Rwanda: The life of Ngororero women working in mining tunnels


Michel NkurunzizaBy Michel Nkurunziza

Published : June 22, 2021

Women at a mining site in Ngororero. / Photo: File.

Women mostly single mothers who work for around seven hours in mining tunnels in Ngorororero District are accumulating savings from the work despite facing some hurdles.

Christine Nyiransabimana, a single mother with three children living in Nyange Sector of Ngororero District said that she has switched from tilling land as a casual labourer to work in mining tunnels as the latter pays more.

“I used to till land to earn only Rwf500 per day. It is also impossible to get tilling casual labour every day but in the mining sector I earn Rwf1,000 per day from Monday to Saturday. This has enabled women to get savings every week,” she said.

She said that after finishing work in mining tunnels, she can also undertake domestic work, farming and keeping livestock.

Nyiransabimana started the work in mining in April this year after mining works resumed amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The women’s works include transporting extracted minerals-by using spades-to the facilities that rinse them.

“Many women shun working in mining sites but I have found income opportunities in it. We gather every week and each saves Rwf1,000 from the earnings in a saving group of 20 members.

I spend the balance on feeding my family and satisfying other needs. I am also a member of another saving group where I save Rwf5,500 every month,” she said.

Each member can buy more shares in the group.

She said that weekly savings in the group are loaned to members and share the revenue after one year.

This savings and loan group of 20 members saves at least Rwf20, 000 every week meaning Rwf80,000 per month for four weeks.

The group is set to accumulate about Rwf1 million in 12 months and with part of the savings loaned to members, the group is set to share increased revenue after one year.

The loan is paid back at 5 per cent interest rate.

“I used to live in a rented house but with the savings I want to start building her own house soon. I want to beat the odds as a single mother and raise my three children in better conditions,” she said.

She urged other women in the community to change poor mindset and stereotypes against women who work in mining tunnels.

 “Some think that women working in mining sites are sex workers for men in mining sites but that is poor mindset. This is the sector that can earn money despite the wage that is still low,” she said.

The 31-year old Pelagie Mukamuganga, a single mother, started to work in mining sites in 2007.

She said that through saving groups she managed to open an account in SACCO.

“I save Rwf1,000 in a savings group of 29 members every week and Rwf10,000 in SACCO every month. I have bought pigs and goats,” she said.

However, she said that when Covid-19 lockdown was imposed, she lost job which temporarily halted group activity and regained it in April this year.

Jobs in the mining and extraction sector are expected to increase to 100,000 jobs in 2021.

In 2019 before the Covid-19 outbreak, the mining sector employed about 71,205 workers, an increase from 47, 727 workers in 2017, according to the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR).

 However, due to the slowdown in mining and mining processing operations as a result of the pandemic, the number fell by 19 per cent to 57, 379.

“We have resumed our weekly savings after going back to our job,” she said.

Euphrasie Iyamuremye, a single mother with two children said that each member of their saving groups saves Rwf1,500 in the group every week.

“I feed my children, I pay health insurance, they manage to go to school and also manage to save. I have been rearing pigs thanks to the work,” she said.

Research on women’s life in mining

Lane Munir, a professor at African Leadership University who is also researcher and gender specialist said that women’s challenges in the mining sector ought  to be addressed in order to improve their life.

Among the challenges they face include sexual harassment at work and stereotypes against them in the community.

Munir is carrying out research on women in the mining sector dubbed “Women, Conflict and Modern Mining” as she prepares to publish a detailed study on the sector.

The research is being carried out on six mining sites across the country.

“We are assessing the impact of mining on women’s life in different aspects,” she said.

The 2009 Rwanda Mining Policy includes the target to increase women’s participation in the sector to 20-30 percent.

However, according to the study, backed by IMPACT (formerly Partnership Africa Canada), Canada’s Carleton University, among other partners, despite a standardised pay structure for mining roles, women still generally earn less than their male counterparts for the same work.


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