Contrary to Western ideas that women should have equal rights when it comes to employment, many women in mining are still regarded as unsuitable to be present at mining sites, often due to superstitions associated with bad luck.
One belief suggests that women shouldn’t go to the mine during their menstrual period because the spirit believed to control the mineral dislikes blood.
According to this belief, the spirit can become angry and cause mine collapses or make the ore disappear from the pit.
Although it is impossible to determine when a woman is on her period, denying her access to the mine is the preferred approach.
Another version of the myth assumes that the spirit in question is a jealous woman who becomes resentful whenever another woman enters the pit.
“These myths are a deliberate move to constrain women’s participation in sectors such as mining,” says Tariro Chanda, a gold panner in Zvishavane, who refers to her work in the mine as a “labour conquest” because of the long struggle women faced to be accepted in this traditionally male industry.
Tariro’s mother, Nyengeterai Madziva, also works in the mine, making her a second-generation woman in mining at that location.
Despite facing such barriers, Tariro and Nyengeterai are part of a growing number of women who are challenging the notion that mining is exclusively for men.
Their presence is redefining the industry’s landscape, bringing fresh perspectives, and fostering a more inclusive and diverse workforce. Women in mining not only enhance productivity but also promote a harmonious work environment where creativity and collaboration thrive.
The visibility of female artisanal mining in sub-Saharan Africa is beginning to rise, leading to a greater recognition that women are also miners pursuing livelihoods linked to different forms of mining.
This recognition is sometimes reflected in transnational policy initiatives aimed at improving the quality of mining returns and safety at the mines.
“There has been some movement in laws and policies to recognize the fact that women are miners and should be included in programs aimed at improving mining standards and safety,” says Tariro.
However, Nyengeterai believes that more needs to be done, particularly in terms of concrete measures to encourage women’s participation. She suggests that the mining code has not taken sufficient action to support women in the sector, possibly due to the fact that laws are primarily made by men who may overlook the unique challenges faced by women in mining.
In addition to policy changes, there is a need to improve formalization policies in the mining sector. However, current formalization efforts have been drafted without recognizing the involvement of women in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM), which could limit their inclusion in these initiatives.
“If we are truly committed to improving formalization and achieving gender equality, we need to combine these two goals in a more sustained manner,” says Amai Tariro, emphasizing the importance of integrating gender considerations into formalization processes.
Many voices support the call for women’s empowerment in the mining industry. During the official launch of the Women In Gemstones Association of Zimbabwe (WIGAZ) in Chinhoyi, Julia Mapungwana, the director of Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development, highlighted the business opportunities available to women in the mining sector.
She urged women to go beyond being mere consumers of gemstone products and become major stakeholders in the mining and beneficiation of these resources.
Mashonaland West Provincial Affairs Minister, Mary Mliswa-Chikoka, echoed the call for more female participants in gemstone exploration, emphasizing the importance of women’s financial independence and their contribution to the development of the economy.
WIGAZ chairperson, Primrose Siakachana, expressed optimism that the sector would bring prosperity to vulnerable women in rural communities. The association aims to provide knowledge transfer, enabling women to identify gemstones and engage in value addition, ultimately creating profitable ventures.
Chiedza Chipangura, the national director of Women Empowerment in Mining Zimbabwe (WEMZ), acknowledged the positive impact of women’s involvement in mining, both in terms of community development and women’s financial empowerment.
She highlighted the increasing number of women involved in the mining value chain and the resulting reduction in issues such as domestic violence.
The government of Zimbabwe has also taken steps to support small-scale and artisanal miners. The recent launch of a US$10 million gold fund, with half of the funding allocated to loans for small-scale miners and the other half for processing and buying centres, demonstrates the commitment to empower these miners.
While progress is being made, there is still work to be done to achieve gender equality in the mining industry.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 aims to end all forms of discrimination against women and girls, acknowledging that structural issues such as legal discrimination, unfair social norms, and low levels of political participation continue to hinder progress.
By addressing these challenges and promoting women’s participation, Zimbabwe’s mining industry can truly reshape itself and thrive.