At the centre of the effects of COVID19 pandemic were/are the women and young girls in the mining communities of Namayingo district in eastern Uganda, whose social and economic activities were far adversely affected by the restrictions to prevent the spread of the pandemic compared to their male counterparts. These women and girls were initially involved in supply of food to the mines, gold panning, selling protective gear, managing lodges some of which were among the first activities to be restricted to limit congestion in the mines. From time to time, the women and girls also were involved in taking supplies to neighboring islands and at times across the borders. All such activities were affected by the closure of borders and limitations on transport options.
Along with the aforementioned challenges came the issue of teenage pregnancies among young girls of ages 14 years and below who were no longer attending school but living amidst idle men and young boys that resorted taking drugs, illegal and unsustainable fishing and other activities as a way of managing boredom and fending for their survival during the lockdown. As a result of these scenarios, the mining community witnessed increased cases of domestic violence especially that against women and children which community members linked closely linked with the idleness and increasing poverty among families due to the pandemic.
Amidst all the challenges, Kyoyima Muto Bukhana Artisanal Miners Women’s group centrally located in Buhere Village, adjacent to Buhere Mine, Bukhana Sub county, Namayingo district exhibited strong signs of resilience. The members lived on hope that coming together as women would help them support each other and access resources and utilise opportunities around them despite the fact they always suffer a at the hands of the community and their male counterparts. One member of the group expressed that they always believed they would overcome Covid-19 and effects if they stood together. Despite the restrictions, the group members were able to undertake some activities including planning and drawing their rules and guidelines, sensitization of fellow women on how manage and cope with the low incomes during the Covid-19 period, counselling members against domestic violence and how to manage young girls as well as discussing other alternatives of sources income during the tough times.
Women further collectively gathered food merchandise, farm goods and lobbied the mine owners and transporters to transport their food to markets as a whole as opposed to individuals as was before. More to that, mine managers, transporters want to see us organized to allow us access to the mines and transport our farm products respectively. “Of course along came some challenges for instance we were used to village meetings which are now a bit hard and the use phone calls meant airtime and at times network was also not reliable for us to communicate easily, so we found ourselves doing door to door communications from time to time.
“We appreciate Action Aid-Uganda for facilitating the formation of this women group through which we can collectively advocate and we hope in future we access government programs such as the Women Empowerment Program (WEP) and EMYOOGA which was recently launched by the president among others”-Chairperson of the women group. We hope that through the group we shall be able to advocate for recognition, better working spaces in terms of pay, respect for our involvement in the mines and access to markets even when pandemics like these hits. One of the things the group hopes to strongly advocate for is the signing of work agreements by male bosses with women before they are given assignments to prevent unfair payments and at times sexual harassment among others.
Evidently, AAIU has largely contributed to change in these mining communities especially with regard to women social justice. Through this, AAIU facilitated platforms for discussions between the government entities and the miners especially women in mining to voice out their concerns, conducted sensitization meetings on group formation and dynamics, records management, financial literacy to adapt to unforeseen changes and build resilience. And as such women groups such as the Kyoyima Omuto Women’s Group and Nanjala Women’s Group have emerged and also formed – a VSLAs to save and access quick and cheap credit to create and boost their small businesses. Several women have testified to being able to meet household necessities, pay school fees, constructed houses and collectively accessed markets for their minerals and produce.
Undoubtedly, the women are proud of having formed women specific group to be able to advocate for rights respect, sustainable mining, inclusion of women in key mining activities, access development opportunities on women, being included on district and sub county Covid-19 task forces and joining up with the men in the struggle for formalization as evidenced by Namayingo District Artisanal and Small Scale (ASM) association and joining the UGAASM & Quarry. The groups also has plans of acquiring mineral rights and not just serving their male counterparts.