Artisanal Mining Industry Leaves Women on the Sidelines

6089 Views Kampala, Uganda

In short
In Nsango, Namayingo district, artisanal gold miners use the open-cast approach, where huge pits are dug, and holes made deeper into the rock formation. But of the 250 people involved in the artisanal mining in this village, only about 70 are women

Uganda’s budding mining industry is leaving women on the side-lines as many are challenged by the technology and the labour involved. Mining in Uganda is largely artisanal and uses rudimentary technology.

In Nsango, Namayingo district, artisanal gold miners use the open-cast approach, where huge pits are dug, and holes made deeper into the rock formation. But of the 250 people involved in the artisanal mining in this village, only about 70 are women.

None of the women is a miner. Instead, most of them are involved in buying gold ore from the male miners and processing it to get a few points of gold.

Jennifer Babita, one of the women at Nsango mining site, says that women cannot afford to go down in the pits to dig up the ore themselves. She therefore has to do with buying the soil or rock particles at 10, 000 shillings per basin, which she takes to the men who then wash it in water to separate the real mineral from the soil and rocks.

Sometimes, when she has enough capital, she buys a sack of the ore at about 70, 000 shillings. There is always the possibility of not finding any gold points in a whole sack of ore. On a lucky day, Babita makes about 20, 000 shillings from her gold, by selling each point at 8,000 shillings.  A point of gold is the size of a millet or sim-sim grain.

Martha Kagoya, another woman at the site, says that women would want to get involved in the core mining activities, but there are limitations because of the intensive digging and going deep into the holes. The miners work with simple digging tools like pick-axes, hoes and shovels.

Some of the women are involved in crushing the rocks into smaller particles, before they are ground into powder with milling machines.

Mutesi Madina, the Woman Councillor for Nsango Village to Buyinja Sub-county, says that the local government discourages women from going into the pits, to avoid risks such as rape. She thinks that if the activities grow and better technology is employed, perhaps then women can get into the heart of the business.

But even in Tanzania where the technology for small scale mining is quite improved, women do not participate much in the mining activities.

Hawa Kiranga is one of 127 women involved in small scale mining in Mererani Township in Arusha. She holds a Primary Mining License for an area of 9.93 hectares in a Tanzanite mine, and employed 7 underground staff, all of whom were men. But in 2010, government ordered her to halt activities at the site, asking her to upgrade the technology from the simple ladder going into the pit.

Kiranga says that while men are able to fix some of the simple pulley systems themselves, she cannot afford to do that. Her mine remains closed to this day.

Objective 5 of Uganda’s Mineral Policy (September 2000) is “to remove restrictive practices on women participation in the mineral sector and protect children against mining hazards”. Though government repealed practices which prohibited women from working underground, the rudimentary technology still keeps them out of the core of the industry.