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Female miners in South Africa face violence and harassment

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Laura Bridgestock
WVoN co-editor

A new report reveals the shocking extent of the harassment, violence, exploitation and discrimination faced by women employed in the ‘macho’ South African mining industry.

The sixth Policy Gap report from the Bench Marks Foundation provides a review of the platinum mining industry in the Bojanela District, North West Province, with a focus on issues relating to corporate social responsibility.

Among the most shocking and urgent findings of the research is the widespread harassment reported by women working in the industry.

The report notes that the industry has succeeded in exceeding the Mining Charter target of women making up at least 10% of the workforce.

However, it points out that women employees remain an insignificant minority, and that little has been done to address the dominant ‘macho culture’, or the harassment and exploitation, which are rife.

One interviewee said she had applied for work in the sector five times, and on each occasion had been asked for sex. “I refused every time, which is why I am still unemployed, but I will never give in.”

Meanwhile, a female geologist is quoted as saying: “I walk with a knife in my pocket every time I go on the mine, women are not safe here.”

Women are also commonly “groped and abused” in the lifts into the mines if these get too full, a human resources officer said.

The Bench Marks Foundation says it “was not shocked” to learn of one female worker being raped and murdered at Anglo Platinum’s Khomanani operation near Rustenburg in February this year.

In addition to physical violence and abuse, women in the industry face very difficult conditions and a hugely male-dominated work culture.

For example, women are often expected to undress in front of men during health tests, and report being ridiculed and – again – groped during first aid and disaster training.

The imbalance of the industry is further illustrated by the fact that of the 6,000 women employees included in the scope of the report (12% of the total workforce), the majority are employed in roles categorised as ‘unskilled’ or ‘semi-skilled’.

The Foundation has called for the South African government to investigate the conditions of women working in the mining industry.

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