LINDA NYONDO, Lusaka
ZAMBIA’S artisanal and small-scale mining industry has been growing with some of the country’s gemstones such as emeralds being among the best in the world.
The industry contributes largely to the country’s gross domestic product attracting 60 percent women participation to the sector.
This is why the Ministry of Gender is glad to work with and promote local organisations such as the Association of Zambian Women in Mining (AZWIM) for sustained growth of the industry.
Recently, Government was a proud host of a delegation from the Precious Minerals and Marketing Company (PMMC) of Ghana who were in the country to create trade linkages with AZWIM, which has a membership of well over 100 countrywide.
The opportunity to engage in trade with the PMMC is expected to bring a new dimension in the operations of the women small-scale miners and trade at large.
Previously, AZWIM participated in international gemstone trade fairs in China, Hong Kong, Thailand and the United States of America where the organisation has exhibited rough gemstones.
Established by Namakau Kaingu in 1980, AZWIM has also held local gemstone exhibitions showcasing precious stones such as purple amethyst, aquamarine, tourmaline, red garnet and citrine, among others.
AZWIM members have over the years gained the skill to craft high-grade jewellery that competes both on the local and international markets.
Locally the jewellery, which is Zambia’s pride, can easily be found in stores in different parts of the country.
However, AZWIM president Mary Mpande says the association faces challenges in processing of the stones.
Ms Mpande believes that AZWIM can perform much better than it is currently doing if the association had the machinery for mining and tools for processing of stones.
“Most of us do not have essential tools for mining. We use sacks, shovels and picks to mine the precious stones, which is quite laborious and labour- intensive,’’ Ms Mpande notes.
Ms Mpande says that, notwithstanding, there is a huge market both locally and internationally for Zambian jewellery because of its high quality and grade.
This is evidenced by renowned Hollywood actress Mila Kunis who has been wearing jewellery made from Zambian gemstones.
Additionally, Ms Mpande notes that the local and international exhibitions which link gemstones to tourism have exposed AZWIM women miners to foreign markets, creating opportunities for the members to compete with some of the largest manufacturers of jewellery such as Jewels of Africa, who manufacture world-class jewellery.
However, some members of AZWIM have complained that most Zambians do not appreciate Zambian jewellery despite it being genuine and of high quality.
Margaret Zulu, a member of AZWIM, says Zambians have to realise that most of the jewellery being sold cheaply is indirectly expensive as it is not genuine and, therefore, not durable. This means people have to dispose of it and then buy some more costing them more money.
“But our jewellery is genuine and of high grade, and our clients are assured that they will look elegant,” Ms Zulu notes.
Minister of Gender Elizabeth Phiri said during a recently held gemstone expo that women entrepreneurs face a number of challenges such as inadequate access to finance, technological equipment, access to markets and cultural norms, among others that are not supportive of their growth.
Ms Phiri is cognisant that these challenges impede the full potential of women as they strive to develop their businesses.
Therefore to support women in mining, the Ministry of Mines is committed to ensuring that 50 percent of mining rights licences are given to women.
“As a country, we have realised that to achieve our dream, it is cardinal for us to empower our womenfolk. It is believed that women are good and effective managers of any resource,’’ Ms Phiri says.
And to facilitate a friendly business environment for small-scale and medium entrepreneurs, especially women, the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry is implementing the She Trades Zambia, which aims at increasing the participation of Zambian women-owned businesses in the economy and trade by enhancing their competitiveness and strengthening their market linkages, the minister reveals.
She explains that in all its undertakings, and in line with the Gender Equity and Equality Act, the Ministry of Gender will play a critical role to see to it that policies and programmes place women at the centre of development.
Attaining gender equity is Government’s priority and promotion of sustainable empowerment that guarantees women’s active participation in economic activities.
The ministry has also been implementing projects aimed at building capacity to trade and address the supply side constraints.
These projects include enhanced integrated framework, Zambia Agribusiness and Trade project, Regional Capacity Building, Trade Facilitation Facility and Zambia Export Development Fund, among others.
Citizens Economic Empowerment Commission (CEEC) has also been providing finances to the citizens, most of who are women, among them AZWIM members.
With a favourable business environment created by the Zambian government, AZWIM is assured of thriving in its operations.
LINDA NYONDO, Lusaka