Sun, Jan 21, 2018 - Page 15 News List

Women of Colombia’s emerald mines shine after smashing taboo

By Florence Panoussian  /  AFP, MUZO, Colombia

In the shifting beams of headlights, a geologist delicately chipped at the rock with his pick until a few emerald stones tumbled into his palm. He slipped the stones into a bag that Canizales sealed, before making her way back up to the surface.

Luis Miguel Ayala said he is unfazed by having a female supervisor in what until recently has exclusively been a man’s world.

“Anyone with the ability to use the tools can do this job,” the 23-year-old said, wiping the sweat from his eyes as temperatures in the shaft reached 35°C with 90 percent humidity.

Hiring women has been “a very successful policy,” MTC chairman Charles Burgess told reporters.

The women “are very hardworking, honest and proud of their work,” he said.

“Although, obviously there are jobs that are not suitable for them, because the work is sometimes very hard physically,” said the 62-year-old former US diplomat, who is married to a Colombian.

However, introducing women in the shafts was not easy. When the huge elevator that takes them down from the surface was operated for the first time by a woman, no miner would take the risk of going with her. An engineer finally stepped forward to set an example.

Two years later, about 15 women known as malacateras handle these machines, most of them widows or single mothers who left violent homes.

Adriana Perez escaped a poverty-ridden childhood to get to Muzo.

The day she could go down the mine, she said her “life changed.”

Her US$600 salary is more than twice the minimum wage. For her, the mine allows her to dream of a better future for her two children.

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