Raw materials extraction and processing is still a manly sector in the collective imagination and in reality. The development of novel technologies significantly contributes to level the gender gap and claims, at the same time, the need of higher education. Whereas the TARANTULA team is happy and satisfied with the women representation within the project, they advocate the European Commission on promoting gender equality through the development of research and novel technologies in the raw materials sector.
The TARANTULA is a women–represented project. It includes a variety of partners universities and research institutes, mining and metal processing companies, consulting companies, … and among those partners the gender balance is pretty achieved. Overall, the employed workforce is mainly male, in alignment with the European situation but the situation varies from partner to partner. Generally, most female are employed in consulting companies – where they represent most of the workforce – and in research units – in some of which they also represent most of the workers. Women employers are, as predictable, a minority in mining and metalwork companies although there are, within the TARANTULA project, two women managing the tasks for the mining company where they are employed. In fact, what is significant within the TARANTULA project is the women representation within the consortium and at the external: the coordination from TECNALIA side is being executed by sharing responsibilities among two persons, Amal Siriwardana and Lourdes Yurramendi, being an example of gender equality. Furthermore, two women (Lourdes, from Tecnalia, and Ana Maria Martinez, from Sintef) are work package (WP) leaders, two women (Martina Orefice, from KU Leuven, and Elena Seftel, from VITO) starred in the short-movie of the project shared, among the other portals, also on YouTube, Lourdes and Martina also represented the project in several conferences and workshops (RawMat21, Sustainable Low Impact Mining 2020, Prometia 7th Scientific Seminar 2020, …). Therefore, as for the TARANTULA project, there is a significant representation of women in communication&dissemination activities as well as in internal management roles and in research having at least one woman in most of the research and consulting teams.
And how is the situation in the raw materials sector in general? On September 2021, the Intergovernmental Forum (IGF) on Mining, Minerals Metals and Sustainable Development published a report about Gender in Mining Governance with the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) . The report mainly focusses on primary mining and gives a picture at global scale of the situation. Nevertheless, the important conclusion in the framework of the TARANTULA work is the link between the access to higher education and women employment in the raw materials sector as well as the link between the new technologies and the future work of women in mining technologies [2,3]. The latter mainly includes the substitution of human labor with machine operations in the primary and secondary metal production. Also Oxfam addressed the topic in a report of 2019, investigating the role of a company gender policy and gender impact assessment in the extractive industry . Again, the picture is focused on primary extraction and on developing countries, but it is in alignment with the report of the Responsible Mining Foundation which stated that usually companies do not demonstrate any action on this item . At the same time, the Foundation highlights how the new technologies can improve the current situation. Leaving apart the discussion about primary mining in developing country, which is definitely interesting but also out of the scope of the TARANTULA project, we could look closer to the opportunities for women employment that the new technologies offer in the secondary metal production and in the urban mining. Research plays a key role in the development of novel technologies and, for that reason, it is crucial to support women higher education in STEM. In fact, women usually occupy in the mining industry high-qualified positions such as engineers, chemists, geologists, executives, and board members. Knowledge and education is a sector that within the European Union suffers less gender discrepancies, compared for instance to work (reference European Institute of Gender Equality) and for this reason it represent an opportunity, a springboard to level the gender gap also at work. In other words, the education offer has to correspond to an adequate job offer to motivate girls to choose a career in research as well as in the mining and metal industry. In this sense, although it is not the TARANTULA role or scope, we advocate the European Commission to investigate more on how gender equality – one of the targets of the NextGeneration EU plan – can be promoted by investing in research and high-tech development of the raw materials sector – another cornerstone for a secure and sustainable future of Europe.
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