Members of Parliament and human rights activists have asked government to enforce the laws in the mining sector to protect the right of women in the sector. The MPs and other stakeholders said women in the minerals sector face a lot of challenges, which need to be addressed.
The call was made during the National Dialogue on Land and Extractives, under the theme, “Harnessing citizen participation for good governance and sustainable livelihoods,” at Hotel Africana on Wednesday, April 26, 2017. The conference was attended by government officials, artisanal miners, district leaders, cultural leaders and civil society representatives among others.
Nivatiti Nandujja, Human Rights Coordinator at Action Aid Uganda (AAU), said the extractives sector is male dominated and women participation is wanting. She explained that the few women employed in mines are working under inhuman and poor working conditions with meager pay.
“Women working in mines do not enjoy the entitlement provided for by the law. They don’t get maternity leave or sick leave, but instead, when they get pregnant, they are simply laid off,” Nandujja said. She said despite the good policies and laws on gender based violence, the position of women has not improved and advocated for other interventions in addition to enforcement of policies and laws in order to ensure gender equity in extractives sector.
Catherine Nyakecho, a Geologist working with Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development disagreed with MsNandujja that the minerals sector is male dominated. She quoted a research by African Center for Energy and Mineral Policy (ACEMP) that revealed that of the sites visited, women are more into stone quarrying, salt mining, marble, limestone, and sand mining – the low value minerals, while the men are where the money is.
However, she said women in mines have been exposed to more poor working conditions than men. For instance in stone quarrying, she said women and children are engaged in crashing stones with their bare hands, which exposes them to accidents and a lot of dust, which affect their lives.
Despite spending a whole day crashing stones, women get meager pay. “Stone quarries lack toilets and therefore women during menstruation periods have to travel back home for health break – wasting a lot of their valuable time and when they fall sick, they get no payment,” she said.
Nyakacho explained that in salt mining, men wear condoms to prevent salty water from entering their bodies through their private parts, but in contrast, though women need protective gears too, they are normally not provided for, and thus enter salty water without protective gears, which has negative consequences on their health.
In gold mining, women are exposed to dangerous chemicals like mercury. Whereas the men get the ore or gold sand out of the ground, Nyakecho said women are exposed to mercury during panning for gold which affect their lives. Weighing in on mercury, one of the participants from Amudat district said there is a worrying trend that feet/legs of women working in goldmines are swelling, due to what she suspects could be prolonged exposure to mercury.
Deborah Ariong, the Natural Resources Officer, Amudat district, said she had witnessed breast-feeding mothers panning gold with mercury and then breast-feed babies thereafter. She called for strict enforcement of health and safety measures in mines like ensuring all workers wear protective gears.
Betty Atiang, programme Manager at Saferworld Uganda, told the extractives sector in Uganda is expanding, and as it expands, it is worsening existing tension and exposing new conflicts. The sector, she explained, is faced with land conflicts in form of land grabbing, contention over surface rights, conflicts that relate to allocation of royalties, environmental degradation and gender based violence among others. She observed that conflict is an impediment to good governance and implored participants to make a contribution towards promoting conflict free extractives sector, transparency, accountability, citizen’s participation in decision making.
Drawing from his experience as an artisanal miner in Mubende district, Emmanuel Kibirig said women of today can do mining, though by their nature they can’t go inside the pit. Therefore, in the pit, miners don’t employ women. He explained that in gold mining, the value chain is that men dig and go inside the pit in order to extract gold ores/sand on the ground for women to their work in the value chain.
Mukitale Mukitale, the MP Buliisa, said women artisanal miners need to form strong cooperatives or associations, through which they can demand for more protection and seek help. Weighing on the discussion, Adong Lilly, Woman MP Nwoya district, told in order to protect women rights, there is need to amend the laws and policies governing the minerals sector to cap a percentage of jobs and contracts to be given exclusively to women. This will ensure that women in the sector are empowered.
By Edward Ssekika