For over 40 years Ana Maria Aranibar has been involved in the mining sector in Bolivia, sharing information, creating networks and building communities. She started out in the state sector in communications and rose through the ranks. Then 20 years ago she created her consultancy which is dedicated to pursuing social and corporate responsibility. She has shone a light on the often underreported and underrepresented female miners, particularly those involved in small-scale mining, who continue to suffer violence and discrimination. She’s keen to pass on her knowledge and get Bolivian universities to incorporate a technical module on responsible mining. By Camila Reed
How did mining come to you? How did you choose mining as a career?
I didn’t come to mining by a direct route as I was studying communication sciences at university. During my third year of studies I had a great opportunity and was offered the job of press officer at the ministry of mining here in Bolivia. I calculated that I’ve been working in the industry for 40 years now!
What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining sector?
I started working in the sector when I was very young but my experience has been very gratifying because I worked with two generations. The older generation made up of men who held the most important jobs like minister, deputy minister etc. Then there were the juniors and amongst those I was the most junior. I had to learn from them all. They had years of experience and were hugely interesting people.
Have you/do you encounter much discrimination?
I’ve never felt discriminated against as a woman. The mining sector in Bolivia is small and we all know each other. Personally I’ve always felt well treated as a woman.
But I can’t say that this experience is the same for all women in the sector or for female miners. I travelled and visited many mines in my role as Director of Information and then I discovered that the artisanal and small-scale female miners working in cooperatives were completely discriminated against.
When did your career change direction and you decide you wanted to focus on the environmental and social side of the mining sector?
I’ve always been a very busy and active person.
When I was in the mining industry I always wrote a lot and I produced the Mining Bulletin which featured updates on everything going on in the sector and around the companies who were operating in it.
I also created an information network for mining and metallurgists which was funded by the World Bank, sharing information about the sector. This was quite innovative for Bolivia.
I was able to marry my experience of information, education and writing with mining knowledge when I left the government sector and set up my consultancy Cumbre del Sajama 20 years ago. My life took on a new course. We gave a hard social look at mining, at small-scale mining, at miners’ rights. Large scale mining is run quite differently.
Has anything changed in the last 20 years for small-scale female miners?
No, sadly Camila nothing has changed. And as everything is about prices nationally and internationally, the women become involved in mining when the situation is critical.
And now we are in a low price environment it means that more women will enter small scale mining. The discrimination continues. Violence, the lack of women’s rights these all go on today, as before. There’s still a lot of work to do.
Why has there been no change? What about large miners and the government?
For small and large-scale mining companies they have to meet international standards. But let’s not say they go out of their way to help women they just meet standards they should, so there is a benefit here. But this does not happen in communities where small-scale mining occurs because there are no corporate social responsibility programmes.
Although the cooperatives should have social programmes they don’t exist. And what does the government do? Well its reach is not that far. The state often struggles to get the cooperatives to meet laws around labour or environmental controls and much less for social programmes which include women’s rights.
The small-scale sector is not formal and many of the women move around from one region to another to find work so it’s not easy for them to organise themselves either.
I wrote a book about this called “Mujeres de oro, quienes son” (Who are the women of gold). Their labour rights are infringed because their rights and access to the tailings or the ore is discriminated against. These women are also not allowed to go underground.
There are two big groups with differing experiences: Professional women who are involved in large-scale mining and small-scale female miners where there’s more conflict and who are subjected to violence. Many artisanal female miners hide the violence and don’t want to admit that it’s going on.
In Bolivia and elsewhere in Latin America many women in both groups suffer discrimination because of the machismo of the culture.
We tried to do a census three years ago in Bolivia and we estimated there were 10,000 female artisanal miners and around 50,000 in Latin America. There are no official figures.
Could you share one or two challenges you’ve experienced in your career and how you overcame them?
My first was learning the terminology and technical language of geology and mining. That was a challenge. I had to study the different terms and processes but it was very satisfying to do this.
What are you passionate about in your work?
What most interests me is that small scale mining be formalised and that models and companies be created. I would like the sector to be organised so that men and women and their communities benefit and grow as a result of it.
Small-scale mining is here to stay for the next 10-15 years and so it should be sustainable and responsible. That is my goal and there are changes being made. Things are not so disorganised and communities are benefitting.
There is a lot done around ethical gold but why just think about gold what about wolframite, lead and other metals?
Will this change happen?
The government will need to do things. There’s an interest on the part of the state but so far only small steps have been taken. The state is getting into the areas of contamination, health and safety. There are possibilities but they need to keep going and it will take time.
What would you love to do next?
I’ve been in this sector for 40 years and it is part of my life. We have helped many young people and my company will continue without me.
What I would like is to do something at the Universities — offer a technical module. I would like to give some module on responsible mining as we don’t offer that as part of our courses here in Bolivia. I would like to teach. I have all this experience and I’d like to share it so that others can continue with it.
Have you had any mentors or sponsors?
Yes I’ve had several at different stages of my life.
Dr Jaime Villlalobos who was an extraordinary man who motivated me to get involved with many networks, with creating them and to help prevent conflicts and deaths in mining.
Another of my mentors was Els Van Hoeke who came to Bolivia many years ago and was involved in Women in Mining.
Do you sit on a board? If not would you like to?
I am the president of the Bolivian business women’s association. It’s an uphill struggle for women entrepreneurs in Bolivia, or for women who start up their own company across any sector be it tea or quinoa.
You have to be a fighter!
What is your opinion in the women on boards’ debate? Are you pro quotas or against them?
I am against quotas as I think we can participate without them.
But for women in small-scale mining or women who are less educated and at lower levels in companies they need help and quotas.
Do you believe women in mining groups can help to change the image of the industry and make the sector more attractive to women?
Women’s groups can help make women more visible and they can help make a change. They can help counter the attitude that women should not take part in extractive industries.
Any advice to young women starting out in their careers?
Be prepared! And be prepared if you are looking for frontline job at a mine that conditions can be inclement and hard.
There are hardly any women involved in studying mining at university and this is a shame most are focused on hydrocarbons.
How do you find the work/life balance?
When I had my kids and they were young I thought it was normal to go and run all over the place. I was the campaigning mother. I think the cost to your personal life is heavy and you do lose things in your private life. I am passionate about my work and I think I have sacrificed a lot to work. It is not easy to manage this balance.
Any else that you feel is important that you would like to share?
I think it’s always important to think about the message and your objective. I would like there to be a national network of women in mining and for women’s’ work to be highlighted and for us to see what options women have. We have to build and grow those networks and keep pushing ahead.
Ana Maria Aranibar has a degree in information and environmental sciences from the Universidad Católica Boliviana and the Universidad de Andalucía, in Spain.
She has over 30 years’ experience in the mining sector and in the development of mining communities and was the international coordinador of the network: “Gestión y Manejo de Conflictos para el Desarrollo Industrial de la Minería del programa de Ciencia y Tecnología para el Desarrollo de España.”
She is the Managing Director of consultancy CUMBRE DEL SAJAMA S.A. in Bolivia, which is dedicated to strengthening social and environmental programmes in the mining industry at a national and international level.
She’s a lead member of the Consejo Directivo del Organismo Latinoamericano de Minería and since 1985 she’s been the Secretary General of the Latin American Mining organism “OLAMI-Bolivia”.
Anna Maria’s the President of the Business Women’s Association of Bolivia.
She’s the coordinator of the Latin American Women’s Mining Network as well as being an active member of the national women in mining network.
She is also an author and writer and has organised a number of national and international congresses.