Solis says that 10 per cent of the 3,000 employees in this deposit, where an enormous desert guards some 13 million ounces of gold, silver and zinc, are women. She calls her work a "labour conquest" because it took so long for women to be accepted into this traditionally male industry. She is a second-generation "mining woman", as her mother operates a giant truck at the mine.
The major reason the industry opened up to women is the male labour shortage in Mexico that has resulted from many men continuing to migrate to the United States in search of better wages and employment opportunities.
Solis says that many of the women in mining today had fathers or brothers who also worked in the industry. "But in many cases, those men went to
Industry officials and employees also attribute women's inclusion in mining to new technology and industrial and personal protection systems, which have modernised Mexican and transnational mining businesses.
Mining jobs used to require extraordinary physical strength, says Sergio Almazan, director of the Mining Chamber of Mexico, CAMIMEX, a lobbying group. "Today, thanks to the machines and the professionalisation, things are different," he says. According to him, women are even working throughout the industry as geologists, engineers, researchers and executives.
Still, the mining industry remains one of the most physically trying of the labour professions, especially for mothers. "In any case, the work is hard and here there are many mothers who have to leave their children to come to cover their shifts," says Solis, who, with an administrative position, is not subject to the same schedules as the operators.
Many companies make mining more viable for women by constructing "bedroom communities" or "dormitory towns" near the mining deposits, where workers stay for their 14 workdays of up to 15-hour shifts, followed by seven rest days. The "mining cities" also have basic and emergency services, such as a medical clinic, a doctor, ambulances and fire trucks.
A university graduate, Solis entered the mining industry by choice. But the majority of the mining women in
Mining is the third most important industry in
Women's traditional exclusion from the industry in
Almazan believes that
And, according to him, the women have proved themselves. "The inclusion of the women in the mining industry has been a total success – a true discovery for an industry that was 100 per cent destined for men," Almazan says. Labour relations too are more respectful and harmonic. "The businesses have also discovered that the women are a lot more careful with the teams they handle, they are responsible, they do not fall into problems of alcoholism or of work absenteeism," he says.
Joana Moreno, 24, one of 16 women working in another gold deposit, "El Sauzal", in
Driving a large truck,
But Solis feels some supervisors are still confronting negative reactions from some men. Various industry insiders say that hundreds of years of sexist tradition will not, after all, be forgotten in a few years.