UNLOCKING POSSIBILITIES: EMPOWERING WOMEN IN MINING AND BEYOND

I am intrigued by minerals and the narratives surrounding them, especially those written by female storytellers. Jade Davenport, in her remarkable book 'Digging Deep', unfolds a captivating story of South Africa's mining history, showcasing her exceptional storytelling prowess. When a woman shares her tale, birds stop singing to listen to her words.

In her book, Jade Davenport suggests that observes that everything humanity consumes is either farmed or mined. Initially, I pondered whether she might be over-hyping the mining industry, but upon reflection, I totally agree, everything we consume is either farmed or mined. As we commemorate International Women's Day (IWD, 2024), let us take a moment to acknowledge and appreciate women in agriculture and mining the very women who provide the sustenance for our lives. How we treat these women is a reflection of how we value our own survival.

In my work with NGOs, I've attended numerous meetings where the inequitable and discriminatory nature of land laws towards women has been a central topic, prompting calls for amendments that align with the Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG 5). As a trained lawyer I know the provisions within land laws, and binding precedents, all guaranteeing women equal rights to land as men. Despite this legal progress, the realities in Tanzania show that women often use but do not own, control, or make decisions about land, which in turn restricts their wealth accumulation.

Likewise, women in small-scale mining encounter barriers in acquiring licenses. Despite the laws offering equal opportunities for licensing, social norms often deter women from applying. Additionally, women in small-scale mining struggle to access bank loans, unlike their counterparts in agriculture who can secure loans using land certificates as collateral. This disparity underscores the need for continued efforts towards gender equality in land ownership and economic empowerment for women.

One day, I met with women working with the Tanzania Agricultural Development Bank (TADB). To my right was a young lady from the Tanzania Women Miners Association (TAWOMA), who quietly told me, 'Soon, we small-scale miners are going to launch our own bank.' I questioned whether the small-scale miners' bank could offer loans to women in small-scale mining with their primary mining license as collateral, just like the agriculture's bank offers loans to women in farming activities with their farming land as collateral.

The young lady replied, 'I doubt it. Small-scale mining projects are usually unbankable due to the lack of comprehensive geological data. Assume the borrower defaults, and the bank wants to sell the primary mining license, who would be interested in a project that has previously failed to yield profits? It's obvious that the same lending criteria governing other banks will apply to the miners' bank.' I interrupted with a question; 'but that is the miners' bank, it can't be that inconsiderate to miners.

The young lady disagreed, saying, 'It's not a matter of inconsideration; it's the nature of the banking business. Banks trade in money. The crucial question is: what measures is the government implementing to make small-scale mining projects bankable? Do you see the government integrating domestic financing and small-scale mining? Is Geological Survey of Tanzania adequately surveying the mining areas? Without comprehensive geological surveys and easily accessible geological data, most women will struggle to secure financing for their small-scale mining ventures, stalling their progression to medium and large-scale mining.'

Our conversation shifted to the pressing issues of workplace safety. The young lady stated: 'It's apparent that women in agriculture often face exposure to highly hazardous pesticides (HPPs), while those in artisanal small-scale gold mining endure a dusty and excessively noisy environment during ore crushing and hazardous mercury exposure in gold processing, without Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs).'

In response, I questioned, saying, 'But when these women accuse employers of not issuing them with PPEs, the employers say women don't want to use PPEs. How do we address that?' It's like she knew what I would say, with a smiley face, she replied, 'everyone says they love women, but kindness is the language of love that the deaf hear so well. Our love for these women outweighs excuses; it is our duty to protect them, as their exposure to health risks endangers not only themselves but also their children in the long run.' She insisted, and that was too wise; I couldn't help but feel cross-examined.

When she unlocked her phone to request a ride, I interrupted: 'Why depart without talking about women in large-scale mining? We've witnessed the mechanized operations firsthand, where the discriminatory sociocultural beliefs against women have no room Yet, the women are barely represented. What's the cause?' She cut me off, asserting, 'To attain gender parity in mechanized large-scale mining, we must strengthen girls' enrollment in scientific disciplines and subsequent academic pursuits in colleges.'

As I nodded in agreement, she elaborated, 'We saw a small number of women in large scale mining because women are underrepresented in fields like engineering, and geology. Until when girls can dream and our educational system nurture those aspirations, female engineers will remain scarce. Let science not be the preserve of the privileged; let the dreams of rural Tanzanian girls soar when schools in their villages boast adequate resources like libraries, laboratories, electricity, computers and free Wi-Fi'.

I couldn't utter another word; the ride arrived, and to my surprise, the driver was a woman, as young as her passenger. I murmured to myself, 'The internet is a game changer. Few years ago, when Uber and Bolt didn't exist, only taxis did, and they were male-dominated. But now, with technology, women merely need smartphones to get passengers.'

As I pondered further, I realized that technology has facilitated women's entry into professions once dominated by men, but this transformation occurred due to technological innovations elsewhere in the world. However, my concern persists: we shouldn't always rely on thinkers in developed countries to empower women in our societies. We must chart our own course, whenever possible.

As I made my way to the bus station, a sudden thought struck me: 'she mentioned that a girl can only dream when the education system nurtures her aspirations'. But I continued thinking that how can we encourage girls to dream when they can legally marry at the age of 14 or 15?

Why do we permit a girl who cannot obtain a driver's license to obtain a marriage certificate? Why do we allow a girl who cannot choose a village chairperson to choose a husband? If we consider her too immature to participate in civil affairs, why do we assume she can manage marital ones?

Despite my desire to advocate for laws and policies that treat women with the necessary sensitivity, I couldn't shake the reminder that the Law of Marriage Act of 1971 still hasn't been amended to raise the age of marriage for girls to 18, despite years of court appeals ordering so. Nevertheless, I reminded myself not to lose hope; International Women's Day serves as a reminder of the unwavering duty we have to the women of our country. With this in mind, I returned home, determined to spread awareness about everyone's duty to the women of Tanzania.

Authored by: Clay Mwaifwani

Mob: +255 (0) 758 850 023

Email: claymwaifwani09@gmail.com

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