Women in mining shine at exhibit for The Golden Line

This year’s OECD meeting on sustainable mineral supply chains hosted a special exhibition designed to raise awareness about challenges for female miners. Visitors entering the venue were greeted with large and colourful photographs of women mine workers from small-scale mining communities in Tanzania and Ghana. While they could not attend themselves, the women were there in spirit to share their achievements in both pictures and words.

Women of The Golden Line greet visitors at the OECD.

The photographs and stories of proud women miners were displayed on large canvases as part of The Golden Line exhibition organized by Solidaridad, SIMAVI and Healthy Entrepreneurs in April. The exhibition held at the OECD meeting in Paris was intended to support policymakers, private companies and other decision-makers in the mineral supply chain become more aware of the challenges that women workers face.

In order to improve the situation for female miners, they need the support of leaders in the supply chain. Since the hard-working women were unable to attend the international meeting to share their stories in person, Solidaridad brought them instead in pictures and words.

An intimate look at life in the mines

The message these women wanted to share could not be easily ignored. Each visitor entering the venue was confronted with the full beauty, strength and pride of women in the mines. Unlike many other awareness-raising campaigns on this topic, it was a deliberate choice to portray the women in their glory – groomed, healthy, well-dressed – against the signature yellow background of The Golden Line.

The photographs highlighted both their strength and femininity in contrast to the more common images of women in their old clothes, covered with dirt while working in the mines. Women miners appreciated being portrayed as full human beings with many facets, struggles and triumphs in their lives.

I am proud of this photo because it shows I am connected with other women in The Golden Line. We empower each other. – Eva Augustine from Nyarugusu, Tanzania

At the official opening of the exhibition, Ana Novik – head of the OECD Investment Division – emphasized that a picture can tell a thousand words and this exhibition makes the plea from women workers a powerful one.

We believe that evidence from the ground helps empower women in and around gold mines. It is in line with OECD’s due diligence work. That’s why we support The Golden Line and we're proud to host this exhibition. – Ana Novik, OECD Investment Division

A whole world through the lens of a camera

Elsa Scholte, global communications manager for Solidaridad, was one of the initiators of the exhibition and involved in taking the portraits of women workers in Africa. She spoke about how impressed she was with the hard-working women, and how difficult it is to do real justice to their complex situation with this exhibition.

”Making a portrait of someone always has a certain level of objectification. A human being is reduced to one photo and one quote. And these women are so much more than their picture! They are so much more than mine workers! They are women, mothers, daughters and church members. They have their businesses, their worries and their joys. And it’s much more than we could ever show here,” she said.

If you lack another perspective, it’s hard to have dreams. That’s not lack of ambition; it’s lack of access to a different picture that shows you a better future. – Elsa Scholte, Solidaridad Global Communications Manager

“Another thing that I learned while creating this exhibition was that hopes and dreams are in some way a privilege we take for granted. When asked about their dreams for the future, many of the women that we talked to looked kind of puzzled. What could I mean? They were mine workers. What other future could there be than this?

If you lack another perspective, it’s hard to have dreams. That’s not lack of ambition; it’s lack of access to a different picture that shows you a better future. In The Golden Line, we want to paint that picture for the women. Showing them that there are other options, that you can own a mine as a woman, that you can have your own business, that you can choose to plan your family,” Scholte said.

A mainstream message in support of female empowerment

The Golden Line project started with a fund established by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands to support female leadership development. Baukje Dijkstra, senior policy advisor of the women’s rights and gender equality taskforce, explained why the Ministry finds this programme so important.

“The Golden Line programme has contributed to the empowerment of women in the mining communities. It strengthened them to take up their role in society, the mines and within their family by taking part in decision-making, earning an income and climbing the social ladder," Dijkstra said.

Winnifrida Kanwa represented the women from Tanzania at the OECD meeting. As a technical advisor for Solidaridad, she works with the women in the mines on an almost daily basis. She explained to the audience more about the everyday reality of the women by highlighting one of the pictures from the exhibition.

“The work in the mines is really hard for women. They have to crush the stones without any protection that men then take out of the mines. They don’t get the same pay as men and face abusive language and sexual assaults,” she said.

Winnifrida Kanwa proudly shared positive examples of how The Golden Line is already making an impact in the daily lives of women working in mining.

Out of the 15 mines we worked with in Tanzania, 12 have now appointed women in leadership positions. – Winnifrida Kanwa, Solidaridad Technical Advisor

A campaign to raise awareness among men in Africa

In Tanzania and Ghana, photographs in The Golden Line style are used to raise awareness about the situation of women in mining. The campaign activities in the region are particularly focused on men in the mining communities. Improving the lives of these women starts with the men in their own communities.

Not only determined women but also influential men from the communities were photographed for The Golden Line: chiefs, singers, businessmen and politicians. They were all willing to be associated with the hopeful message and call on their fellow men to protect the rights of women. Their support and photographs are now visible throughout the communities on large billboards at important crossroads.

Eva Augustine (pictured at the beginning) is happy with the impact of the billboards. “Many people have been coming to me and asking the meaning of the message in the billboard. They want to
know about The Golden Line. I have been explaining to them about the programme and how I have improved my life from it. We are working with other women to empower them economically too,” she said.

The Golden Line is a travelling exhibition. If you are interested in hosting the exhibition and sharing this message at your event, company or organization, please contact Boukje Theeuwes at Solidaridad using the details below.

In The Golden Line programme, Simavi, Healthy Entrepreneurs and Solidaridad are working together to economically empower Ghanaian and Tanzanian women in and around gold mines. Join The Golden Line too and share your support!

Learn more about the risks, ethics and opportunities of artisanal and small-scale gold mining during our series of free interactive webinars in 2020. Find out more and register to attend.

Learn more about sustainability in mining