Gender Seminar Series
Woman minde worker in South Africa

Underground women miners: Space “invaders” and gendered subjectivities in the making

Asanda-Jonas Benya, University of Cape Town
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Room S8 | Maison de la paix, Geneva

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From the early industrial mining period until 2002, with the exception of Asbestos mines, women were prohibited from performing underground work. It was only in 2004 that mines started employing women to work full-time in underground occupations. Most of these women went into mining because of economic pressures and the deepening crisis of social reproduction. Mines employed them because legislation required them to have at least 10 per cent women workers. To survive in mining, women have learnt to “bargain with patriarchy” and negotiate mining spaces that cast them as outsiders and “invaders”.

In this seminar, Asanda-Jonas Benya will draw from her ethnographic field work where she worked with mineworkers underground and lived in mine residences for a year. The paper forms part of a chapter that looks at how women negotiate the ‘masculine’ mining spaces. Using the above ground space (surface), the cage and underground, Benya hopes to illustrate how spaces and subjectivities are in perpetual dialogue; how they influence, reflect and co-construct each other. Power in these spaces is fluidly articulated through institutional and informal rules. As workers move between the different spaces, in preparation for the underground world, they negotiate and sometimes harmonise their ways of being and seeing to spatial logics. Benya argues that it is in these spaces and through iterations that gendered identities are constructed and negotiated by women miners.


About the speaker

Asanda Benya is a senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Cape Town. Her work focuses on the intersection of gender, class and race. She has published in labour and feminist journals in areas of women in mining, gender and the extractive industries, labour and social movements, and social and economic justice. She is working on a book project based on her ethnographic study on women underground miners. At Geneva Graduate Institute, she is visiting the ANSO Department for the Spring semester.



The Gender Centre has developed this series of research seminars in order to offer a platform for exchange for students, doctoral students in particular, and researchers whose work includes a gender perspective. During this monthly series, researchers have the opportunity to discuss their work, meet peers from different disciplines at the Graduate Institute, as well as interact with other students, guest speakers and faculty members.

See the programme of this semester's Gender Seminar Series here.