09Jun A brief history of TAWOMA
On 22nd August 1997, ‘Mama’ Martha Bitwale, a strong and inspiring miner and master dealer of gemstones, founded the Tanzanian Women Miners Association (TAWOMA) and changed the lives of countless women and children forever.
Gemstone mining is an important part of the economy in Tanzania, thanks to a long geological belt stretching from Kenya southwards to Mozambique which is thought to contain the world’s richest unexploited deposits of coloured gemstones. Most of this mining is undertaken by artisanal miners using basic hand tools and simple techniques, with little mechanisation.
Mama Martha saw women being abused, maltreated and overlooked and, whilst other miners’ organisations existed, they did not focus on women and children, most of whom had little or no knowledge of health and safety, workers’ rights etc. They were living in constant poverty and were therefore unlikely to make any progress. Firmly focusing on educating, empowering and elevating these women and children to lever themselves out of poverty, TAWOMA was born.
TAWOMA's main purpose is to develop and promote women miners and mining communities and address the problems of disorganised mining including economic hardships, poverty alleviation and the general needs of members.
The association also supports the education of women miners on topics such as the dangers of mining, health and safety, and the use of chemicals, such as cyanide and mercury for gold mining, and its effects on their health and the environment.
Local and regional branches have sprung up and membership has grown as the women have begun to develop their skills through education in areas as diverse as HIV/AIDS, environmental awareness, licensing, processing and mineral marketing. Leadership skills have flourished as co-operative, credit and savings societies have been formed.
By 2010 there were 15 local branch offices and 17 regional offices serving the hundreds of members and today these numbers are in the hundreds and thousands respectively. Membership of the association is open to women from 18 years of age, who are involved in small-scale mining including other related activities like food vendors, brokers, hoteliers, health services, teachers and even a few men in the mining areas.
TAWOMA has become the policy advocate wing for women in mining, helping to address gender balance and improve the economic status of all women in the mining industry and particularly artisanal and small scale miners.
Sadly, Mama Martha passed away in 2018, but TAWOMA continues to thrive under the strong leadership of President ‘Mama’ Eunice Negele and Secretary General Salma Kundi, both of whom are miners who have fought for improved conditions for women and children in their sector over the last decade.
TAWOMA is cooperating with various national and International organisations to achieve its goals. These include the Southern Eastern Minerals Centre (SEAMIC), University of Dar es Salaam (Geology Department), Tanzania Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (TCCIA), Tanzania Chamber of Energy and Minerals, Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH), MTL Consultants Limited, Gemological Institute of America (GIA), PACT TZ, UNECA and the Small Scale Gemstone Mining Cluster.
Since 2018, key collaborations with GIA for educational activities and Pact (to set up the Moyo Gems project with Nineteen48 and Anza Gems) have further progressed the benefits TAWOMA provides to its membership.
Skills in cutting and processing could blossom with the collective purchase of machinery and training in mine management, as well as internet and other communication channels and transportation systems encouraged entrepreneurs to emerge. There is cause for optimism for the future.
TAWOMA’s vision - to eliminate poverty while creating new jobs for women and youths within the mining sector - is forging ahead in a manner that would certainly make Mama Martha very proud and the future looks bright for their members and their communities.
For more information and to find the latest news, please check TAWOMA's social media channels.