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Published on 21 May 2019

Women in Zimbabwe are breaking barriers to economic empowerment within the country’s mining and extractives industry, write Christian Aid’s Jane Machira and Sheila Murimoga.

Christian Aid has been working to ensure the inclusion of women in the mining sector in Zimbabwe and advocate for a level playing field for them to thrive. With funding from Irish Aid and working closely with our local partner Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association  (ZELA), Christian Aid is helping women to make big strides towards competing favourably with men in the industry.

We are doing this through mentorship schemes, capacity building, creating links between artisans and small-scale miners, education on tax, environmental sustainability and policy awareness.

On a recent visit in Bulawayo, we met 20 of these women who were participating in a mining academy on tax compliance organised by ZELA and facilitated by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority. We spoke to the women to find out how they have benefited from the mining business, and the challenges and opportunities they encountered. 

Taking a holistic approach

The women are miners and entrepreneurs with a difference. They have adopted a holistic approach to mining to ensure sustainability for future generations. They combine mining with farming, and with what they earn from the mines they buy livestock, educate their children, enlarge their farming, pay school fees for orphans, and give back to the community in tremendous ways.

It was evident that many women are doing well in business, at different levels. Others told how the journey to mining had been difficult and transformative. One woman told us how she had given up her job of cleaning toilets to take up mining.

Another woman, introduced to us as Mrs Ncube, began mining in 2015. ‘From the mining I have built a home, bought a house for my two girls. I have 16 herd of cattle, 41 goats, indigenous chickens and broilers,’ she said. ‘I am a farmer. There is a living in mining. I have partnered with 100 workers who make a living out of it.’ 

The women act as mentors to one another. One of them is Rose, who has become a successful artisanal miner. ‘My desire is for women to be raised up,’ she told us. 

From the mining I have built a home, bought a house for my two girls. I have 16 herd of cattle, 41 goats, indigenous chickens and broilers

- Mrs Ncube.

Challenging a male dominated industry

But women miners in Zimbabwe still face many challenges, perpetuated by structural inequality and stereotypes of women’s roles in society. The conception that the mining sector is preserved for men has excluded women from decision-making processes and women are not yet considered to be an equal and capable player in the sector.

Women miners can experience negative health impacts caused by inadequate equipment and protective clothing – respiratory problems, mercury poisoning, silicosis and more. Mercury is particularly poisonous for pregnant women and it increases the chances of infant mortality, maternal deaths and fetal abnormalities. 

Women miners – particularly single women – face sexual harassment and abuse, threats and bullying from male counterparts. However, we have heard how many women are now gaining the power and confidence to deal with these issues. 

Breaking through the barriers

There are financial barriers too, with women finding it difficult to get loans from banks to help them expand their artisanal mining activity, or not knowing how credit processes work. Without capital, women miners simply can’t buy the mechanised equipment to operate their mines. 

Among the most serious constraints for women are a lack of technical expertise and not knowing the procedures and policies to formalise a mining claim. 

Women miners are already breaking through the barriers and standing out as formidable entrepreneurs and change makers in Zimbabwe but more can be done.

Christian Aid and ZELA are addressing some of these challenges and barriers, but structural policy-advocacy work is needed to give women a level playing field and enable them to invest and benefit more from the mining and extractives industry. 

For more information about our country programmes, visit our work in Zimbabwe