Lithium extraction for inclusive development: Gender analysis in Chile & Bolivia

Lithium mining
  • What are the impacts of neo-extractivism and neoliberal approaches on local communities in Chile and Bolivia from a gender perspective?
  • How do different development approaches improve or worsen existing gendered inequalities?  

One of the central concerns in mitigating climate change is curbing carbon emissions while securing inclusive prosperity and sustainable development. The development of lithium-ion batteries, with their ability to store energy from renewable sources, has been viewed as a leap forward on the path to a low-carbon economy.

Though Chile has implemented a ‘neo-extractivist’ approach to lithium mining, whereby the state aims to redistribute the economic benefits, lithium mining continues to pose major challenges in terms of equal and sustainable outcomes for affected communities.

Addressing the gender gap in the analysis of lithium extraction

Various researchers have studied the unequal outcomes. However, the existing analysis focuses mostly on uneven distribution, access and control of resources on the basis of class and ethnicity.

Dr Maryse Helbert’s research addresses the gender gap in the current analysis of neo-extractivism. She is conducting this research as part of her LEaDing fellowship, running from January 2019-January 2021.

Drawing  on experiences of the Salar de Uyuni lithium extractive zones in Bolivia, her research will explore the gender dynamics of neo-extractivism. It will also examine how different development approaches can either improve or worsen existing gendered inequalities.

The research aims to give more depth to existing scholarship on challenges linked to access and control of natural resources in the transition to a post-carbon world.

Why is this research relevant?

Lithium-ion batteries hold enormous symbolic promise for our necessary transition from carbon-based energy sources towards renewable power. But ‘getting stuff out of the ground’ comes at a cost: a cost borne not only by the environment, but also by the communities close to extraction sites.

The future of extraction sites

This research will provide important information for the future development of lithium extraction sites, including in relation to differential gendered impacts. The findings can help inform policy and practice aimed at correcting the unequal distribution of risks and benefits between different actors in the extractive zones. The research will address possible alternative models for a more sustainable and inclusive approach to lithium extraction.

Advancing academic debate

Overall, this research aims to advance academic and societal debates, as well as international development policy and practice, on pathways to inclusive prosperity and environmental and social justice in the transition to a low-carbon economy.


This research is led by Dr Maryse Helbert, LEaDing fellow. For this research she collaborates with the Marie Curie ITN project Well-being Ecology Gender and cOmmunity (WEGO), in particular its stream Climate change, Economic Development and Extractivism.

The research also involves collaboration with Cultural Anthropology and Development Studies at Leiden University.


Are We Having One or Two Capitalist Crises? Mapping Social Reproduction in Capitalism, in Bliss, ISS Blog on Global Development and Social Justice, 2019.

  • The Challenges of the Energy Transition: Gender and Nature in a Just Transition in Joy Clancy, Gul Ozerol, Nthabiseng Mohlakoana, Marielle Feenstra and Lillian Sol Cueva (eds) Engendering the Energy Transition, Palgrave Macmillan, 2020.
  • Off the Emancipation Grid: Women in the oil region of the Niger Delta (forthcoming), in peer-reviewed chapter in Histories of Women and Energy, (eds) Ruth Sandwell and Abigail Harrison Moore, McGill-Queen’s University Press, under contract for publication July 2021.
  • Women and the Energy Transition in the Niger Delta: Oil, conflicts and environmental degradation (forthcoming), in Perspectives, Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society Journal, accepted for publication June 2020.
  • Women, Gender and Oil Exploitation (forthcoming), PhD thesis re-written as a book, under contract for publication in 2020 as part of the Palgrave Pivot series, Palgrave Macmillan.

  • An Ecofeminist analysis of resource conflicts in Bolivia: Between Maternalism and empowerment, Paper accepted for the International Marxist Feminist Conference , 11-13, 2021, Bilbao, Basque Country.
  • Women in the Extractive Neoliberal Space: Populism and resource conflict in Bolivia, paper accepted for the conference titled: Populism, Gender and Feminist Politics, the Center on Social Movement Studies, Faculty of Political and Social Science, Scuola Normale Superiore, postponed to 1-2 October 2020.
  • Neo-extractivism in Latin America: An alternative to capitalism? Online conference for the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics, overall theme: Development Today : Accumulation, surveillance, redistribution, organized by the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 18-19 July 2020.

  • The Space between Motherhood and Mother Earth: A political ecology analysis of resource conflicts in Bolivia, in 'Mind the Gap: Strengthening connections in Latin American studies', conference organized by Society for Latin American Studies; Universiteit van Amsterdam, The Netherlands, April 2020. Transferred to an online conference due to the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Two Tales of Unsustainability: Lithium Extraction in Bolivia, 6th International Conference on Women’s Studies: How Far Have We Got? Leeds, United Kingdom, Jan 2020.
  • Moving Beyond Accumulation: Buen Vivir as a Path to a Post-Capitalist Society? in Accumulating Capital: Strategies of Profit and Dispossessive Policies, Colloquium organized by the  University of Paris Dauphine, France, June 2019.
  • Off the Emancipation Grid: Women in the Oil Region of the Niger Delta, Histories of Women and Energy, Workshop organized by Rachel Carson Center, Munich, Germany, April 2019.
  • The Gendered Violence of the Hyper Extractive Age: Nigeria, Ecuador and Azerbaijan Lunchtime Colloquium, Rachel Carson Center of Environment and Society, Ludwig Maximilian Universitat, Munich, Germany, Dec 2018.
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Dr Maryse Helbert is LEaDing fellow. This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 707404.

The opinions expressed reflect only the author’s view. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information of the information it contains.

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