7 April, 2022Gender based violence and sexual harassment continues to be prevalent in the mining sector in Sub Saharan Africa, according to testimonies by some of the 30 participants at a training workshop in Johannesburg 5-6 April.
Some participants at the gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) workshop, which is part of IndustriALL Global Union’s training to implement Convention 190 on eliminating violence and harassment in the world of work, shared touching stories of attempted rape and sexual harassment in Sub Saharan Africa.
The workshop also heard of cases of sexual exploitation in exchange for monetary benefits, also by supervisors, in the energy sector in Zimbabwe. Further, the groping of women in cages that transport workers to underground mines was raised as an issue of concern that needed immediate attention by unions and mine companies as it continues to occur.
Mosela who works as a machine operator at a South African goldmine narrated her attempted rape ordeal:
“I was five months pregnant at the time, and at work with a male colleague in the control room. I was doing overtime to supplement my wages as pregnant women workers do not work underground according to the law. But there were reductions on my job card as I could only work on the surface. The supervisor asked me to make coffee for him in his office as we had run out of supplies in the control room.
"He then followed me and said he wanted to have sex with me to ‘contribute to the growth of your unborn baby.’ I felt offended and disrespected by his utterances and pretence; and how he talked to me as if we were dating. He advanced towards me to trap me against the office desk, but I pushed him away and ran out of the office. I was traumatized; he was a senior colleague whom I respected and trusted. I had nightmares for months after the attempted rape.”
The workshop heard of another case of attempted rape that happened at a union workshop in Rwanda. For five days Nambi faced sexual harassment from a union leader while attending a workshop. The leader would send her inappropriate messages and photos.
“It was a terrible experience. He insinuated that he wanted to have sex with me and followed me everywhere; even when I took the hotel lift. And I was shocked when I found him naked in my hotel room. The hotel had given him spare keys to my room!”
In Nelly’s case, she faced sexual harassment shortly after getting a job at an open pit coal mine in South Africa.
“I was surprised by the undue attention I got from the assistant supervisor who provided me with transport to work every day. However, I felt overwhelmed and reported to the supervisor who warned the assistant. The assistant then started ignoring my calls and messages when I wanted transport from the pit after work and had to walk to the surface - endangering my life as the pit roads have traffic of heavy mining machinery. Although I reported to the shop stewards; they did not act timely, and I had to find transport from another woman worker."
Following a presentation by Hermien Botes from Anglo-America on how the company is addressing GBVH, the participants appreciated the efforts by the mining company but said they wanted the mining industry to address GBVH and not individual mining companies.
Lisa Sumi from the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) said the IRMA standards make it imperative for mines to take action to prevent and address discrimination, sexual harassment, and violence in the mines. Additionally, there must be worker grievance mechanisms to timely address the complaints and these are the requirements for the IRMA certification processes.
Rose Omamo, IndustriALL co-chair for Sub Saharan Africa says:
“Exhaustive information shared at this workshop points to the need to end GBVH and what we need to do to promote the implementation of Convention 190. Participants shared personal information arising from their work experiences including in trade union organizations. There is need for more such workshops to provide workers with spaces to share their experiences.”
“We strongly support the proposals of the union representatives to create internal policies towards stopping gender-based violence and sexual harassment at work and in the union,”
says Kathrin Meißner Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Trade Union Competence Centre for Sub Saharan Africa (FES-TUCC) director.
The workshop was held with support from the FES-TUCC, and facilitated by gender and labour expert, Bashiratu Kamal from Ghana.