IndustriALL affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), organized a women’s march to the Chamber of Mines in Johannesburg on 26 August, to protest the slow pace of transformation and empowerment for women working in the mines.
The NUM said transformation was slow despite the existence of laws and a constitution that supported change. According to an NUM study, gender discrimination was common in the mining industry in which only 11 per cent of the workers were women. In mining, most women occupied low paying positions with less opportunities for development or empowerment. They also faced sexual harassment, stigmatization, ridicule, and sometimes total disregard of physical differences between male and female workers.
Mining companies were also reluctant to hire women as operators, drillers, shift bosses or blasters. Basic conditions such as maternity leave was denied, and some mines did not provide personal health and safety protective equipment including overalls, boots, earphones, goggles and so on. Women were also forced to carry heavy loads which caused miscarriages, and back and waist pains. Some physical tests, that had no bearing on job performance, were carried out on women.
With a lack of support from male workers, women miners were forced to work harder to prove themselves.
The grievances expressed to the Chamber of Mines included an end to sexual harassment and gender discrimination on wages, promoting equity in business, more participation and integration of women, accepting physical differences between men and women, and an end to patriarchy and violence against women at workplaces.
Phumeza Mgengo, NUM women’s structure national secretary said:
“No country can achieve liberation without the emancipation of women which shouldn’t be an act of charity. We demand that managers be trained to understand what gender equality and 50 per cent gender parity means. Transformation must take place without the risk of women losing their right to integrity, respect and most importantly equality.”
Fabian Nkomo, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa added:
“We support the calls by the NUM for transformation and empowerment of women who are working in the mines”.