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Development research gives Peruvian women anti-mining activists a platform

The Yanacocha gold mine in Cajamarca, Peru, has long been under the spotlight for its detrimental environmental impacts, particularly on water supply. The voices of women anti-mining activists, however, are often missing from traditional debates. An innovative research project conducted by Northumbria University, empowered women defenders to use photography and poetry to express their perspectives and opinions on extraction activities. The work has been exhibited in public settings in Peru and UK, reaching Peruvian organisations, local government, NGOs and policymakers.

Peru’s mining industry is worth more than $58bn, accounting for around 10% of GDP and over 60% of total exports. While mining has been a key driver of economic growth over the last few decades, this has generally not translated into widespread poverty reduction for communities living with large-scale resource extraction. Mining projects have also been criticised for their health and environmental impacts, principally the overuse of water and generation of toxic waste.


Anti-mining tensions reached their peak in 2011 and 2012, when several protestors were killed as they demonstrated against the multi-billion-dollar Minas Conga project, a proposed expansion to the existing Yanacocha mine. The project was eventually suspended, but activists continue to oppose extraction activities. In recent years, however, women defenders have struggled to be heard, experiencing criminalisation, marginalisation and exclusion from public spaces.


A Leverhulme Trust Fellowship research and development project, conducted during 2017-18 by Dr Katy Jenkins, Associate Professor in International Development, Northumbria University, in cooperation with London-based organisation Latin American Mining Monitoring Programme (LAMMP), gave Peruvian women anti-mining activists an opportunity to have their views heard in a public context. Using participatory photography or ‘photo voice’ (a method that enables marginalised groups to reflect on their individual and collective perspectives), 12 women from three women’s organisations in Cajamarca and Celendín (a small town close to the proposed Conga development) were each given a camera and invited to take photos on ‘What development means in the context of living with large scale extractivism’, guided by the themes of community, wellbeing and alternatives to resource extraction.  


The women activists took photos over three months, culminating in the development of narratives, poems and captions to accompany their final images. This forward-thinking project enabled the women (and their organisations) to develop new skills and to communicate their authentic struggles of living near mining developments, a departure from the well-worn accounts usually given to those reporting and researching the ongoing social conflicts.


The work was exhibited in a public exhibition in Cajamarca for International Women’s Day, March 2018, and then at Northumbria University in summer 2018, as part of the Great Exhibition of the North. Most recently, it was exhibited at the Society for Latin American Studies annual conference 2019. It also resulted in several publications aimed at a non-specialist audience: 'Peruvian Women Reflect on Mining and Development in the Andes', Discover Society, 2018; ‘Women against mining – and for the good life’, New Internationalist, March 2018, p42; ‘Women, Mining and Participatory Photography’, Northumbria University Sociology blog, 2017. Through these dissemination activities participants’ views have reached a wide audience, including local and international organisations, government, NGOs and policymakers.


The photos and accompanying interviews are being used in ongoing academic work, exploring how women negotiate development in contexts of large-scale resource extraction. Future-related activities include further public exhibitions, a monograph and several articles.

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