SA's female miners forced to give sex for protection
The verbal and physical harassment they face daily is often fobbed off as part of mining culture, says a report
Women mineworkers are often placed under pressure to offer sexual favours in exchange for assistance with workloads, and fall victim to sexual harassment on a daily basis.
The shocking revelations were made in a report tabled before two of parliament’s portfolio committees which highlighted the treatment of women in the mining sector, where they face unequal opportunities and constant sexual harassment.
According to a policy brief by the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) – which was referred to the portfolio committee on mineral resources and the portfolio committee on women for consideration – there is a lack of commitment to fundamental and sustained gender transformation in the mining sector.
The policy brief was drawn from the results of an earlier assessment by the CGE of Sibanye Gold and Exxaro Resources, which was released in 2016.
“It would appear from focus-group discussions with some of the employees that on a daily basis females working underground face harassment, both verbal and physical, which often either goes unreported or is excused as part of the culture of mining,” it said.
“During focus group discussions, participants revealed that sexual harassment was common in the workplace, with female mineworkers often placed under pressure to offer sexual favours to male colleagues in exchange for assistance with workloads or protection against unwanted advances from other male colleagues.
“Females who report incidents of sexual harassment appear to face stigmatisation and exclusion, which then leads to under-reporting. In addition, it would appear that sexual harassment is largely condoned and excused on the basis that it is an integral part of the ethnic cultures of some of the male mineworkers.”
The policy brief also showed that the general entry or intake of women as workers into the mining sector is still limited, and their entry into the higher echelons of the mining houses is even more restricted.
According to the CGE's assessment, at the end of the 2015 financial year Sibanye Gold had a total of 1,690 employees: the board and the executive were each made up of 13 members, of whom 12 (92.3%) were male; and the senior management category was made up of 57 members, of whom only seven (12.28%) were female.
For Exxaro Resources, information obtained on the membership composition of the two highest decision-making structures in the company also reflected a huge gap between men and women.
For instance, there were no female members appointed in top management while only 11 (19.64%) women out of a total of 56 employees were appointed at senior management level.
“The lack of knowledge and understanding or ignorance, especially within the middle or supervisory and senior management levels, of gender mainstreaming and transformation, was obvious,” the report states.
“This was exacerbated by lack of personnel with relevant training and skills to drive gender mainstreaming programmes and initiatives within the companies, and lack of appropriate internal gender educational awareness programmes for workers.”
In response to questions by Times Select, Sibanye-Stillwater said it is committed to being an equal-opportunity employer.
“We have a sexual harassment policy which is implemented across all levels without fear or favour. Sexual harassment is not accepted and will be thoroughly and fairly investigated and dealt with according to company policy. Anonymous reporting systems for safety related issues and other code of conduct violations, including sexual harassment, are available 24 hours and have been widely communicated,” said the company’s investor relations boss, James Wellsted.
“Our Women in Mining initiatives are specifically in place to improve diversity and inclusion at all levels of our organisation. The commission appears to refer to the lack of a holistic central gender mainstreaming policy which encompasses all aspects of gender diversity. We do have the necessary policies in place, but there are different policies that address different aspects pertaining to Women in Mining.”
Exxaro’s executive head of human resources Vanisha Balgobind said the company has made “significant progress in its transformation journey”.
Women representation was now 42% at board level, 33% in top management, 11% in senior management and 31% in middle management.
Balgobind added that Exxaro has also implemented various safety strategies for its female employees, including rescue cages for the safety of underground female miners, self-defence courses and ongoing sexual harassment awareness campaigns for male employees.
“Exxaro has set targets to ensure that we improve the representation of women at all levels of the organisation, and we are aggressively working to achieve these targets.”