NOTICE | Mining, like other industries in South Africa, is tackling gender-based violence
Eradicating the issues plaguing the lives of women in mining requires not just words and policies, but concerted corporate action and intervention from the highest to the lowest, writes Minerals Council SA President Nolitha Fakude.
The scourges of gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF), sexism, racism and bullying in the South African mining sector and in our wider society are well known. While they are addressed, Rio Tinto’s recent report forces us to reflect on the depth of the problems women face in the sector and forces us to ask ourselves whether we are really doing enough to address them.
The legal introduction of women into mining in South Africa is relatively new – only two years after the dawn of our democracy – but the journey has been slow and difficult for many women. Today, 26 years later, women represent only 14% of the approximately 450,000 people who work in our mines.
As the number of women in mining grew, so did the manifestation of the societal ills of GBV, sexism, racism, violence and intimidation in our operations. The mining sector is not alone in facing this scourge and it will take a collaborative and innovative multi-stakeholder effort from all social partners and branches of government to address these issues.
While the mining industry may implement programs, policies and procedures to deal with these issues, the inability within society at large to address these issues makes it our duty to eradicate these unacceptable behaviors on the workplace an incredibly difficult task.
The Minerals Council South Africa, which has 79 member companies and associations representing 90% of the value of minerals mined each year, launched the Women in Mining initiative in 2020 to focus specifically on how to increase the number of women at all levels of the industry and to develop guidelines to address issues such as gender-based violence and sexism, for example.
Industry associations are like any affinity club in society – members are there to promote and protect each other’s interests to ensure that not only the industry thrives and thrives, but also to creating an attractive and sustainable industry in which to invest and operate, and being the employer of choice for the best talent a country has to offer.
This is done through the establishment of standards, guidelines and protocols regarding behavior and best practices that all members must adhere to and implement. This tends to be the easiest part of the challenge: getting all members of the association to work together to improve and set benchmarks for all members to achieve and maintain.
At the Minerals Council, the emphasis is on members learning from each other and supporting each other if benchmarks cannot be met or maintained, also by adopting ideas and strategies that generate the benefits we have for each other. fixed.
Only by sharing lived experiences, failures and successes of policies and programs addressing GBV, sexism, racism and bullying will we bring about the change we all strive for. .
The Rio Tinto Workplace Culture Report, the Australian mining company’s voluntary and external research report on the organization’s response to instances of sexual harassment, sexism, racism and bullying in its global operations, including South Africa, was a bitter pill to swallow.
The report reminds all of us in our organizations and associations to remain vigilant about how employees live the values we each aspire to and have put in place for the companies in which we work.
Many mining companies have policies, values and strategies in place to prevent GBV, sexual harassment, bullying and victimization in the workplace and to report these incidents in order to punish the perpetrators.
So why is it that in the 26 years that women have been allowed by law to work underground, we continue to face such blatant disregard for women’s rights to safe, fair and respectful work environments?
What does this say about our commitment as employers to creating these work environments free from sexism, racism and the many other isms that exist in society at large outside the mine gates?
Given the types of policies we implement, the training programs we run, and the statements we make about zero tolerance for anything that does not promote employee well-being, while allowing all employees to thrive in the workplace and live to their full potential, why are these deplorable acts still happening at our mines?
The view of many employees and other stakeholders on this is that the culture of disregard for the rights of women and those of LGBTIQI+ colleagues has been left to fester within organizations because perpetrators continue to wield power. at different levels of authority.
In mining, some abusers have influence over appointments and, inevitably, promotions, allowing them to trade sexual favors. The assignment of shifts and overtime often depends on formal or informal leadership from underground.
Offenders in these positions are further aided by their colleagues in a system that seems intent on turning a blind eye and encourages “mind your own business” as a currency of survival in harsh mining conditions where men still dominate the workplace.
These are sad realities that we must face within our sector if we are to succeed in eradicating these atrocities.
I also recognize that in most, if not all, companies in our industry, the CEO, general managers and mine supervisors will step in and hold perpetrators accountable through disciplinary procedures, which include sanctions, terminations and even legal action if necessary. .
Many listed companies have auditing firms that independently monitor whistleblower hotlines that go by various names like “speak up”, “your voice”, “asikhulume”. Mining companies try to ensure that employees use these confidential communication channels in the least threatening environment possible since messages can be transmitted anonymously.
We’ve come a long way, but there’s clearly still a long way to go. Eradicating the scourges that plague the lives of women in our industry requires not just words and policies, but concerted action and intervention by mining companies, from top to bottom, and the participation of all stakeholders and social partners to get the message across that there is zero tolerance for gender-based violence, sexism, racism and bullying in our operations.
We must be relentless in our commitment to creating physically and psychologically safe workplaces for both women and men. We are committed to going beyond slogans and campaigns, and ensuring that the culture shifts and mindset shifts required of all of us are pursued and embedded. No one goes to work to be hurt or humiliated. We will work tirelessly to make this commitment a reality.
Nolitha Fakude writes in her capacity as Chair of the Minerals Council South Africa and Chair of its Women in Mining Initiative.