Kampala, Uganda — Although women play a much bigger role in artisan and small-scale mining in Uganda, they are less recognized and generally get poor remunerations. Women in Mubende-Kassanda gold mines are striving to change the narrative as mining activities take shape in the area.
A 2018 study conducted by Global Rights Alert-GRA in the gold mining districts of Mubende and Buhweju indicates that a lot of female artisans are limited to petty work and rarely own gold pits, which leaves them with limited decision-making powers and control rendering them vulnerable to decisions from their male counterparts.
In Mubende, strong-minded female miners have grouped themselves in small associations found in different mining locations under their umbrella body Mubende Women Gold Miners Association-MUWOGOMA. The association aims at overcoming barriers to female participation in mining, address risks and hindrances.
Jaliah Zabibu Namatovu, the MUWOGOMA chairperson, says for all the years of artisan gold mining in Mubende, women were almost being locked out from most of the juicy areas and limited to washing, panning, sieving and sorting activities.
Namatovu, however, notes that with more exposure from civil society organizations and benchmarking excursions to other countries like Tanzania, they have realized that they can fully participate in the mining sector and also earn as like their male counterparts or even do better.
Namatovu says they are now deliberate efforts that will allow female miners to information, which has also been a great barrier since women are kept uninformed on the developments in the sector thus being exploited.
Lukia Namuli, a female artisan gold miner, notes lack of finance as one of the challenges that was holding them back as the activities require huge investment for better returns. She however says they are planning to solve this challenge by creating a pool of capital, which will help to acquire equipment.
Several women interviewed by URN were optimistic that by forming associations they may see positive changes and gain their livelihood from the mines. However, some of the women, say the move might benefit a few woman, most probably the leaders.
Meliam Mukabarisa, another female artisan miner, says that even after joining their efforts, the female miners have remained weak and in dare need of support from the government in terms of subsidized equipment, favorable policies with some directly focusing on gender-related issues and access to loans at lower interest rates.
"Women are the blood of the mining sector, which has proved that it can cause a big impact on the growth of our country. Why can't they provide us with favorable conditions? By the way, we don't need free money as in donation, all we need is capacity building, subsidized equipment and affordable loan period," says Mukabarisa.
Besides, equipment and funding, female miners are worried about their safety while operating in the mine and the widespread use of mercury. Mukabarisa says that given the fact that more females operate in washing they are exposed to mercury which they have heard that it is dangerous to their health.
Winfred Namukwaya, the Kassanda Senior Labour Officer, says that in the past, women suffered a lot of injustices ranging from no pay and underpayment despite the heavy workload given by their employers, which at times forced some into prostitution.
She notes that her office working with other authorities will ensure that the mines become a safe place for female workers and also address labor-related issues.