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NUM National Women Structure Meets

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25 November, 2014The National Union of Miners (NUM) in South Africa organized its 6th national women's structure conference in Johannesburg on 19 and 20 November 2014. More than 250 women from all NUM regions and branches participated. 

NUM has been a pioneer in fighting for women working underground. The number of women is rising in the mining industry. A ten per cent quota for women in the industry was agreed with the Chamber of Mines, and NUM fights for to enforce the quota in negotiations.

However, working underground is an enormous challenge due to male domination, patriarchy and women's submissiveness. Women miners say the job is not “human-friendly” and men resist accepting women in their ranks. Furthermore, black women are employed for menial tasks underground, and white women are hired for office work and skilled jobs. Women must be assigned jobs at technical, managerial and strategic level.

There has been recognizable progress at the Chamber of Mines on demands of personal protective equipment, maternity leave and the implementation of childcare and breastfeeding facilities, although not all mining houses have implemented them and not all operations have pregnancy policies.

Violence in South Africa is conditioned by patriarchy, inequality and poverty. Total emancipation of women is wishful thinking without the elimination of gender-based violence.

In the last few years, four women have been murdered underground. The employers will only start paying attention to protecting women when it becomes too expensive for them to compensate them. Up to now the employers can decide that it is a criminal issue instead of a work-related accident and therefore not pay compensation.

The NUM women's structure has the role to lead women across the sectors of the national economy. Participants decided that the women's structure needs to look at laws such as the Mine Act to check whether women's needs are contemplated.

Health and Safety laws stipulate conditions for drilling and rocks falling, but are women's needs taken into consideration? Are women's safety needs covered? Do women have facilities to wash and clean up? What is the impact of shift work on the family?

Lydia Nkopane was re-elected to chair the NUM national women's structure.