After three months of ongoing strike action in the South African platinum sector, mining law specialist Debbie Ntombela believes that the solution could be as simple as encouraging more women to enter the mining industry at a worker level.
“Women are loyal, diligent and hardworking and if there were more women in the industry, I believe we wouldn’t have all these strikes,” she said. “The first thing we think of is, I have a child and I need my salary.”
However, although inequality in the sector has been actively addressed, women are still facing challenges relating to ill-fitting protective clothing and no suitable physical facilities. Even outright sexual harassment remains a primary concern, says Ntombela.
“All over the world, mining is a male-dominated industry and I think South Africa is leading in terms of developing women in mining,” she said. “That said, it’s a tough place to be, whether you are in the public or private sector. You always have to prove that you are 10 times better than your male counterparts.”
Men are struggling with the concept that women are able to work in mines due to the physical challenge that such operations present, Ntombela stated. “The physical conditions women work under are often inappropriate. You still find ablution facilities that both genders are expected to use, creating circumstances that are ripe for harassment.”
She believes that it will take another decade for women to truly experience equality in the mining environment, especially underground.