Pauktuutit to study Nunavut mine’s effects on women
“We feel it is very important to assess gender impacts”
The effects of mining projects on Inuit women are largely unknown.
That’s why the Inuit women’s national organization plans to start a new project this fall in Baker Lake to help determine what exactly those effects might be, says Erin Strachan, Pauktuutit’s manager of socio-economic development.
“We feel it is very important to assess gender impacts in mining projects,” Strachan said.
The study will look at how Agnico-Eagle’s Meadowbank gold mine, which opened in 2010, has affected women in Baker Lake, a community of about 1,700.
The one-year long project, funded by the Canadian Women’s Foundation, will conduct two separate focus groups among Baker Lake women, who will be asked to share their concerns about mining.
These could include concerns about sexually transmitted infections, alcohol abuse, public intoxication, violence or paid sex work.
Pauktuutit members recognize that Inuit women already face poor health outcomes and are often the victims of violence, Strachan said.
“What we don’t know is how mines could make that situation worse,” she said. “We don’t know how mining might aggravate that situation.”
Women have unique needs and experiences, and those need to be considered in any development, with the ultimate goal of improving social conditions for women who live near mines, so the research project is “an opportunity to come together and talk about it,” Strachan said.
Right now, the only knowledge Pauktuutit has are anecdotes and stories about how the mine has affected Inuit women’s lives, but there is no concrete evidence, she said.
That’s what this project wants to change, because Pauktuutit will be able collect data that has never been collected before.
“There are some things we know and a lot we don’t know,” she said. “We’re going into it with an open mind.”
Findings from Baker Lake research will be made public because “we want it to be used as much as possible,” said Strachan, who hopes the study will be widely distributed and used by community workers, for example.
Once impacts of mining on women are understood, these can be addressed collectively, she said.
At its 2012 annual general meeting, Pauktuutit held a half-day workshop about resource extraction, so “that’s what this project was born out of,” Strachan said.
The AGM delegates approved two resolutions: to consult women about mining and to look at social impacts of mining.
“A lot of our members were concerned, as resource extraction is happening more and more,” Strachan said.
The organization has also started communication with the Nunavut Impact Review Board, as Pauktuutit members say they want to be more involved in the review process as well as the risks specific to Inuit women.
With that understanding, Pauktuutit will be able to mitigate the risks.
“So far it has been a positive conversation,” Strachan said, adding it “would be fantastic if it [the study] could be done in other communities.”
However, not all mining projects are the same, she said.
“There may be similar concerns people might want to know about ahead of time.”