Tai languages. The interviews were supported by our partners in Lao PDR (National University of Laos, Burnett Institute, and MMG LXML).

In Thailand, we interviewed 43 participants from nine villages located in the mining area in Tubklor and Khao Jed Luke Districts. We selected workers from the mining company, community leaders, family members of workers from the mining company, and policy makers from the local province. 68 per cent of the participants were women. All interviews were conducted at the participants’ respective households and offices.

The extensive data collected and the various site visits allowed us to compare, and gain a comprehensive understanding of local gender and business dynamics within communities, the forms of activities taking place, and the plight of stakeholders in mining industry. Data collected from the various sources also allowed for triangulation, or relevant comparisons of different data inputs and points of view, to minimise bias and allow for an objective characterization to emerge.

Emerging Themes

Gender and Economic Status

The establishment of mining industry in both countries has provided tremendous economic opportunities for women in the local community. Access to resources, such as income and facilities provided by the companies, helps promote roles of women in the local communities. In both countries, traditionally, women may find difficulty in gaining economic benefits through formal employment, due to inequality among men and women in educational and various other social opportunities. Women in Tab Klor and Vilabouly referred to similar terms such as ‘low education’, ‘poverty’, ‘inability to achieve goals in life’ when we asked them to identify their status prior to the establishment of mining industry in their communities. Obviously, most women in this study agree that economic benefits from mining industry are associated to different and, perhaps, better status of women who can work and look after themselves and family.

In Vilabouly, it comprises members from Laos, Non-Laos and ethnic minorities. While we were working in the field, we observed that the major occupations in Vilabouly include (1) mining-related work, (2) agricultural sector, and (3) small and medium enterprise. Prior to the advent of mining industry in the community, most people work in the farm and forest. Some may continue their work when mining industry was introduced to the community. Some changed their career from agricultural sector into mining. Relationship between mining and women in the community is tied closely.

From the interviews with various members of the Vilabouly community, we learn that Mining industry creates tremendous economic opportunities for women in Vilabouly and those who migrate to work and reside in Vilabouly. Women can engage in various types of work and economic opportunities from mining industry. The obvious economic opportunities for women in Vilabouly include mining-related work, business with mining company, business for workers of the company, and skill building programs by mining company.

Working for mining company in Vilabouly is perceived as a high-status job for women since it involves with big multinational corporations. Most women who work in mining industry stated that employment from the company provides not only income but also opportunity to engage in various activities provide by the company. Economic independence from mining is clearly important as an ideology to promote equity. Interestingly, most men who participated in this study also agree that economic opportunities provided by mining industry will have a long-term impact on promoting women as ‘leader’ and ‘action-taker’ in the community and family

Comparing with Lao PDR, women residing in Thabklor and Khao Jed Luke districts (Thailand) have different views on the relationship between economic benefits and gender equality. Traditionally, women in this community work in the rice field or do not work at all. It is the role of men to look after family. The majority of Thai women living in this community do not have opportunity to pursue their formal education after year six at school. This point limits their economic choice in life. Although women show interests in working in mining industry, most of them are limited by lack of educational qualifications, experiences, and skills. Local women addressed the lack of proper education as the key impediment for women to thrive in this industry. Lack of education can be seen as the old Thai way of thinking that family resources should be spent for education for boys, instead of girls. Women also lack opportunities in access to skill development for employment.

Most mining-related jobs are perceived as ‘male jobs’ in this community. It, therefore, pronounced the role of men as the breadwinner and leader of the community. When we asked Thai women in this community to identify economic opportunities that are related to ‘women’, most of them referred to ability to stay home and look after kids since their family members can work for the company. They also perceive economic benefits from mining company, such as schools, village funds, and corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs, as the key benefits for their children or family, not for women.

Most Thai women in this study agree that women should and can play different support roles in mining industry. Those roles include cooking, cleaning, administrative and office tasks. It is also quite evident that mining industry can also promote economic power of men in the Thai mining community. As traditional land is expropriated for mining company, so are the family farms that women often manage in the past. Traditionally, these farms give women the ability to earn an income that gives them autonomy and decision-making power in the household and community. After the establishment of mining industry, Thai women in this community can lose this influence when their livelihoods are lost because of extractive industries projects. At the same time, men’s influence can increase significantly when they receive cash incomes from employment with extractives projects — men’s employment, which is a benefit of mining, can have unintended.

Gender and Political Status

Mining industry is renowned as the industry of politics, due to its complex nature and involvement with various stakeholders. The numerous social and environmental issues associated with the mining industry include access to land issues at the exploration and mining stages, environmental pollution, damage to the health of affected communities and the increased mechanisation of the industry, which negatively impacts employment levels (Mitchell, 1999; Cottrell and Rankin, 2000; Hilson and Murck, 2001).

In both communities, we witness the involvement of women in political activities and agenda created by mining companies. Political roles of women in the mining communities in both countries are eclectic. Women in Vilabouly community have long been engaging in various political activities through the Women Union. Through this formal political mechanism, the members of Vilabouly’s women union have responsibility for advocating for women’s rights and gender concerns. They also work with various stakeholders, including mining company, on policies, plans and practices of both government and non-government organizations with respect to the needs and status of women in the local area.

With economic empowerment activities from the industry, women can participate more in political roles in the community. We started to witness female village head, female head of the village funds, and women representatives in the village committee. This point is crucial from socio-political perspective. When business engages in various political activities and the provision of public goods (i.e. healthcare, education) in Lao PDR, it increases women’s participation in political policies and actions. More women have been actively engaging in policies such as relocation of the villagers, schools for local children, and CSR programs by mining company.

We also witness women of diverse groups (ethnic, age, and linguistic backgrounds) participate in political-related activities such as income generation schemes by the local Government and mining company, village funds management for women, and management of women informal activities in the community.

In Thailand, a vast majority of women we interviewed still prefer to work in agriculture, stay at home, and look after family. This traditional view of women’s role in Thailand remains common in this society. However, some women took active roles in political engagement in the community.

We observe that female participation in political affairs related to mining industry is evident. Similar to most mining communities, environmental degradation has been the major criticism of the industry in Pijit. Although the company has claimed that it has an "outstanding occupational and health record coupled with stringent environmental controls that help underpin the existing operations.", the mine has faced complaints and law suits filed by communities and villager groups in the past, led by female activists, mainly related to claims about the environment and health.

Thai women who lead the environmental and health and safety NGOs are local dwellers. They expressed their concerns on low participation among women in the community in political policies by the Government. In fact, all village leaders and heads of the municipal administration (อบต) in the mining community are male. Women can only play a pivotal, and active, political role in the NGO and/or informal groups. Our team discussed this issue with female villagers regarding this issue. All of them are fully aware of the environmental consequences of the industry and the closure of the mine. They, however, do not see their roles in political participation. Instead, most of them were calling for a speedy resolution for the conflict between the community and mining company, as there are 1100 jobs at the mine which are in jeopardy. Most of them expressed that loss of these current jobs would have adverse flow on effects to the local communities.

The status of female activists in the community can be ambiguous. For those who support them, they expressed terms such as ‘heroine’, ‘iron flower’, ‘strong lady’, or ‘community leader’ to describe these female activists. On the other hands, terms such as ‘not knowing their places’, ‘wanna-be’, ‘try hard’, ‘money-oriented women’, or ‘stubborn women’ were used to described them by the opponents of NGOs. For those who disagreed with women’s political participations in the community, they criticised female activists for using femininity to bargain for their own benefits (i.e. financial returns from the company, fame, and status in the community).

Interestingly, leading the community and other women in the politics of mining is not of men interests for a number of reasons. Most women addressed that men are ‘too busy’ with work commitment. Most men and women who work in mining industry also addressed that the issue is sensitive and they do not want to risk their career by involving in the politics of mining. Women who lead the community and advocating social issues also perceive that men are less active that women in advocating equity and societal issues in the community.


The comparative view indicates that, in both mining communities, women may be promoted by economic drives and factors to be in the different gendered-specific roles. The movement of women into positions of leadership in community and/or mining organization in Thailand and Lao PDR has been slow, despite anti-discrimination legislation and heightened awareness of the leadership capabilities of women.

Gender-stereotypic perceptions of leadership roles continue to be expressed by women in the mining communities in both countries as barriers for them women in positions of power. These perceptions have been observed to be eroding but have not been eradicated, as such prejudice and discrimination against women in leadership still occurs. Thai women, in particular, addressed relationship between poor educational opportunities for girls and lower opportunity for leadership roles for women in mining industry. Women may be promoted to take some active roles in mining policies. However, their roles in the official organization such as Governmental offices remain limited We learn that, in particular, the gender-stereotypic expectations are seen to yield prejudice through male dominated organisational environments in the mining community; providing further evidence that gendered perceptions are potentially constructed in the way institutions operate, rather being inherent in individuals (McCall, 2005).

By examining discourse of ‘politics’ and ‘economic’ among participants in this study, we comprehend that it is important to understand the interaction of gender, class, and ethnicity in modern Thai and Lao gender perspectives. It confirms that certain groups of women can “control productive resources and major social institutions,” and are, thus, able to “promulgate legitimizing ideologies that make social inequalities appear natural” (Browne and Misra, 2003, p. 490). Some Thai women who are closer to community ‘power’ m ay feel as oppressed by non-hegemonic masculinities, and may even find some expressions of the hegemonic pattern more familiar and manageable.

The conceptualization of power in the gender equality among men and women Thai and Lao subtext should incorporate agency in the form of resistance and counter-resistance (Acker, 2006). Such a conceptualization does justice to both the discourses and actions of people that work towards gender change and resist gender inequalities (Benschop and Doorewaars, 2012), and to the agency of those who seem to question the legitimacy of gender inequality in modern Lao PDR and Thailand.

Last but not least, tackling gender inequality within mining industry demands a fundamental shift within the industry. It requires a reshaping of the values, culture and norms that produce and maintain gender bias within the sector (Oxfam, 2016). Given the positive correlation between increasing gender equality, the progressive realisation of women’s rights, and poverty alleviation in Lao PDR and Thailand, the imperative for a new paradigm is clear. Gains towards greater gender equality and the progressive realisation of women’s rights must become one of the central indicators of the industry’s success as a driver of sustainable development.


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Titel: Unlocking Gender Potential. A Comparative Study of Women in the Mining Community in Thailand and Lao PDR