Monthly Profile Feature
Guyana’s Urica Primus has been an agent of change since an early age. The 25-year old president of the Guyana Women Miners Organisation (GWMO) is an unabashed workaholic who campaigns hard for diversity and to break the stereotype that women can only hold menial positions in the mining sector. She is also passionate about dealing with the social issues that mining is associated with and is actively involved in combating human trafficking in Guyana. She comes from a mining family who have supported and helped her as she has progressed to run her own operation. By Camila Reed
How did mining come to you? How did you choose mining as a career?
I was born into a mining family. My father, most of my aunts, uncles and some of my siblings are miners. From a young age my aunt and uncle groomed us, irrespective of gender, to effectively conduct and manage our business.
As I grew up I assumed more and more responsibility until I was managing the mining operations of my older brother, aunt and uncle and my father, separately.
When I turned eighteen my older brother asked me if I wanted my own operation and he purchased what I needed to start on my own; which included the engines, pipes and peripheral parts.
What is your experience of being a woman in the mining sector?
My experience in mining has been diverse. From the warmth of miners working together and helping each other to get by, to the chaos of land disputes.
I started out by becoming involved in my aunt and uncle’s business from a young age, from managing the loading of trucks and the payment of workers.
By the time I started out on my own, I had the respect of the older miners in the industry. However, when you meet women and state your career, they take it to mean you are uneducated and most men often think you are doing business on behalf of your spouse or in prostitution.
Have you encountered much discrimination?
Interacting with new staff from the administrative body that governs mining, product distributors or miners; when I first meet them, they assume I do not know what I’m talking about. They sometimes talk in a condescending tone, as if they have to break it down for your brain to understand.
Have you had mentors and sponsors that helped you on the way?
My uncle took me around everywhere he went to conduct business from a very tender age, and taught me bit by bit how to conduct business and sponsored me. I learn from the mistakes and lessons of others.
Could you share one of two challenges you’ve experienced in your career and how you overcame them?
The main challenge which I have experienced has been earning credibility and respect from other miners because everywhere you go; whether it’s in the interior, government agencies governing mining or places where mining parts and equipment are sold — letting them understand who you are and what you stand for — which can only be done over time, that at first was a challenge.
Being able to have a voice and speak on issues affecting women. This I overcame when I joined the GWMO in 2012.
What are you passionate about in your work?
Breaking the stereotype that women only hold menial positions in the mining sector. That is why I have been engaging in so many capacity building exercises, so that women can not only be employed as cooks. I try to counter the stereotype that all women who enter the interior are prostitutes but there are and continue to be geologists, engineers, operators, land owners who are women. It’s about bringing diversity to the sector. As well as combating the social issues that mining is associated with.
What would you love to do next?
I would like to be in the position whereby I can be able to influence the policies and the regulations as well as distribution of services to ensure that mining remains in favour of miners; irrespective of race, gender, religion or economic status.
What is the one thing you wish you’d been told when you were starting out that you know now?
Let the mines mine themselves, instead of your mining the mines. Every miner has had to make one simple decision, whether or not to invest further into their operation to sustain it. Limit what you are willing to pour into it.
Do you sit on a board? If not, would you like to?
I sit on the board of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, as the representative for the GWMO. I am also serving as the Vice Chairman of said board. Additionally, I also sit on the Minamata Convention Implementation Board and Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative boards.
What is your opinion in the women on boards’ debate? Are you pro quotas or against them?
I think women on many boards are disproportionately represented as against men. If the sectors are supposed to be fuelled towards serving women and the persons making decisions are mostly men, then how will we be catered for in policies and regulations.
Do you believe that women in mining groups can help to change the image of the industry and make the sector more attractive to women?
Yes, I do believe that they can change the image of the industry, making it more attractive to women. They are a collective, diverse example of the power of women in mining. Giving women a voice, representation and awareness.
Any advice to young women starting out in their careers?
Keep your head on, and try your best to keep your integrity. Be careful of who you befriend and what people try to persuade you to invest in.
What challenges have you experienced by virtue of working in an industry that is predominantly male? Do you feel you have had to adapt to ‘fit’ the industry?
There are challenges that come with working in a male-dominated industry. Women face exploitation, abuse of many sorts, bullying etc. But I do not subscribe to the notion of ‘fitting in. Be yourself, wherever you go, in whatever you do. Acceptance instead of adaption is needed. Acting less feminine to suit an industry does not result in progress for women.
How do you find the work/life balance?
I am constantly teased about my non-existent life outside of work, I’m a bit of a shameless workaholic.
Have you any hobbies or pass-times you would like to tell us about?
I am the occasional go-kart racer, reading historical pieces, biographies, Jane Austin’s books, watching movies (especially old British movies) and shopping.
Anything else that you feel is important that you would like to share?
In 2013, I was elected as the vice president for the GWMO, which was founded a year earlier. In 2015, I was elected as the president of the organisation along with Ms. Donna Charles 1st Vice President and Ms. Joan Williams 2nd Vice President and a strong team of dynamic executives.
The GWMO is a non-governmental organisation launched in January 2012. GWMO’s goal is to address issues in the health, environmental, social, education and extractive sectors that affect women and children across the nation.
Over the years we have strategically planned and executed numerous Trafficking in Persons (TIP) rescues, provided them with homes through foster programs, educated and trained them; along with support and counselling.
We work to ensure that when survivors of TIPs are ready to return to their community of origin that they are equipped with skills that can be utilized to earn a living.
In an effort to provide protection for the victims, we increase the prosecution of traffickers and prepare them for reintegration into their communities, the GWMO with the Sisters of Mercy has recently commissioned the first ever TIP Safe Home in Guyana. We are continuously providing support and counselling to victims of sexual offences, which include male victims as well.
During 2015 we had many women in the mining industry undergo mechanical and technical training in collaboration with other agencies. Aside from mining and trafficking, we advocate the improvement of community services; especially for interior locations which commonly suffer from inadequate services. We are currently assisting hospitals in Region One with acquiring mattresses and other health necessities for their clinics.
Urica Yernesi Primus, 25, was raised in the humble village of Bartica, and moved to Georgetown to pursue her high school education. She started philanthropic work at sixteen years, volunteering at the Convalescent Home while attending School of the Nations. She was one of the founding members of Youths for Guyana, where she served as vice president and treasurer. She also got elected as vice president of the Guyana Women Miners Org in 2013 and works in the administration of the organization. Furthermore, Urica has been actively involved in combating human trafficking in Guyana by planning rescues and implementing measures to improve the organisation’s data collection. She has also fostered two victims of trafficking and she provided them with an opportunity to get an education and attend court. She is a passionate volunteer and a World Merit Agent of Change.
Urica had the privilege of being selected to attend the UNAOC-EF Summer School in 2015, in New York. On August 5th 2015, she was elected as the president of the GWMO. Most recently, Urica was appointed as a member of the Board of Directors of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, representing the GWMO. At the first board meeting she was elected Vice Chairman.