Viva Madzimai Viva! The echoes of this powerful mantra have stayed in my head ever since I came across an inspirational and motivational story of one daughter of the soil.
“I want her to utilise an opportunity that I got only much later in my life” Evance Majola, a grandmother of four had this dream for one of her granddaughters. She beamed with joy as she narrated her journey on how she turned her back on vending to launch a full-time occupation as a miner.
Being the founding member of the Mtandazo Women Mining Centre in Collen Bawn (Gwanda District of Matebeleland South Province), she realised there was more money in mining than any other sector especially in the rural areas.
While still a male-dominated sector of the economy, there have been positive steps taken by government to integrate women in the sector, a move that was previously unheard of especially during the colonial era and the early 80s and 90s. The last 30 years have seen an enormous global cultural shift that has begun to counteract the millennia long imbalance in opportunities between the genders.
There have been a number of facilities that have been put in place to empower and urge women to break the gender barrier and get into the mining sector. The Mtandazo Women Centre for instance, is the first that is exclusively women-owned in Zimbabwe. The Centre brings together women miners, most of whom are engaged in mining operations employing scores of people. In November 2016, the Centre received tremendous support from the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It was the beneficiary of mining equipment that was donated to support its mission to unite women miners in a bid to empower them. The Mining Centre also provides a platform for women to network, share their social experiences and also to market their products and improve their mining skills and operations.
On the other hand, Women in Mining (WiM) and the International Women in Mining (IWiM), are living testimonies to how women have decided to take the mining industry by the horn and make a difference in this vital sector of the economy. These developments have proven to be a potential game changer for all the local women miners and all around the world.
The IWiM mission statement spells it all; “Changing the world today for a more inclusive tomorrow.” This organisation’s focal points have been placed on creating and realising opportunities for their members and all the other women in the mining sector, with more than 10 000 members in over 50 WiM groups around the world. It has launched various projects such as their Video campaign aimed at promoting inclusive actions that create positive impacts.
The IWiM Speak Up project is another design aimed at increasing the number of women presenting at Mining Conferences and not just be spectators. Complementary to this, they also pushed for the increase in the number of women serving on Boards via the organisation’s Women on Boards Welanar Program. As the saying goes, ” There is no force equal to a woman determined to rise,” IWiM has quite a number of success stories which showcase the vast talent across womankind that may have largely gone unnoticed in the past.
Urica Primus, the President of the Guyana Women Miners Organisation (GWMO), is known for campaigning hard for diversity and also for breaking the stereotype that women can only hold menial positions in the mining sector. “We are individually powerful but if united we are strong”, -powerful words indeed from Barbara Dischinger, the founder of IWiM and before that WiM UK.
Zansi Awase, another interesting case study on women who have marked their territory and are living their dream in the mining industry. “We are here to stay, to do a job and not just to look pretty. We must make a difference”. Indeed she has lived by her words as she faced the challenge head-on and became one of the first women in Namibia to study Geology in her home country, and is said to have discovered some diamonds as well in her mining adventure.
On another note, financial support is vital in spurring the growth of small-scale artisanal mining sector. The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) has played a critical role in empowering women when it launched an initiative through its General Development Fund (GDF), to capacitate miners and boost gold production. However, lack of knowledge among the women miners has hindered them accessing various facilities that have been initiated to assist them. The General Development Fund Head, Mr Mathew Chidavaenzi at some point revealed that, of the Fund availed loans amounting to $130million, only 11% of these loans were taken up by women.
Issues of low-investor confidence have been cited among the major challenges being faced by women miners who happen to be the ones mostly engaged in small-scale mining activities. The transitions in the mining sector in which deep level underground mining replaced alluvial surface mining, have created difficult conditions for the women to take part. Inadequate machinery and use of substances such as mercury have posed as major setbacks to their day to day mining operations. Purchasing licenses for explosives and the requirement that women be trained in land-pegging are among many of the challenges faced by women miners.
Certain Legislation which has been enacted has been seen as a huge blow and has played a big role in barring women from the mining areas. The Mines and Minerals Act for prospecting, pegging and buying licenses has been viewed generally as charging high and unaffordable fees especially for women.
Some of the challenges women in the mining sector are facing include certain demands in exchange with sexual favours. The mines have been labelled as a haven for verbal, emotional and sexual abuse as evidenced by the constant use of vulgar language and derogatory statements passed on some women miners during the day to day operations in the mines. Calls have however been made to the relevant ministries and organisations to take cognisance of the detrimental role in bridging the gender related disparities in the mining industry and come up with initiatives to address the outlined challenges.