IM4DC alumni giving women miners skills to better their future

Three IM4DC alumni from Madagascar are working with women gemstone miners in Madagascar to extend their skills to enhance value of their production.

Mr Tsialoninarivo Rahajary, Development Senior Manager, SAF/FJKM; Mrs Herizo Harimalala Tsiverisoa, Director of Education Institute, Gemmologie of Madagascar; and Ms Harisoa Eulalie Tanteliniony, Socio-Organizer, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Madagascar travelled to Brisbane, Australia to participate in the Community Aspects of Resource Developments (CARD) course.

Presented for IM4DC by the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining (CSRM) at The University of Queensland, the course focused on how mining interacted with communities throughout its lifecycle. The course included examination of community aspects of both large-scale and small-scale mining.

In addition to the knowledge gained through presentations and interactive workshop discussions, program participants had the opportunity to undertake a field trip to Gemfest in Rubyvale, Central Queensland. It was there that participants explored what Australian gemstone producers and traders are doing to maximise returns. Despite circumstances in Australia being very different to their own, the experience was inspiring for the Madagascans. They also noticed Madagascan stones for sale at high price; for instance, a Madagascan sapphire was selling for AUD5,000. Equipped with that information, they better understood the value of their country’s gemstones in international markets as well as the way markets operate.

As part of the course, the three alumni jointly developed their ‘return to work’ plan and presented it to their fellow course participants who provided feedback, ideas and support. The return to work plan included presenting workshops to help women in Madagascar to learn to operate as professionals – identifying, valuing and trading of gemstones. It is expected that with better information and skills, these women will be able to empower themselves and benefit from the opportunities of the gemstone business.

Upon returning to Madagascar, the first workshop was presented for 20 women miners in Ilakaka, a small town in the Ihorombe Region in the south western part of Madagascar. Ilakaka is an area affected by low income, deep poverty, and without local policy to promote the gem sector. The workshop was the first step of a long process, designed to build more benefits from the resources of the country.

Lynda Lawson, Manager (Training and Knowledge Transfer), CSRM and CARD course coordinator, said “Maybe before the trip, they had an idea, but when they went and spoke with people who knew about Madagascar’s stones and appreciated them, and the value of their stones in the Australian market; that situation made them realise that they had a good product and through it, Madagascar may overcome social problems… but at the same time, the situation confirmed to them that women in Madagascar are exploited, because they receive no more than (US) $10 for their stones”.

According to Lynda, these women produce ‘awesome’ stones and they do not understand what their role is in the process, and they do not recognise the value of their job. The workshops aim to improve the gem business of women’s association by finding more opportunities in the sapphire business. The return to work project also focuses on capacity building through training, and the possibility of cooperation within the extractive industry. For example, to enlighten the possibility of community development holding an Australian structure and policy up.

Madagascar is one of the poorest countries on earth with 88% of the population living on US$1.25 a day. It is in this context that an estimated 800,000 people make their living as Artisanal and Small Scale Miners (ASM) with a significant number of these people working in the gemstone sector. Roughly half of those working in ASM are thought to be women.

*Photo by Lynda Lawson.