DMR minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi on Women’s month and women in mining in South Africa.

August is a symbolic month for us as a country, as we celebrate izimbokodo. It affords us an opportunity to reflect on that fateful day in 1956, when thousands of women marched to the Union Buildings, united in their quest for freedom, as well as to take stock of how far we have come.

This year’s Women’s Month takes places as we commemorate 60 years of the Freedom Charter this year, and the Women’s Charter in 2014. In addition, the African Union has declared 2015 the Year of Women Empowerment and Development towards the continent’s Agenda 2063.

South Africa has made great strides since 1994 in improving the status of women. For example, prior to 1994, the South African Parliament had a mere 2.7% representation of women, and following the first democratic elections, women representation in the National Assembly stood at 27.7%.

In 1999 that figure increased to 30% and then to 32.7% in 2004. After the 2009 national elections women representation reached 42%. Currently women ministers comprise 41% of the Cabinet, women deputy
ministers make up 47% of the total number of deputy ministers and there is a 41% representation of women in the National Assembly.

Women are also making great strides in the private sector, although significant challenges remain.

In the mining sector, we have women like Professor May Hermanus who was the country’s first woman Chief Inspector of Mines in the then Department of Minerals and Energy. Her appointment in 2001 paved the way for women to technically be involved in this sector. She in her tenure ensured that the country moves closer to having a safe and healthy mining industry.

We as the Department of Mineral Resources have at heart the promotion of women participation throughout the mining industry, from general workers right up to owners and women in executive positions. We continuously encourage the industry to implement legislation that will protect and advance the cause of women.

Historically, the South African mining industry has been a male-dominated sector and the employment of women in this sector is relatively new.

Compared to their male counterparts, women working underground have unique health and safety needs due to their anatomical and physiological make up. The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act adopted in
1996, affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.

The Constitution recognises gender equality as the cornerstone of South Africa’s democracy, but more needs to be done to address gender issues in the industry.

Women in the mining sector also face challenges that require all stakeholders to work together in order to create a conducive workplace for women. As the Department of Mineral Resources, we adopted a number of strategies aimed at opening up the mining sector to previously disadvantaged individuals, especially women.

The enactment of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act No. 28 of 2002 (MPRDA) actively encourages entry of historically disadvantaged individuals in South Africa to participate in the mining sector and also introduced the entrance of women to work at mines.

In 2004, we further enhanced this Act by adopting the Mining Charter which requires companies to actively change the demographic profile of mining companies and to ensure that they have plans in place to achieve a target of 10% participation of women by 2009 (Mining Charter, 2004). Similarly, the Employment Equity Act (EEA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion or gender in the workplace, including the mines.

We need to develop implementable results that will transform the industry and increase investment in line with the goals of the National Development Plan. However, we can only achieve this when there is full participation of
women in mining across the mining operations including in position of influence and leadership. As stakeholders, we have to ensure that more women participate in all forums.

As the Department, we would like to see more of this participation being increased including at the regional levels
through stakeholder’s groupings of the established Regional Tripartite Forums as supported by the Mine Health and Safety Council.

The Mine Health and Safety Council, through its research programmes, has completed a number of projects aimed at addressing challenges faced by women in the mining industry. These projects addressed the personal
protective equipment of women in mining, their safety and security challenges and sexual harassment experienced by women mineworkers.

Through these initiatives, we will be able to advance our objectives of ensuring a safe environment for women to work in. This work enables us to address issues of occupational health and safety for women and specifically becomes critical towards addressing issues of safety and security of female workers in the sector.

Women should fully participate in this important sector that has the potential to grow South Africa’s economy and thus improve the lives of all. The laws we have developed and are implementing, that is, the MPRDA and the Mine Health and Safety Act, compel us to ensure this.

I urge that we continue to advance the rights and equal participation of women in our economy. That is the only way we can truly eradicate the challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

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