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Picture: 123RF/ANDRIY POPOV
Picture: 123RF/ANDRIY POPOV

The Minerals Council SA and our member companies are well aware that we operate in a context and climate where sexual harassment and gender-based violence (GBV) are not isolated incidents but are pervasive and present across SA. We know the gendered nature of the mining industry may mean that we have additional challenges to face in this regard. We are also absolutely clear that this is a state of affairs that is to be deplored, and that we are obliged to fight against it at every opportunity and without objection or equivocation.

As part of the Minerals Council Women in Mining (WiM) initiative, our teams are addressing the nature of the challenges the industry faces when it comes to sexual harassment and GBV and developing approaches that allow us to effectively address these. We are not so naive as to suggest we will be in a position to eradicate sexual harassment and GBV in the industry. Rather, we are  looking to play a role wherever and whenever possible in addressing its causes, developing education and prevention campaigns, engaging with our employees (who, because they are mainly men, may be perpetrators whether at work, at home or in the community), and supporting victims and survivors.

Most recently, the Women in Mining team has conducted research with employees across the industry on the effect GBV has on them at the workplace, the degree to which their employers protect and support them, and if they are aware of available support interventions in place at their organisations. The intention of the survey was to help inform the next steps for the Women in Mining initiative over the next three years. Some of the results will also be urgently flagged to member companies to take concrete and rapid action for resolution.

When it comes to infrastructure at the workplace, it is clear that infrastructure provision, including adequate lighting and safe toilet and changing facilities for women, is not yet as pervasive as it could be. On the other hand, a high proportion of respondents indicated that they feel mostly or always safe using their chosen mode of transport to and from work.

Survey responses also indicate that employees feel the support offered by employers to survivors of GBV — in terms of both physical and mental health — is effective. However, we have also noted indications that more awareness is required for employees about available workplace reporting initiatives, and also that companies need to work to develop employee trust in these. Work is also needed on encouraging employees who have experienced abuse to come forward to seek support without judgment. It would also be valuable to ensure that employees are aware of external support and refuges available to them if they experience GBV.

Attitudes towards women in the workplace, in communities and at home were also identified as resulting in differing levels of GBV-related risks. While a majority of employees indicated that women are unlikely to be abused by colleagues because of an increase in seniority at work, a significant number felt that increasing seniority would increase the risks of abuse by their partners. Worryingly, some agreed with the opinion that women accept abuse because they have a negative attitude towards themselves, and that women need to dress in a particular way to avoid unwelcome sexual attention.

These suggest there could be benefits for the industry as a whole, and for female employees in particular, to planning and rolling out training on attitudes towards women, as well as unconscious-bias training, at all levels of member companies’ employee contingents.

The Minerals Council board has reviewed the survey’s findings, and member companies will be working to address the identified shortcomings. In addition to work within the industry, we are also working with partners across SA, including the presidency’s National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence & Femicide, with which we and member companies are working on a project addressing the challenges of violence and harassment in the workplace.

The Minerals Council has been clear for some time that substantially increasing the number of women working in the industry is the only way to guarantee a sustainable and long-term future for our member companies and their employees. To attract, retain and develop those women, the industry must ensure the workplaces they enter are as safe and as supportive as possible. That is the responsibility of the Minerals Council, of our member companies, and of all those at every level of the mining industry.

I am committed to driving this transformation, in partnership with all my colleagues.

• Fakude is Minerals Council SA president and heads its Women in Mining initiative.

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