Without many options for employment Hwange women are choosing to leave the town. Efforts to make the mining sector friendlier and more inclusive are not yielding the expected results—yet.
Pauline Banda, a young woman in her early thirties sits attentively at a roadside vegetable market in Lwendulu, a high-density suburb in the colliery town of Hwange. She sits under the scorching sun watchful of any suspicious movement by her fellow vendors—a potential signal of the presence of police officers. The roadside markets are unregulated.
After two years in the trade and numerous arrests by the Hwange Colliery and Zimbabwe Republic Police, Pauline is contemplating on migration in search of better opportunities.
“After finishing my A’ Level I went for a certificate in Hotel Catering and Food Technology. But, since then, I have never been employed despite several attempts in different mining companies. I now want to go to Victoria Falls, maybe I will get a job,” says Banda.
Hwange is dominated by coal mining companies. Mining companies’ world over provide job opportunities to both the educated and uneducated members of the community. But young women in Hwange are struggling to penetrate the industry.
Zimbabwe Diamond and Allied Minerals Workers Union (ZDAMWU) Secretary General Justice Chinhema notes that the mining sector is male dominated. “We feel there is a need to break this barrier. It is worse in Hwange; you hardly see female workers engaged. Most of the few women in jobs are employed as guards, janitors or general hands,” says Chinhema.
The economic challenges in the country faced by many young people are forcing young women into migration. Findings by this publication indicate that, both in urban and rural areas, young women are leaving the town and villages to look for greener pastures in Victoria Falls, Bulawayo, and South Africa.
Trade Unions based in Hwange have bemoaned this situation where many local mining companies are not closing the job inequality gap. Labour expert, Justice Chinhema says gone are the days when work is allocated on gender basis.
“These days there is no work that women cannot take. Gender equality has to be applied and every person, if qualified for a job, should be given an opportunity. As ZDAMWU we have created a Woman, Youth and Gender department to promote gender equality, equity and empowerment of women and young workers in the mining industry. It is also pushing for the ratification of the ILO convention 190 which deals with sexual harassment,” says Chinhema.
The 8th Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC) 2020 – Urban Livelihoods Assessment notes that urban areas provide several socio-economic opportunities for many people but are also becoming increasingly precarious places to live in, especially for low-income residents. The COVID-19 pandemic and its debilitating impacts on livelihoods has exacerbated the situation by eroding community coping capacities. The assessment indicates that the proportion of female headed households in 2020 was 50%, an increase from 2019 (26%). The proportion of households’ heads who were not employed increased to 49% from 29% in 2019 and there was a decrease in the proportion of household heads who were formally employed from 36% (2019) to 20% in 2020.
Sifiso Moyo, a young mother describes how early pregnancy halted her dreams leaving her without many options; she had to leave her baby soon after birth and seek opportunities outside the country. “I could not find a job locally. So, I did some piece jobs until I obtained a passport. When I went to South Africa, I left my child with my grandmother. I support the family back home,” says Sifiso.
Another young mother Sibongile Ncube says, after several attempts of vising the Chinese mining companies to no avail she thought of migrating to Bulawayo. However, again, things are not rosy. “I am working as a babysitter in Bulawayo. I am being underpaid, so I cannot afford all the needs of my two children and my widowed mother. My mother gets a paltry monthly pension allowance,” says Sibongile.
ZDAMWU says another repelling factor for young women in local mines is fear of sexual harassment. “We have been receiving complaints of sexual harassment perpetrated against female workers. And by creating the department of Gender, we have created a platform for all women working in the mining sector to report those abuses. In Hwange district only 1 % of the employed workers are women and the abuse is so rampant,” says Chinhema.
Greater Whange Residents Association Chairperson Fidelis Chima acknowledges that Hwange has job opportunities considering the number of coal mining companies that are mushrooming in Hwange.
“However, the challenge is that the working conditions are toxic, and salaries are poor. If these companies are to pay reasonable salaries and improve working conditions our young women will get opportunities,” notes Chima.
Source: The Citizen Bulletin