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Changing the narrative around women in mining

Women empowerment takes center stage in promoting the value chain of mineral resources, as efforts persist to empower women in all sectors, believing in their capabilities beyond stereotypes. This continues to shape Rwanda’s remarkable progress towards sustainable development.

It used to be very uncommon to witness a girl take the lead and excel in activities associated with the extraction of valuable minerals, diving into tens of meters below the Earth’s surface.

Today things are very different, young women are part of the mining sector focused on exploring the valuable mineral resources found in countless mines.

Men and women in the COMINYABU Cooperative strive to foster team work and cooperation

As journalists descended upon the precious mineral value chain initiative in the districts of Gicumbi, Burera, and Rubavu, they discovered that, despite being in the minority, the number of girls involved was steadily increasing, challenging the stereotype.

On this particular day, under the unforgiving sun, a young girl was wielding a pickaxe, determined to uncover the precious minerals hidden deep within the earth’s crust. She had emerged from the valley and headed towards the nearby mining site.

Ange Nadine Ashimwe is a dedicated worker in the Precious Minerals Value Chain Initiative at the Wolfram New Bugarama Mining (NBM) in the Burera District, where women make up over 30% of the 1,000 employees with 67 sites and a production capacity of 180 meters.

Ashimwe, who oversees safety in the mine, emphasizes that this sector’s growth has enabled them to contribute significantly, not only in production but also in breaking down stereotypes.

This young woman is committed to ensuring that gender does not pose an obstacle, and her presence in this male-dominated industry is a testament to her resilience.

She believes the girls can achieve this because “now it’s not just about a particular group where a woman cannot succeed. Some machines help us.”

She adds, “Although we are few, we have proven ourselves. We provide a yield like our male counterparts. I am proud to be part of this change, and it motivates me to do more. The first step is understanding. This is a very positive change happening these days.”

Each month, NBM extracts about 18 tons of tungsten. Ashimwe demonstrates that the girls are equally capable and contribute significantly to this ongoing success story, saying, “Today, it’s not about where a person works; it’s about what they can do. We provide value like our male counterparts. I take pride in my work, and it motivates me every day. The first hurdle is self-belief. This is a tremendous opportunity for all of us.”

Ashimwe notes that no doubt entering this sector came with challenges, and she is determined to address any issues that arise, advocating for a supportive environment.

Apart from NBM, another notable organization is the COMINYABU Cooperative, engaged in mineral resource valuation in Busoro sector, Nyamyumba District, Rubavu. This cooperative, which consists of about 300 women among its 700 employees, values more than 10 tons of minerals per month, including coltan, wolfram, lithium, quartz, and beryllium.

The leader of the COMINYABU Cooperative, Thaddée Byukusenge, mentions that in the last five years, no women were turned away from joining the cooperative, and they continue to welcome more each day.

He said, “I didn’t notice any gender when recruiting. We’ve overcome the fear of what it means to embrace gender equality. We’ve also changed our approach to the business (we call it ‘indani’) to include everyone, and it has proven beneficial in promoting collaboration and mutual respect.”

In a worn-out pair of khaki overalls and boots, Jeannette Nyiramahoro, who has spent two years in this field, tirelessly works in the mine, approximately 50 meters below the surface, alongside her female colleagues assisting their male counterparts in extracting mineral resources.

This mother of two emphasized the importance of unity in the workplace, emphasizing that their strength lies in collaboration. She states, “The work has room for growth. It’s about mutual support because even a younger colleague can teach me something. Here, we help each other maximize our potential.”

While the gender balance and inclusivity efforts continue to shape the precious mineral industry, the proportion of women in the workforce has risen to 16%, with 70% of the workforce comprising females, while in the precious mineral mining stations, out of 150 employees, 11% are women, and they are making their mark.

Young women are significantly taking part in the mining sector
As a measure to promote safety, wood is used to hold the mines
Nyiramahoro Jeannette is not afraid of mining and venturing deeper into the earth’s crust

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