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The Mining Sector Works Toward Gender Equity

Fernanda Romero - WIM
Sonora District President


Karin Dilge By Karin Dilge | Journalist and Industry Analyst - Fri, 04/29/2022 - 11:43

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Q: How has the traditional “macho culture” in mining changed in recent years and what impact has that had on women in the sector?

A: In recent years, there has been greater discussion in the sector surrounding issues that concern women. Nevertheless, the mining sector still has many areas of opportunity for improvement, even on small matters such as adapting mining camp facilities to accommodate women. It is a challenge to live in these camps as a woman: even though they are comfortable overall, difficult situations can arise as a result of gender bias.

Last year, I had the chance to visit a film production at a mine in Tajo. I asked the women operating with heavy machinery about the conditions of the restrooms, which they said were not accommodating to them at all. It saddens me to see that the sector has not been able to resolve such a small issue. There has been an openness to progress, but there are still many challenges ahead. The sector is not changing as fast as we would like. However, we are on the right path.

Importantly, more women are talking about these sometimes uncomfortable topics. Before, nobody discussed these themes. One could even feel completely alone when talking about sexual abuse or other related topics. Today, these issues are more openly addressed.

Q: What are the main worries of women in the mining sector and what is WIM doing to help address these problems?

A: There are many types of women involved in mining. Some spend a lot of time in the office and face different challenges than those who have been at the camps or that face long journeys to get to work. There should be a different analysis for every woman, considering the context of their work.

At WiM, we promote training and clarify the meaning of inequality, equity and equality, because sometimes people hear the terms but do not actually understand them. Right now, we are in discussions with the Sonoran Institute for Women. We would like them to provide us with training, so that all of us are on the same page when discussing gender issues. It is important to become reacquainted with some of these concepts.

WiM is also launching a mentoring program so that women across different generations feel supported and have someone to rely on. On a national level, WiM is focusing more on training in general. Every district has its own programs, though.

Q: How is the organization including male participation in its efforts to help solve the problems in the sector?

A: During WiM’s past convention in Acapulco, much of the discussion centered around the issue of including men in the mentoring program. When it comes to reacquainting ourselves with gender issues, we must include men regardless. In the end, we are all part of the sector. It is part of our mission to sit down with one another and show everyone that we are all relearning  forms of coexistence and ways to interact.

Q: How has the alliance between WiM and the government progressed?

A: Our relationships are mostly built with local governments. During the previous government, Sonora had a woman as governor. Having a close relationship with her and those on her team helped us have a stronger presence in Sonora. In many local events, mining was part of the discussion, as were the problems women in the sector face.

Q: Who would you say is responsible for making women feel safe?

A: Establishing security is a responsibility of the government. In that regard, it is failing. Nevertheless, it is responsibility of everyone, men and women both. Violence against women takes various forms and is a consequence of a social structure that, through negative preconceptions, perpetuates discrimination against women, The government should dismantle the conditions that lead to this discrimination, for example via adequate laws to mitigate gender violence or establishing protection services and victim support. In that regard, it is failing. Every day we hear about feminicides and rapes that go unpunished.

Q: How does the organization verify that companies are applying what they have learned from the training it provides?

A: We do not directly verify this but we have a collaboration agreement with CAMIMEX to help us boost female participation in the mining sector. Nevertheless, we cannot officially approach companies and ask them to show us what measures they are implementing, we are a more a strategic entity in that sense. We do want CAMIMEX and WiM to have a stronger collaboration but we are still developing this partnership.

Q: What does WIM want to achieve in 2022?

A: This is my last year as President in Sonora and I would like to see the mentoring and training programs strengthened. I would also like for women of every generation to be supported and have the confidence to talk about the problems they face.

Q: How many years would it take to build an industry that offers more for women?

A: In my opinion, we still have a long road ahead. In the meantime, I would like to see a woman become a general manager of a mining operation because it would be a win in terms of representation. It would also be very significant to see a woman as President of the Association of Mining Engineers, Metallurgists and Geologists of Mexico (AIMMGM) in Sonora, since it is the most important mining district in Mexico. Nonetheless, this is unlikely to happen within the next five years.   

At many past assemblies and conferences, women have not had the confidence to raise their voices but this is part of what we must do. Furthermore, if companies are hiring for a new position, they should give it to a woman if she meets all the requirements. This will support women and create more opportunity for them in the industry. The mining sector is full of opportunities but people do need to reach out and grasp them. We have to support each other even if we are strangers, not be shy and ask for help in finding a job. Women should not be shy and ask for opportunities. Finally, it is paramount that women increase their visibility by participating in various public activities, such as speaking at industry events.

Sexist attitudes still pervade our daily lives, in all cultural, political and labor environments. We still have a lot of work to do to become conscious of macho attitudes, including in situations that could seem innocent but are so normalized that we do not even notice them. Examples include marking pink for girls and blue for boys or considering women to be “lucky” if their husband helps them with domestic work. Issues concerning motherhood and fatherhood perpetuate stereotyped gender roles, as well as violent behaviors like sexual harassment. Another key issue that women in the mining industry particularly experience is mansplaining, or the systematic interruption of women by men.

The highly masculinized mining sector has a huge area of opportunity to unlearn harmful behavior and become reeducated on gender issues. We need to keep the dialogue alive, visualize what we go through, train ourselves and keep highlighting the societal problems we aim to fix.

Photo by:   WIM

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