A New Attempt To Crack Open Africa's Mining Industry To Women

Around Africa's Great Lakes region, the precious metals industry is not getting the most out of its mines. One way to improve the industry would be to include more women in the work force -- but resistance runs deep.

Mining in Kailo (Julien Harneis)
Mining in Kailo (Julien Harneis)
Emmanuel Ngendanzi

KAMPALA - Women are still a rare sight in the lucrative mining industry in Africa's Great Lakes region, as local traditions, religion and even the law block their entry. Zambia however has become the great exception that helps better understand how things might change.

"Often marginalized, women occupy a second-class position in the mining sector, where men represent 95 percent of the workforce," says Zacharie Nzeyimana, a researcher for the Great Lakes Initiative on AIDS (GLIA), speaking during a legal workshop at the recently held International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (CIRGL).

Officials are aiming to revise national mining legislation so mining sites can make the most out of the local population -- from women in particular. A regional study, made public in February, reported that mining sites were not maximizing the resources that come from minerals or precious stones ; issues around the labor force were seen as partly to blame.

Women are often the most exploited. In Tanzania, for example, women who work in the mining sector live in destitute conditions and are subjected to long working hours and harassment. Shamsa Diwana, general secretary for the Tanzania Women Miners Association (TAWOMA), says that in 2010, the Tanzanian parliament approved a law that allows women to fully participate in mining work, which they were previously unable to do.

Still, it has been difficult to put the law into practice because many are still unaware that this measure even exists. Others simply want to keep women out. "Men are convinced that a female presence in the mines could hinder performance -- for example, when a woman is on her period," Diwana said.

According to Zacharie Nzeyimana, this superstition is also found in the coltan mines of Uganda, where only five percent of the 180,000 employees are women. Women are limited to chores such as cleaning, washing precious stones, cooking, secretarial work and other non-technical and non-lucrative activities.

A Zambian exception

However, women themselves have a role to play in bringing about change. "You must prove that you're capable of doing what is demanded," declares Pauline Sialumba Mundia, a representative of the women's association Zambia Small Scala Mining Association.

With a proud smile, she points to the top qualifications of women workers in the mines around the Zambian city of Lumwana. They are so well integrated in the mining sector that they have even become owners of mining companies, with total annual revenues near $35 million. Ownership allows them to easily negotiate with the government, expanding on the success that began after craft-mine exploitation was legalised for women.

According to Mundia, the nearby Luapula mines, which are mostly smaller operations, have a female majority in a workforce of 5,000. These women have gone on to use the resources to establish modern hospitals and schools in the surrounding areas.

Still, the custom of having to ask their husbands' permission to go to work is slowing the expansion of women in the industry. In Zambia, men still often refuse to let their wives work.

Read the original article in French.

Photo - Julien Harneis

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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