Mining, men & migration Mining specialist Nellie Mutemeri talks about the adversities women face in a heavily male dominated industry
How do human rights issues feed into the mining industry? What challenges have you faced in the mining industry? I’ve been in the mining sector all my professional life, so the issue of gender has always been present. Along the way, by nature of being a woman, you get drawn into these discussions. I began my career in the UK in the 1980’s as one of two girls in a class of 24, then as a post-graduate student and later as a professional. I would go underground and you could see that people were shocked I was in a mine and not a miner! A few years ago, I was subjected to abuse on a trip to a mining site, but generally discrimination is based on attitude. Often you are made to feel like what you are doing is trivial and people make fun of gender initiatives. I sat in an interview and was once asked “Would you choose a team of women or a team of men?” A question I refused to answer. Women are not always taken seriously, particularly in mining companies.
One could argue that women are excluded from accessing license opportunities to set up privatelyowned and regulated mines because of low levels of education. Without simple literary skills, women are unable to fill in the licensing form, and are subsequently held back from putting a case forward to access finances and own property. They start one step behind. In areas where this is the main source of work, women have to find another way to sustain their income. Women are left with so little choice that sex work often becomes the only option. With the growth of informal mining sector, the law has a large role to play to protect women’s livelihood opportunities. Women are literally on the periphery – sitting outside of the mines selling food, or worse, they are selling their bodies.
You mention gender initiatives; could you elaborate? To shift attitudes there needs to be a greater effort to have gender equality in the workplace. Women in mining is an issue that has little awareness because it is never talked about and the fault lies in consultation – women are not consulted despite being stakeholders. Women are not given a voice and are excluded from policies and strategies. I see my role as an advocate for sector-wide change. As a respected practitioner, I think people are seeing the value in bringing women into the conversation.
Women are left with so little choice that sex work often becomes the only option they have.