Colombia embraces women in emerald mining

Materials World magazine
27 Nov 2018

Fura Gems has launched the first all-women wash plant in a move the company believes will help provide greater support for women in the mining industry.

The wider mining industry has yet to move away from its heavily masculine image – much of the discussion at the IOM3 2nd Russia-UK Dialogue centred on urging further steps to modernise the industry’s reputation (see page 64 for more information). But strides have been made by Fura Gems, Canada, which will launch the mining industry’s first all-women wash plant at the Coscuez emerald project in Boyac´a, Colombia, as part of its corporate social responsibility programme.

Women in Colombia have worked predominantly in the informal mining sector for several years, but have been restricted to barequeras – a term derived from gold panning and used to describe women who wash tailings – in this industry, it describes the process of searching for rough emeralds. Within Fura specifically, women have previously only been employed in administrative roles, general services and kitchen staff.

However, the company has announced plans to install a new wash plant at the Boyac´a mine, with an annual processing capacity of 240,000 tonnes and it will be staffed exclusively by women. This follows Fura Socialization Program findings in which the company claims female respondents expressed a desire to be more active in emerald mining and employment within Fura.

Dev Shetty, CEO of Fura Gems, said, ‘We are delighted that local women in Coscuez are contributing in such a vital way to the work of Fura Gems. They have been continuously demonstrating their skills and competence at Coscuez, and in doing so, they are promoting a cultural transformation that challenges the previous perception of their role in mining.

‘We believe women in West Boyac´a are a pillar of society in the area and that these opportunities help reflect the vital, strong and active role women continue to play within their local communities. It is exciting to hear them talking about their jobs at the Coscuez emerald mine with so much pride and dedication.’

When speaking with Proactive Investors, Shetty added that, despite the wash plant’s function, women will also be employed in the geology, security and engineering teams. Initially, at least 30 women will be employed at the plant and, at time of writing, 15 female employees are undergoing training in material feeding, picking, loading, security, pump and equipment management, and electrical repair training is said to have already begun.

Typically, women have been substantially underrepresented in the mining industry globally, and often face institutionalised obstacles. According to Wilhemina Manaso, Mine Manager at BHP, legislation prevented women from working underground in South Africa as recently as the 1990s, and although steps have been taken to rectify the imbalance, hiring women in the mining sector has been focused on what Manaso termed ‘female roles such as office staff’. 2017 data from the Charter of Mines, South Africa, showed that women represented 13% of the sector within the country. Nowadays, there are numerous organisations that aim to promote women in the sector, including the prolific Women in Mining, which opened its first entity in Colorado in 1972.

Fura is not the only mining organisation aiming to hire more women. Fidelity Printers and Refiners, a gold buyer in Zimbabwe, has assigned US$20m to help support women in mining as part of its Gold Development Initiative Fund. Meanwhile, the Coscuez project is expected to have a resource estimate by the close of 2018, and the all-women wash plant is signposted to open in Q1 2019.