MINING is often considered in masculine terms - men work in mines; men drive trucks; men make decisions about development and resources. In fact, women and communities face the immediate impact of mining activity and are increasingly powerful in employment and other socio-economic decisions around mining. Women’s voices are important.
A report on Mining and Women in Laos and Thailand (edited by Nattavud Pimpa, RMIT University, Melbourne, 2015) highlights the many implications of mining on women at Sepon mine in Laos and Thailand. In this region overall, mining has brought positive benefits for women’s economic, social and political participation.
According to the report, more women are employed, have money to spend, have decision-making power within and outside households, and are attending village meetings as a direct impact of local mining.
At Sepon mine women make up 25% of the workforce in various positions - 40% hold managerial roles and about 27% of truck operators are women. At the peak of its operation capacity, Sepon was the second largest employer in Laos after the public sector. Household incomes have increased ten-fold since Sepon commenced operations in 2003. Mine salaries accrue to hundreds of millions of dollars, much of which is reinvested back into local businesses, building real wealth for communities.
With increasing spending power, the rate of children going to schools also increases. But, due to the increased pressure and demands from work, mining can also impact on women’s health. Along with positive development, social challenges are inevitable.
Echoing the findings in the report, Vilabouly community representatives Nui Oumahath and Houa Soulaseun, who live in the surrounding community to Sepon, agree mining has brought benefits, and also have clear expectations. “The mine has brought us benefits - we have work, our own business and a good income to raise our family,” said Ms Houa.
“We hope the company provides women with a range of training such as accounting, management and English language so women can easily find work when the mine closes,” said Ms Nui.
Since operations commenced in 2002, MMG LXML Sepon (LXML) has contributed over US$1.3 billion in direct revenue to the government through taxes, royalties and dividends. Other development programs provide opportunities for women and the community:
LXML has successfully developed local employees – 94% are Lao and 25% are women. The company’s employment policy acknowledges the benefits of encouraging diversity. Sepon offers preferential recruitment of local people, which helps maintain the support of local communities. On top of this, training and development is provided to employees in various disciplines, scholarships to Australia, and on-the-job training to build future professionals.
LXML has launched interventions to support women - in response to family needs, rosters were shortened from 28/14 days to 14/7 days, providing breaks and quality time with family. The fatigue management policy gives employees the right to inform supervisors and rest when they feel tired. Employees are entitled to a free annual health check-up and access to gym and sporting facilities to ensure they are physically fit, and to ensure mental wellbeing. Through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) employees can also seek advice on personal and work issues. At LXML, safety is first and includes care for the well-being of employees and host communities.
LXML works in close cooperation with the government and other development partners on community development programs to lay the foundation for a successful post-mine economy.
“Our approach is founded on a deep respect for community aspirations and genuine development benefits, particularly for women and children,” LXML general manager Suresh Vadnagra said.
Key community development programs supporting women and children include:
Improved maternal and child health through the ‘1000 Day Project’ - LXML is extending a unique US$1.5 million partnership with the Lao Ministry of Health, the Lao Women’s Union and UNICEF to address maternal and child malnutrition. The project has reached 180,000 children under five, 67,000 children under two and trained more than 1000 employees of the Lao Women’s Union. MMG has allocated an additional US$1.4 million for a second phase of the project, which will reach an additional 135,000 children in vulnerable districts, including in Savannakhet Province.
LXML invested US$270,000 on a Mother and Child Health project with the Burnet Institute between 2008 and 2011. 2016 also marks the 12th year of LXML’s support to the Annual Lao Paediatric Conference, organised by Health Frontiers, with the aim of improving paediatric health care by sharing best practice. LXML has provided extensive support to Vilabouly District Hospital, Savannakhet Hospital, and Mittaphab Hospital in Vientiane including purchasing ambulances, new wards, water supply systems, incubators for premature births, and other essential medical equipment.
Improved sanitation through access to clean water systems - LXML has invested millions in water systems in close partnership with the Lao Government, local contract partners and the United Nations. In February 2016, LXML opened a US$1.5 million clean water supply system in Vilabouly district. The project will benefit 7000 people in four villages close to Sepon mine who now have year-round access to clean water.
Improved livelihood through access to basic services - In close consultation with the community leaders in 42 villages, LXML has invested millions of dollars in the Village Development and Community Trust Fund to build schools, roads, latrines, fish ponds, and potable water, benefiting more than 14,000 people.
“Now going to the toilet is easier and more convenient. And it is clean!” said Mrs Ketkeo Bounpasong and her family members from Nahoy village, Vilabouly district.
Improved income generating opportunities - LXML’s business development programs aim to diversify income opportunities, create a climate for new businesses to flourish and assist building sustainable livelihoods for the community beyond mine closure.