Is work different for a female miner?

Portugal has finally withdrawn from an international agreement that forbade women from working in mines. But, in practice, they have been defying this convention since 2003.

Catia Bruno
Cátia Bruno NewsMavens, Portugal
Is work different for a female miner? - NewsMavens
Female Miner, Mexico, Solidarity Center, Flickr

Why this story matters:

When talking about gender discrimination in Western Europe, one usually thinks about topics such as the gender pay gap or sexual harassment. But what about barring females from entering an entire profession?

That was formally the case in Portugal up until this July, when Parliament unanimously voted for the country to withdraw from an international agreement that forbade women from working in mines.

"On the underground works of mines no person from the female sex can be employed, no matter her age", the 1935 agreement promoted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) said.

Officially, no woman could work in an underground mine throughout the country, although Portugal's Constitution clearly defines that the State most promote "equal opportunity in choosing a profession" and must create an environment where "access to any post, work or professional category is not restricted" due to gender. 

Women's day to day experience was quite different, as well. In 1995, Portugal signed another ILO agreement that clearly contradicted the 1935 one. Only in 2003 though did a woman enter a mine to work as any other male colleague: it was Lucinda Batista, daughter of a miner and the only woman to ever work in the Panasqueira mines. 

Details from the story:

  • Lucinda Batista, the first female miner in Portugal, says the Miners' Union deeply resisted her entrance in the Panasqueira mine as a worker. They invoked the 1935 agreement, claimed there were no female bathrooms in the mine and argued work might impact Lucinda's ability to have more children. 
  • "Back then [1935], malnutrition was real and women would become more fragile due to labor. Not anymore. Women are as physically able as men. This is an outdated agreement", says Joana Lima, the MP who wrote the bill to end the 1935 convention in Portugal.
  • The Union claims in Lucinda's case it was just making information available to the public and not trying to prevent her from entering the profession. Currently, the Union stresses how mining is still a very dangerous job: inside a mine, temperatures may reach 40º Celsius and 80% humidity.
  • Currently 15 women work as miners in Portugal and they get the same pay as men. Miner Andreia Rebolo says men had to adjust when she arrived ("They changed the language, because I insisted"), but overall she likes her workplace environment. 
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