‘Forced to sleep with the mine bosses’: Women speak out about Australian mines

Women’s rights organisation ActionAid has linked Australian fossil fuel companies to women’s rights violations in low-income countries around the world.

“Fossil fuel extraction is a feminist issue,” said ActionAid Australia’s Head of Policy and Campaigns, Lucy Manne, upon the release of her organisation’s report Undermining women's rights: Australia's global fossil fuel footprint last week. 

An interactive map published alongside the report indicates 35 Australian-owned mines in operation and 115 in planning across low-income countries, with a particular concentration in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and South Africa.

Ms Manne says Australian mining companies are not bound by corporate accountability laws that ensure offshore operations do not adversely impact on local communities, and this lack of regulation can be linked to “an increase in gender-based violence, HIV rates, chronic health problems, food and insecurity, and unpaid labour” among local women.

Lorraine Kakaza from the campaign group Women Affected by Mining United told ActionAid Australia about the impact of coal mining in her home region Mpumalanga, South Africa.

“We are forced to sleep with the mine bosses to get a job. You are forced to get diseases in the name of mining. They keep on saying they are bringing development around South Africa but we have to bear the brunt of mortality, fatality, skin rashes on our private parts. When we talk about these issues they are saying we are just lying."

Yvonne Sampear, Greater Phola Ogies Women's Forum, South Africa
ActionAid Australia

Ms Manne wants the Australian Government to insist Australian mining companies operating abroad support local women’s equal participation in consultations and negotiations. “By failing to sufficiently regulate Australian coal, oil and gas companies operating in low-income countries, the Australian Government is shirking its commitments under international human rights treaties and the Paris Climate Agreement.”

But then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made clear that a government under his leadership would no longer commit to reducing Australia’s carbon emissions by 26 per cent in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. In anticipation of a leadership challenge, Turnbull formally dropped the reduction targets in his signature energy plan the National Energy Guarantee.  

Although the National Energy Guarantee was recently established to deliver reliable energy to Australians while reducing carbon emissions, ActionAid’s report outlines how Australian mining operations abroad could increase fourfold in coming years – meaning that Australia’s carbon footprint is set to radically expand.    

The day before this article was originally published, The Feed reached out to then-Minister for the Environment, Josh Frydenberg, but his office declined to comment. 

An earlier version of this article (published 21/08/18) incorrectly made specific reference to the mining company South32. While South32 does operate mines in the regions that ActionAid’s report examined, the report makes general comments and does not single out South32 or any particular mining company. The article has been updated to reflect this.