Despite efforts pushing for gender equality, the Chilean mining industry, slow to change, is still notoriously inhospitable to women.
The first time Karen Requena entered the cafeteria at BHP Billiton’s massive Escondida mining operation in northern Chile, she couldn’t help feeling countless eyes fixed on her body as she walked across the vast hall.
“It can’t get worse than that,” she thought. Then as Requena looked for a place to sit, the noise started. Thousands of men began banging their knives and forks against their plates. The pace of the deafening clattering picked up as she searched for an empty seat.
That’s how it went day in and day out at the world’s largest copper mine. It was 2012, and Requena was working 10-day shifts as an Escondida safety officer for BHP Billiton contractor Villatol. Soon she began eating in her room alone.
Five years later, Soledad Caceres, another safety worker, witnessed an almost identical scene in the cafeteria of Antofagasta Plc’s Zaldivar mine. Caceres relayed what she had witnessed to her employer, as well as to Antofagasta management. Officials brushed off her complaint, she says.
Three months later, the contractor she worked for, Rentalmin, declined to renew her contract. She was later told by one of her former co-workers that her comment was seen by Rentalmin management as “out of place,” Caceres says. “Men think women must adapt because it’s still their world,” she says. “If you complain, then you’re troublesome, you’re crazy.”
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