ZACATECAS, MEXICO – For the past three years, Cony Solís, 26, an industrial engineer, has been in charge of industrial security in the “Peñasquito” mine in Mazapil, a municipality of Zacatecas, a state in north-central Mexico with a long mining tradition. Solís is the only woman in an administrative position here working under Goldcorp, a Canadian gold producer operating Peñasquito, where some 13 million ounces of gold, silver and zinc lay hidden under an enormous desert. The rest of the women work down in the mines.
“I work very closely with the women operators, the ones who are directly in the mine,” she says. “Our presence has been growing in this industry.”
Solís says that 10 percent of the 3,000 employees in this deposit are women.
“Perhaps it is not a lot, but it is something,” she says. “It is already an important number. The majority of us are very proud of what we do.”
Solís calls her work in the mine a “labor conquest” because it took so long for women to be accepted into this traditionally male industry. Solís’ mother also works in the mine, driving a truck – not just any truck, but one that weighs 2 tons and transports as much as 3 tons of cargo. Solís is, therefore, a second-generation woman in mining here.
A university graduate, Solís entered the mining industry by choice and as a professional receives schedule and salary perks. But the majority of the “mining women” in Mexico – and in other Latin American countries – entered the industry because they had few other options to support their families. Nevertheless, their presence in the industry has prompted several positive cultural changes and increased performance in some mines.
Mexico is one of the first countries in the region to welcome women into the mining industry. Many say that the female miners have improved the traditionally masculine industry, although their initial inclusion was more to fill the void left by men who migrated north to chase the “American dream” and greater income than to abolish gender discrimination. New technology and support systems have also aided women’s entry into the mining industry, but many say the job is still tough and that more must be done to turn back five centuries of exclusion.
An ancient myth invented centuries ago was what kept women out of the industry for so long. The myth suggested that the land would refuse to deliver its treasures to women, and if any woman dared to step into the depths of the mine, it would become jealous and close, causing cave-ins and hiding its wealth. Despite initial obstacles, the women of this mine say they are putting that myth to rest.
Mining is the third most important industry in Mexico, after petroleum and tourism, according to CAMIMEX and government sources. The number of employees in the mining industry has risen to almost 286,000, according to the Mexican Social Security Institute’s latest data, but not even industry officials know how many of these workers are