Explaining gender discrimination and sexual harassment for women in the mining sector

By Nomathemba Ndlovu

Gender discrimination and sexual harassment could affect women’s psychological health, generating stress-related reactions such as emotional trauma, anxiety, depression, anger and low self-esteem and also affect their physical health, causing stress-related diseases such as sleep disorders, headaches, stomach problems and ulcers (Mining Safety, 2013)

According to Pons and Deale (2010) sexual harassment is regarded as ‘unwanted conduct of a sexual nature’ and may include ‘unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct’.

  • Physical conduct of a sexual nature refers to all unwanted physical contact, for example, brushing up against a person, touching a person, forced fondling (Grobler, Wärnich, Carrel, Elbert and Hatfield, 2011) and may also include sexual assault and rape (Pons & Deale, 2010). Going down the shaft, in her helmet and overall, her body is fully covered, but his eyes are piercing right through the overall, all he can just think about is having her in his arms, being inside of her. He moves closer to her as if the moving elevator does not have enough space for both of them. He stands behind her breathing heavily down on her neck. He taps her slightly and she slowly but vigorously pushes him away, as if he does not know what his intentions are he shouts at her, because she is a women, she wants to keep her job, she has to feed her family, she is the bread winner she quickly apologizes for his mistake.
  • Verbal forms of sexual harassment include, among others, unwelcome innuendoes, suggestions and hints, comments with sexual overtones (Pons & Deale, 2010), sexual stories or jokes, whistling and repeatedly asking someone out (Grobler et al., 2011). Working for her orphans, left behind by her husband. Under the scorching sun, on a dry dusty land, she bends to dig, she is sweating so that her children can survive the cruel economic situation. He passes by and says “Mai makabatana”, “Women you are well built/ you have a beautiful structure”. She quickly jumps up, she is afraid to bend and dig, she is now self-conscious is it a crime to be an African woman, tears run down her scotched cheeks, questions in her mind. Why me, can’t women work for their children, how then am I supposed to provide for them.
  • Non-verbal forms of sexual harassment refers to unwelcome gestures, including staring at someone, sending email messages of a sexual nature (Grobler et al., 2011) and the unwelcome display of sexually explicit pictures and objects (Pons & Deale, 2010). With the upper part of her overall tied around her waist, her string top is transparent, her breasts are almost gashing out of the small top, she sits on his desk asking for a day off because she has a headache. It is just 6 am, her shift just started. His blood is rushing through his body to concentrate on his manhood, he is trying to control himself but she is slowly touching her breasts in a suggestive manner. He loves his job, he has a wife and children. It does not mean he is weak or insensitive or an abuser but he is a man.

In many areas, women mine workers still encounter significant disrespect and worse. They must be able to go about their work, whether under or above ground, without having to worry that they will face discrimination, harassment or worse. They have a right and they have a voice, they are women they should be heard. As a man you are her voice and as a woman you are his voice. Let us work together to create zero tolerance to sexual harassment in the work place.


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