DDI teaches women miners to read

DDI teaches women miners to read

Women working in artisanal diamond mines face particular challenges. Along with the hard work and low pay in unsanitary and sometimes unsafe conditions experienced by all the miners, women are vulnerable to many forms of abuse. They may be victims of sexual harassment, they are often relegated to lower income “auxiliary” work, and they are easily exploited in regions where they are less educated than their male colleagues.

Because the Diamond Development Initiative (DDI) recognizes the special needs of women miners, a women-only cooperative was formed in the spring of 2016 in the Kibe region of the Democratic Republic of Congo to train and empower a group of women in better mining techniques, associative governance, economic autonomy and alternative livelihoods.

The goals were noble and the women were enthusiastic, but it quickly became clear that the level of literacy of the women involved in the cooperative was a major impediment to learning and to taking control, not only of their association, but of their individual and collective lives. They asked for help to learn to read.

DDI heard them, and established an entry-level literacy program for a group of 20 women in October 2016. Many more have lined up hoping for help to improve their basic skills. In the bi-weekly courses delivered by a local partner, the women started by learning the alphabet, the sounds of vowels and consonants and simple words.

The training is challenging for several reasons. People in the Kibe area generally speak a local language in their daily lives and work, but the language of education in the DRC is French. In order to function in business, it is important for the women to learn French, but it is akin to a foreign tongue for many of them. The varying level of ability of the students, the number of women who want to participate, and the limited funding to support ongoing training are all issues that need to be addressed.

Despite the difficulties, it is overwhelmingly clear that literacy classes for women meet an important need. The women have requested it, they are attending faithfully, working diligently, and asking for more.

DDI will continue to look for partners to share in solutions for the women of artisanal diamond mines.