Women Break Tradition at Burkina Faso Gold Mines

08 March 2020

Tene Konate's family cannot believe how she earns a living.

She drives a huge truck around the Hounde gold mine in Burkina Faso.

The 42-year-old single mother is one of 111 women working at the mine. Most of them were trained for jobs that more traditionally would go to men in West Africa. These jobs include carrying rubble, blasting and breaking up rocks, or driving heavy vehicles.

Rosalie Guiro Kulga, 30, excavator-conductor, poses for a photograph beside her engine at the gold mine site in Hounde, Burkina Faso February 11, 2020
Rosalie Guiro Kulga, 30, excavator-conductor, poses for a photograph beside her engine at the gold mine site in Hounde, Burkina Faso February 11, 2020

Konate and the other women are helped by a worldwide effort of mining companies to bring more women into the industry.

The industry has been slow to balance the number of male and female employees, and women remain greatly outnumbered by men. At Hounde, they make up just 11 percent of the workers. Canada's Endeavour Mining runs the Hounde mine.

After separating from her husband, Konate struggled to provide for her two young daughters. She took jobs cleaning houses, cooking and mixing material used for buildings. When she heard the mine was hiring, she traveled across the country by bus for an interview.

Today, Konate lives in a large house in Hounde. She is able to pay for her daughters' schooling.

"The mine has changed everything in my life," she said. "Everything."

She said that, at this time in her life, "I really don't need a man to do everything for me."

Many women in Burkina Faso face barriers to finding well-paid, skilled work. They also lack financial independence because more than half of women in the country marry before they turn 18.

Konate's first job at the mine was gathering waste. She was later trained to operate the trucks. The vehicle's wheels are so big that drivers must climb a ladder to get into the driver's seat.

"The fact that it is a man's job and that I can do it, really, I like that very, very, very much," she said.

Family and friends respect what she has done. Others find it hard to believe. "I told [my uncle], ‘yeah I really drive that machine'. Honestly he was very, very, very surprised to see I was doing that."

Sonia Nkiema oversees the work of more than 100 people at the mine pit. She said women sometimes face pushback, or problems, from the men. But she tells people around her to forget about the differences between men and women, and instead judge people based on the quality of their work.

"As I always say to my operators, as soon as you cross that gate, we are no longer women," Nkiema said. "We wear the same trousers as you do, we have become men, because we so the same job."

I'm Anne Ball.

Henry Wilkins with the Reuters news agency reported this story. Anne Ball adapted the story for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

In your country, what jobs do women do that are not traditional?

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Words in This Story

rubble – n. broken pieces of stone, brick

blast – v. to destroy, break apart, or remove (something) with an explosive

interview – n. a formal meeting with someone who is being considered for a job or other position

ladder – n. a device used for climbing that has two long pieces of wood, metal, or rope with a series of steps or rungs between them

pit – n. a large, deep hole in the ground from which stones or minerals are dug out

gate – n. a place in a wall or a fence that has a movable part which can be opened or closed like a door

trouser – n. a piece of clothing that covers your body from the waist to the ankle and has a separate part for each leg