Women in mining: Kazakhstan’s employment situation
Mining is traditionally considered as male-dominated or even patriarchal sector that requires bigger physical effort and endurance. Hence, does a significant gender gap still exists in Kazakhstan’s mining sector? Is it a natural phenomenon or it is not? Is that feasible for women to build an engrossing and highly-paid career in Kazakhstan’s mining sector?
Kazakhstan’s common gender equality framework
With respect to the importance of gender equality at the international level, in 1998, Kazakhstan accessed to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women adopted in 1979. Moreover, the Republic ratified 6 International Labour Organisation’s Conventions, including the Equal Remuneration Convention.
Kazakhstan’s gender policy includes several main points: achieving gender-balanced participation in power structures, ensuring equal opportunities for economic independence, developing and promoting business, creating conditions for the equal realization of rights and responsibilities in the family, ensuring protection from gender-based violence.
In addition, in 2007, Kazakhstan joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative which also provides reports on gender equality aspects.
Furthermore, a key component for the country’s gender equality agenda is the state’s guarantee of equal rights and equal opportunities for men and women of 2009 that constituted by the Law. According to the article 4 of this Law, “differentiation, dismissal, preferences and limitations at the workplace in respect of persons, who need social and legal protection, are not considered discriminatory; they are not determined by the requirements specific to the form of activity or the conditions of special care by the State”.
According to the principle proclaimed by the Law, Kazakhstan adopted the list of prohibited jobs for women (Order No. 944 of the Minister of health and social development of the Republic of Kazakhstan on December 8th, 2015), which actually includes 219 positions, including mining, metalwork, construction.
The list was revised in 2018 and some positions were abrogated it, despite its international commitments to scale up the support of gender priorities in mining. On the one hand, it might be considered as Kazakhstan’s discriminatory law hitherto excluding women from professions of interest to them (such as truck driver as if it has a weight more than 2.5 tons on inter-city trips or fireman if fire achieves height more than 10 meters). But on the other hand, the prohibition arises in relation to mining potential damaging effects on women reproductive health. Not withstanding evolving gender regulatory frameworks in the energy sector, mining in Kazakhstan remains male-dominated sector.
Mining for female talents
Kazakhstan’s mining sector currently suffers from a shortage of trained capacities, owing mainly to the workforce ageing. Therefore, “mining for talents” based on gender diversity and equality is initiated.
Nowadays, the necessary skills in Kazakhstan’s mining sector have changed dramatically. The production process became automated and requires not physical abilities, but mostly technical excellence qualifications. Women, in terms of the employed population, have on average a higher educational level than their male colleagues.
Statistics show that approximately 19% of 340 000 women working in the different branches of industry in the country have a job in the mining and metallurgical sector. In the nuclear industry 22%, it’s a large number of employees holding senior positions. Regarding the electricity sector, the proportion of women is more than 27%. The proportion of women on the board in the Ministry of Energy is 42%. To sum up the above statistics, it clearly illustrates that the country is striving for gender-balanced mining politics.
Nevertheless, the opportunity to build a career for women remains limited in the segmentation of Kazakhstan’s labour market along regional and gender dimensions.
Gender stereotypes to eliminate in the mining
In the meantime, the leadership positions in all types of commercial structures remain in the vast majority of patriarchal cases. The lowest percentage of women managers is observed in the mining and quarrying industry, is around 11.6% over 2 291 companies. subsequently around 12.6% over 867 companies in the field of electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning.
For example, in the north and the south parts of Kazakhstan, there is a strong conviction that the responsibility for feeding the family lies with men. The majority of women tranquilly accept this situation. The reason for this might be both a lack of information about their rights and opportunities and a central concept of positions’ succession in Kazakhstan’s mining sector (family-bridging factor).
The most common stereotype, as it was mentioned above, is that women are not interested or not able to undertake physically demanding or technical tasks. Another stereotype is that women lack the emotional stability to be effective leaders or they compelled to stay at home and take care of their children. It is evident that such factors as pregnancy and childbirth imply the need for a long period of maternity leave and additional expenses for employers. This fact also affects the industrial process’s continuity and performance.
Moreover, women who desire to work in the energy industry might face severe obstacles such as harassment and gender-based violence, which are often not taken seriously and considered to be a part of the workplace culture.
With respect to salary, it is not worthy that women earn, on an average 30% less than men in the same positions. The only favourable women’s positions, in gender terms, relate to the geological sector, where men’s positions, by contrast, have declined.
However, today, as the sector becomes more mechanized and less reliant on heavy physical work, traditional arguments for a historically male-dominated sector that relied on stereotypical reasoning are becoming even more obsolete.
Besides, there are bright examples of female engagement (for instance, a survey called “100 Global Inspirational Women in Mining”) that challenged stereotypes and encourage the others to consider the mining as a successful women’s career choice. Another example of breaking gender-based stereotypes might be taken from the McKinsey Global Institute’s research which shows that gender-balanced team creates more financial returns, better solutions and improved financial performance for the company and for the global economy. It is remarkable that worldwide GDP would increase by $12 trillion in 2025, if the companies bridged gender gaps.
Perspectives of gender-balanced mining in Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan is an actively developing industrialized country and was ranked as 72nd country in the Gender Equality Index 2019 (out of 144 countries) which dropped significantly (28 positions below) in the past five years.
The analysis demonstrated that, despite the progress in the gender-balanced field, Kazakhstan’s women participation in most cases remains small, because of the dangerous/severe working conditions for their health.
It might be concluded that it is difficult to define a country that has achieved full gender equality, seems to be unattainable in its entirety. The patriarchal approach exits and considered as a natural phenomenon, as long as the protection of family, motherhood and childhood is a constitutional duty.
In general, the initial step towards the guarantee of equal opportunities for women and men in extractive industries should involve the abrogation of discriminatory laws and gender-based protective legislation. Otherwise, a significant number of women make a decision to leave the industry before they can be moved to management or board positions. This would jeopardize the intake of new talent and skills into Kazakhstan’s mining sector.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that the role of Kazakhstan’s women in the mining industry strengthens in view of an ageing workforce segment affected by a lack of young skilled professionals for replacement. Today, despite the identified challenges in this article, women have the opportunity to pursue a stable career in Kazakhstan’s mining sector.
Keywords: mining, extractive industry, gender equality and diversity, employment, women, Kazakhstan