The Cultural Reality for Women in Mexico MiningBy Jennifer Burge | Thu, 03/03/2022 - 15:00
I have been working in Mexico’s mining industry since 2019. I have met many talented professional women during these years. They are mine engineers, chemists, and geologists. They perform essential roles in community relations and prominent industry associations. They are integral to business development deals that are six figures and higher. My initial impression was that women in the Mexican mining industry enjoyed a reasonable level of equality and power. However, if my career in global business has taught me anything, it is that what lies on the surface of any situation is rarely the reality.
The result of leading and co-organizing Las Mineras: MegaWomen of the MegaRegion, an empowerment initiative for women in mining in Arizona and Sonora sponsored by the U.S. Consulate General of Nogales and funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Energy Affairs, in 2020 and 2021 gave me a deep education on the status of women in Mexican mining. Understanding the facts increased my determination to deliver coaching, support, and professional development skills for women in the industry that I am proud to call clients and friends as well as for those who work alongside them and walk in their footsteps.
What are the facts?
- According to the International Labor Organization’s Underground Work (Women) Convention of 1935, Article 2: “No female, whatever her age, shall be employed on underground work in any mine.” Initially ratified and enforced in 98 countries, the law has since been overturned by 30 countries, including Canada and Australia. Mexico is not among them.
- Women in Mexico mining come from diverse educational and socio-economic backgrounds and perform vastly different roles within the sector. “At the same time, women are unable to, as one interviewee phrased it, ‘break the glass ceiling even if using a miner’s helmet,’ especially in managerial positions.” (Lutz-Ley, Buechler – March 2020)
- Lack of permanent employee contracts and fair union representation in Mexico also exacerbate uncertainty for women in mining. “Subcontracting, in addition to creating uncertain livelihoods, also hinders formation of collective action, dividing permanent and temporary workers.” (Tetreault, 2016)
- Regarding the impact of mining on communities, Castro-Ramírez et al. (2015) studied land dispossession due to mining in Zacatecas, Mexico, and found that “women had much less power in negotiations with mining companies due to low legal entitlement to land.”
- Belasko (2012, 2014) “revealed how women have progressively integrated into large-scale mining with higher workloads yet had difficulties accessing managerial positions in a sector with significant subcontracting.”
- Belasko (2014: 18), “the situation of Mexican women in the mining and metals’ sector is among the most unknown and ignored in the Mexican mining industry.”
- One interviewee stated, “the worst bullying I have ever received came from other women.” She remembers when she got a managerial position, some women said to her face, “you slept with the boss.”
- Women working in regular and outsourced positions in mining, including operational and managerial jobs, are exposed to safety risks in their work, lack adequate facilities and clothing in remote exploration areas, and must also contend with other dangers, such as drug traffickers in rural locations.
Audrey Au Yong Lyn wrote in May 2020, in an article titled, “Surging or Subsiding? How Mining Sector Booms Impact Female Empowerment,” that analytical results from the mining boom in Mexico after the global financial crisis in 2007-2008 showed that women in mining communities in Mexico saw an increase in their household decision-making power. Sadly, this was accompanied by an increase in their experience of Intimate Partner Violence, or IPV. Women with fewer financial resources experienced IPV in its harshest forms: physical and sexual abuse. Women with a higher socio-economic status experienced more threats of violence and emotional abuse. Regardless of wealth, women’s advancement was accompanied by punishment.
Mining is a challenging profession under the best of circumstances, but it is made far more difficult for women with the stereotypes and traditional cultural impediments placed upon them. The first step toward attracting and retaining women in an industry known for its male-dominated culture and not for inclusiveness is acknowledging that these perilous conditions exist and are, in fact, common. The second is openly discussing the issues to remove the entrenched stigmas associated with them. Solutions and progressive thinking are only possible when truth is present, no matter how uncomfortable that truth may be.
Some of these “inconvenient truths” are easier to solve than others. Improved contracting and collective bargaining processes are already within range of sight due to USMCA labor reform laws. Physical safety and well-fitting work clothing are essential to job performance and basic employee rights that no company claiming high ESG ratings can ignore — at least, not for long. Support groups for women that include decision-makers are crucial for women to succeed in Mexico mining. As Eldridge Cleaver famously said, “You either have to be part of the solution, or you're going to be part of the problem.”