THE extractive industry has the capacity to sustain the country’s economic development and generate employment. However, the role of women in mining is not appreciated as they often experience numerous hurdles than their male counterparts.
Despite these challenges, women now constitute approximately 50% of miners, particularly in small-scale mining. NewsDay (ND) reporter Thomas Chidamba spoke to Mthandazo Women Miners Trust founder and national chairperson Sithembile Ndlovu (SN) on issues relating to women’s participation in mining.
ND: What is the state of women in mining so far?
SN: The mining industry is growing with women as well, but the only challenge we face is lack of claims. Most women miners are on tribute areas with no guarantee of ownership. They only have verbal agreements. However, we are grateful that we have the supporting hand of non-governmental organisations that are currently boosting women rights and encouraging them to venture into mining.
ND: In terms of percentages, how big is the involvement of women in mining?
SN: Women now have a fair share of participants in mining, which used to be a male-dominated sector. According to recent statistics, women now constitute approximately 50% of small-scale miners in Zimbabwe and within this 50%, only 5% are young women.
ND: How is your organisation dealing with gender inequality in mining?
SN: We are dealing with gender inequality by giving training to our members on how to handle situations and which protocols to observe. We come together as an association to empower each other, share ideas and also create a networking platform. As an association, we encourage those involved in mining to ensure that their activities respect the rights of women, promote women’s empowerment and participation in decision-making processes.
We organise meetings and workshops for women in mining and impart them knowledge which can help them avoid the potential negative impacts of mining. We also promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. We also help in developing gender risk awareness strategies to ensure that ongoing decision-making and other activities incorporate gender perspectives. We aim to empower women by giving them a voice to women’s perspectives, needs, interests and help to address the power imbalance between the proponents of mining projects.
ND: Most women are in small-scale and artisanal mining, are there any programmes that you are doing to encourage women to venture into mainstream or formal mining?
SN: We are encouraging women to venture into the mainstream mining sector by helping them receive training from reputable mining institutions such as the School of Mines in Bulawayo. We assist them to get formal education so that they shift from general knowledge of mining to a more precautious approach in health and safety and so on. We believe that with education and specialised training, women can overcome existing gender gaps, stereotypes and prejudices that limit women’s opportunities. In preparation for formal mining, we are trying to accrue claims for women to work on, but the only challenge we are encountering is getting exclusive prospecting orders. We want more women to venture into formal mining because it will help alleviate poverty and will assist government’s goal of producing 100 tonnes of gold by 2023.
Women participation in mining does not only promote diversity, but can also improve economic performance and lead to better decision-making processes. This is because, women are better in multi-tasking, juggling careers, taking care of children and households and finding solutions to everyday challenges. So in order to have a diverse workforce, there is need to advocate for the industry and to encourage more females to pursue careers in mining.
ND: What are some of the challenges that women in mining face?
SN: It is not easy for women to stand their ground in the mining sector, especially those involved in small-scale mining. There are not many challenges for women in formal mining as they are protected by organisations’ codes of conduct, which is not always the case in small-scale mining. Women in small-scale mining suffer from various challenges such as bullying by their male colleagues as their claims are forcefully taken away from them by unscrupulous men.
To avert such situations, the government should enact laws that protect women in mining. We also appeal to our Women’s ministry to be active in protecting women because they are silent when women are being harassed and removed from their mines. Women also face different economic challenges as a result of the lack of access to, and control over resourceful land, other productive resources, licences, finance, and most importantly, geological data. The inability to access finance contributes to women’s inability to invest in mining equipment and technology necessary for a successful business.
ND: How do you envision the future of women in mining in Zimbabwe?
SN: The future is very bright. We are encouraging many women to enter into the mining sector as a source of livelihoods. As an association, we are helping women to venture into mining by assisting them with getting licences and claims for them to operate legally. We aim to assist youths, especially the girl child to venture into mining so that they sustain themselves as they are the most vulnerable.
ND: Do you think that our laws adequately protect women in mining?
SN: We feel that our laws are not doing enough to protect women in mining because men have more money and power, leaving women very vulnerable to abuse and violence meted against them. There is no direct expression of power imbalance between men and women than violence against women. Violence against women now poses a serious security challenge and a contributor to poverty among women.
So we expect the government to protect women in mining because Zimbabwe is signatory to many international conventions such as the International Human Rights Frameworks for Women’s Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. So it is the duty of our government to review our legal systems in order to end discrimination and perpetration of violence against women.
Gender issues should be looked at very carefully. For example, influential positions are being abused based on one’s social status. There is no equality at all in the mining sector.
Follow Thomas on Twitter @chidambathomas