In a male-dominated industry such as mining, where females continue to be under-represented, women like Tene Konate are taking up more challenging roles like driving a 72-tonne dump truck around the vast open pit at the Houndé gold mine in western Burkina Faso.
Konate is one of 111 women at the mine who are trained for jobs like hauling rubble, blasting rocks, or driving heavy vehicles which are more traditionally done by men in West Africa. The 42-year-old single mother and her female colleagues are the beneficiaries of a global push by mining companies to bring more women into an industry that is lagging behind others in tackling gender imbalances. They remain firmly in the minority however, with women making up just 11 percent of the workforce at Houndé which is run by Canada’s Endeavour Mining.
In a report by Reuters, Konate revealed that after separating from her husband, she struggled to provide for her two young daughters. This eventually led her to the mining industry and she affirmed “the mine has changed everything in my life. Everything,” Konate now lives in a large house in Hounde and can pay for her daughters’ schooling.“At this stage, I really don’t need a man to do everything for me,” Konate said.
The single mother was trained on how to operate trucks whose chunky wheels are so large that drivers must climb a ladder to get into the cabin. Konate stated that “the fact that it is a man’s job and that I can do it, really, I like that very, very, very much.”
Sonia Nkiema, who coordinates the work of more than 100 people at the pit, said women can sometimes face pushback from male workers, but she encourages those around her to forget gender and judge colleagues on the quality of their work.“As I always say to my operators, as soon as you cross that gate, we are no longer women. We wear the same trousers as you do, we have become men, because we do the same job.”
Apart from gender-segregation, there are several hindering factors that limit women from seeking a career in the mining industry, one of which is the fact that women are the primary caregiver. It can be very difficult for females to achieve a good work/life balance in the mining industry because of constraints in terms of flexibility, remote site work and juggling child care with often unsociable hours and expectations of overtime.
Another significant factor is the health and safety of women in mining. More often than not women who work in the field complain of body pains resulting from the strenuous work they engage in. These manual work practices also lead to musculoskeletal, joint and abdominal pain, infected cuts that were slow to heal, and abrasions, amongst others.
In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we celebrate women in mining and other sectors who keep on with their extraordinary roles despite the challenges they encounter. Significant strides like this, pave way for generation equality, here’s to Realizing women’s rights in 2020 and beyond.