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Women’s participation in large-scale mining (LSM) has been increasing in Mexico and worldwide; however, few comprehensive studies exist on the socioeconomic effects of mining on women depending on the specific roles they play in this activity. The objective of this study was to analyze, from a feminist political ecology perspective, the effects of mining on women in a rural community in Sonora State, in arid northwest Mexico, a region with important participation of LSM in the country. For this purpose, we developed a mixed methods approach combining literature review on gender and LSM, semistructured in-depth interviews, and analysis of secondary government data. Most literature on women and mining treats them conceptually as a homogeneous social group or focuses on only one role women play in mining. We address this gap by identifying several roles women can play in their interactions with the mining sector and then analyzing and comparing the effects of mining associated with these distinctive roles. In doing so, we unravel the gendered complexities of mining and highlight the socioecological contradictions embedded in these dynamics for individual women who are faced with significant trade-offs.
Mining can provide economic and professional opportunities for women of varying educational and socioeconomic levels in otherwise impoverished and landless rural households. At the same time, women are unable to, as one interviewee phrased it, “break the glass ceiling even if using a miner’s helmet,” especially in managerial positions. Extraction of natural resources in the community is accompanied by the extraction of social capital and personal lives of miners. We give voice to the social–ecological contradictions lived by women in these multiple roles and offer potential insights both for addressing gender-based inequities in mining and for avenues toward collective action and empowerment.