Sisters set the pace at Lonmin mines

Date: January 1, 1970
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Lonmin Platinum Mine in Rustenburg has employed 800 women who work underground in different fields. The mine plans to reach the 10% target for women employees set by the Mining Charter by 2010.

This article may be used to:
1. Showcase best practices in gender aware reporting.
2. Provide an example of a gender aware economic report.
3. Illustrate the point that there are women who have ventured into formerly male dominated fields such as mining.
4. Illustrate the diversity of roles that women can do.
Trainer’s notes
Recent years have seen more and more women venturing into male dominated professions like construction, business and mining. However, their accomplishments are not often reported on. This article highlights both the accomplishments, gains and challenges faced by women in the mining industry, especially those women who work underground. The headline of the story puts women at the forefront by saying ‘sisters set the pace’. They have assumed leadership roles and are no longer ‘followers of men’.  This article, which looks at the operations of Lonmin Mine in Rustenburg, South Africa, captures this change in the roles of women and men in South Africa. Mining is traditionally been considered a profession too physically difficult, dangerous and dirty for women, and as such has been largely dominated by men. In fact, the article points out that there mining laws did not allow women undergound.
Lonmin has a different story to tell as they try to reach the 10% target for women employees by 2010. This is a good example of a company that understands women’s capabilities and strengths as miners. This article also explores the challenges that women in the industry have to contend with on a day to day basis. The working environment itself is unfriendly to women. For example, high underground temperatures make working difficult, and while men are free walk around half naked, women are unable to do this, for obvious reasons. There are also myths held by miners that women underground will make the mines collapse, or that women somehow react to platinum. These myths make male miners and managers reluctant to work with women, or have them on their teams. Until recently, Lonmin did not have female changing rooms. However, they have recognised the need for this now that more women are working underground, and have made the necessary changes.
The article features two sisters who have both broken ground in the industry, one as the first black female geologist in South Africa, the other as a recruitment specialist with seven years experience who joined the mine to prove that women can be miners. They see mining as a great opportunity for young women. Profiling these women helps give a face to the 800-strong female workforce at Lonmin, and encourages other women to not be intimidated by the mining industry. The sourcing in the story is balanced with both men and women being given an opportunity to speak. The female miners are able to talk about their experiences as miners. The other people interviewed express their confidence in female miners. The picture accompanying the story shows a male and female miner working underground. These two appear as equals which in essence drives across the point that women are just as capable as men, and can work just as well in physically demanding jobs like mining.
Discussion questions
1. What does this article say about gender and the economy?
2. What is your comment on sourcing in the story?
3. What is your comment on the article’s headline?
4. Do you think women are just as capable as men to work underground? What assumptions do we as a society hold that make us reluctant to see women in mining?
5. The article mentions educating male miners on issues such as sexual harassment. What else can be done to help male miners accept women as equal partners underground?
Training Exercises
1.  Conduct a poll of young women and men in your community. What do they think about women in mining? Do they hold any assumptions about what women can and cannot do, or about the mining industry itself? Ask women if they would consider mining and why or why not? What do their answers tell you about common perceptions of the mining industry? How true are these perceptions? What can the industry do to change them?
2.   Traditional mining practises required a great deal of physical strength and endurance since most of the excavation was done by hand. These practises likely had a hand in defining mining as a solely male field. Find out how excavation is done today and what kinds of new technologies are being used. Given these technologies, are women today just as capable as men to do underground excavations and ‘dirty’ mining work?
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