Researching health impacts of mining on women living in mining towns is fraught with social and methodological complexities. Mining is the primary source of income in a mining town and usually strongly supported politically. While women themselves are less likely to be employed in the mine, they are related to men with jobs in the mine. Women are frequently in a marginal economic and social position in mining towns. These factors limit the likelihood of finding funding and political support for a large-scale health study and inhibit access to information and participation of women in research focusing on potential health impacts from mining. Community-centered and participatory research methods are relatively inexpensive and can overcome barriers women may have to participation since both the focus population and the researchers are women from the mining community. Community-centered research can potentially enhance the level of knowledge about the impacts of mining on women’s health and develop the capacity of women in mining communities to protect themselves and their families from the effects of mining. Methodological considerations related to community-centered research and its alternatives, are explored in this paper in the context of a research project in West Labrador.
In 2004, MiningWatch Canada partnered with two women’s groups in the remote mining communities of Wabush and Labrador City (together known as Labrador West) to consider the health implications, for women, of living in a mining town. The Labrador West Status of Women Council and the Femmes francophones de l’Ouest du Labrador were interested in a community- centered participatory approach to better understand, document and communicate the health concerns of women in Labrador West. The interest of MiningWatch Canada in the project was triggered by the observation that it is most frequently women who express and take action on health issues. This finding is supported by Statistics Canada, which has noted that women tend to be the guardians of health for their families and have tended to be more concerned about health than men (Statistics Canada, 2001).
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