Women in artisanal and small scale (ASM) mining are experiencing a myriad of problems such as victimisation, dispossession of their claims by men, and gender-based violence, (GBV) during the Covid-19 pandemic, Great Dyke News 24 reports.
Women make up a large portion of the Artisanal Mining workforce and although few actually go into the mines, they are a significant part of the mineral value chain working in extraction, transport and trade of minerals.
Activities undertaken include sorting, sluicing, washing and panning, sieving, mercury-gold amalgamation, crushing and amalgam decomposition.
Great Dyke News 24 spoke to a number of women in mining from different provinces across the country and they revealed that women within the industry are being affected by the rampant violence including machete wars happening in different mining towns adding women are negatively stereotyped.
“We are just in a situation whereby we are not safe because we have people who have been attacked by the machete wielding gangs just recently. A lot of women are living in fear of violence from men when doing their operations. We have some recent cases from Bubi whereby the gang tried to attack a certain mine.
“We face a lot of sexual harassment from men but there is nothing we can do because what we want at the end of the day is food on the table but it’s painful because we don’t have any power against men.
“We actually realized that as women we can actually do better than men .Of course we are vulnerable but there is nothing we can do because we have joined this trade not only for money but to contribute towards the development of the mining sector.
“It’s hectic but we have taken mining as a job so we have to balance so that we have food on the table but it’s not easy. People don’t understand why women are doing mining, but now we have no choice because we have been insulted in many ways and we have been called different names but we are used to it, “ said Jane Lusinga a women miner who is also the Zimbabwe Miners Federation Chairperson for Matabeland North.
Sophia Takuva, a youth in small scale mining mentioned issues to do with flooding in mining shafts, which is also affecting women in the sector.
“The small scale mining sector has been affected by the lockdown, the unstable commodity prices, the disrupted supply chain by heavy rains and limited health supplies.
“Women have less access to social protection and less liquidity to support their small scale mining activities. For women in gold mining, most shafts are flooded with water and production is very low.
“Women don’t often work in mining shafts. They depend on the ore that the men bring on the surface so given the situation of the floods, men are no longer working hence they are doing other things for survival and it a challenge to a lot of women and their families,” she said.
Women artisanal miners in Penhalonga, a gold mining community located 20 kilometres north east of Mutare have sustained their families on artisanal mining for many years. About 90% of women in that area are artisanal miners.
Judith Shadaya a gold miner in Penhalonga and Odzi said cases of violence have increased in Manicaland adding that she has been attacked several times at her mine.
“Many industries have been closed with mining remaining essential service resulting in those who are not go to work shifting to mining leading to the increase in numbers of illegal miners poaching our claims.
“We now have the machete-wielding gangs within our mining areas. The cases (violence) are increasing and women are now forced to move around with dangerous weapons for self-defense.
“I have been attacked more than five times with my equipment being taken away,” she said.
Nomalanga Dube who is the ZMF Midlands representative also said, “Violence is even worse nowadays, machete wielding gangs are vandalizing our shafts and the moment we try and stop them, they will harass and molest women knowing that we don’t have any power to fight against them. But the truth is we are dying from inside.”
Most of the women also revealed that they are facing challenges from their male counterparts who are refusing to follow the Covid 19 regulations during the course of their operations hence putting their lives at risk.
Government should consider collaborative initiatives, both at the local and international level, which improve conditions for women in artisanal mining.
Investors and other stakeholders in the mineral value chain (no matter how far removed from actual mining) should be encouraged to undertake comprehensive risk-based due diligence in order to identify vulnerabilities for women.
This will lead to greater community impact and more sustainable growth. Large-scale mining can also play a role in bringing about better outcomes.
Speaking to Great Dyke News 24, the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) programmes officer Joyce Machiri said they are doing some technical visits to women in mining to help them with technical issues like mining development among other challenges.
“As ZELA we are doing some training for women, on Safety, Health and Environmental issues. We also do some academies where we train women in different issues that affect them in their mining activities.
“We also give them support on the ground because most of the times, people train miners at workshops but at times they will be focusing on theory than practical but we are dealing with the practical side,” she said.
On the issue of violence against women, Machiri called for the formalisation of the sector so that people will have proper mining places.
“I think it’s an issue of lack of formalisation, the issue of access to claims is a bit of a challenge to some, who don’t understand the processes and they are prone to do anything and one of the issues is the issue of violence.
“We have partnered the Shurugwi Development Trust because the issue of machetes started in Shurugwi, they had to take the violence perpetrators in, they went through counselling and they gave them some places to do mining and they have improved their livelihoods.
“People want a place where they can actually do their mining and for this violence to take place is because someone wants the precious stone and their easy target will be women and they target those places were women are mining most although men are being attacked as well,” she added.
Networks which encourage the pooling of mining equipment and technology among women could also be extremely beneficial. Information sharing and providing access in local communities to the market prices of commodities is also crucial in enabling women to achieve fair market value for minerals.