Zulfatun Mahmudah was presenting an article on gender equality at the World Mining Congress, at the Brisbane Convention Centre, Queensland, Australia, June 29, 2023


Mine cannot be separated from gender issues. Women are often described as weak human beings, so they are considered unsuitable for working in risky and challenging places such as mines. Despite the existing theories and facts, it does not mean that there are no women who are capable and willing to work in the mines. This is evident from the large number of women working in the mining industry, not only as staff in offices but also as operators of heavy equipment fleets in the field, one of which was found at the PT Kaltim Prima Coal (KPC) mine  This condition is inseparable from the gender equality policy in the workplace. This research will find out how gender policy is implemented in the mining industry?; what is the impact of the gender policy on women in choosing employment? It also aims to examine how the patriarchal ideology works, especially for heavy equipment operators in the mine? and how do woman workers adapt and negotiate against patriarchal ideology at the mine? The research uses a qualitative approach with ethnography research method. The focus of this research is women who operate heavy mining equipment whose duties are directly related to mining risks in the field. Therefore, informants are women heavy equipment operators at KPC. The research result shows that KPC creates gender policies that are outlined in various company policies, from the employee recruitment process to career development. This policy has an impact on increasing the number of women who are interested in working in mining, as evidenced by the number of female applicants who continue to grow every time a mining operator vacancy is opened. Women workers interpret the dangerous and risky mining discourse as a challenge that must be conquered. It’s also found that the patriarchal ideology in mine was practiced through sexism, both in the form of language and doubts about women’s ability to work and adapt to mining conditions. Therefore they do resistance to free themselves from the views and practices that consider women as incapable of working in the mine. They emphasize that resistance is a way that must be taken to achieve gender equality so that the existence of women is not marginalized.

Key words: gender equality; mining; women workers; patriarchal ideology


The stereotype that women are weak human beings leads to the idea that women are not suited to work in risky industries such as mining.  Doret (2016) said that stereotype such as mining is not a place for woman is still present, it is still cultural and perceptions issue. This opinion shows that the activities of women and men are seen as different because they are biologically different. Alice Rossi (1983) in Ritzer (2018, p.393) says that the state of human biology has determined many social differences between men and women. This view is very real when talking about the world of mining work, which often connotes men’s workplace. As Robinson says in Lihiri-Dutt and Robinson, “mining … is imbued with the idea of ​​masculinity, in which men are seen as ‘natural’ workers, forcing a reluctant femininity to produce its hidden secrets” (2008, p. 21)). Robinson’s opinion illustrates that mining is a world of work that is synonymous with masculinity, and of course workers are more suitable for men. This opinion is not completely wrong when viewed from the reality on the ground. Generally, the world of mining work is dominated by male workers.

Working in the mines is also associated with taking a risky, dirty, and dangerous job that is more compatible with masculine character. In addition, pit life is seen as a unique male world, where they form a sense of solidarity with the risks involved. According to Evelin in Lahiri-Dutt and Robinson, “Workers in mines are represented as undertaking dangerous, dirty and hazardous works, characterized by a form of masculinity suitable for heroes. Pit life is perceived as a uniquely male world where the sharing of risks contributes to the formation of male solidarity” (2008, p. 125). The discourse on mining seems to represent the formation of the world from the perspective of men and does not give space to women. MacKinnon (1982) said that men shape the world from their own point of view, which then becomes a truth to be formulated. He emphasized that “… the power to shape the world from one’s point of view is power in the form of men.”

Apart from being seen from the issue of biology and the discourse on mining, there are several other factors that influence the minimum number of women working in the mine. Lahiri-Dutt said, “Three factors contribute to the differential gender impacts of mining: • The gender segregation in the workplace leading to exclusion of women from well-paying mining jobs; • The less secure and more sporadic forms of employment outside of the company are taken up by women workers; and • The disempowerment of women in mining communities” (2004, p. 12). The imbalance between men and women that appears in the workplace cannot be separated from the emergence of gender terminology which is based on patriarchal domination. Delphy and Leonard (1992, p. 258) said, men and women are socially separated because one dominates the other. According to Jackson (2019), this argument is in line with the Marxist analysis which states that men and women exist because of an exploitative relationship that unites and separates them.

Despite the existing theories and facts, it does not mean that there are no women who are capable and willing to work in the mines. This is evident from the large number of women working in the mining industry, not only as staff in offices but also as operators of heavy equipment fleets in the field. Although the physical condition is definitely different, the work demands are the same as that of men. However, the women heavy equipment operators are capable of carrying out their duties properly. This depiction can be found in the coal mine of KPC located in Sangatta, East Kutai, East Kalimantan Province. Women workers in this mine have been around since 1992. The presence of women in the mine proves that the meaning of mining discourse as a masculine workplace is not translated textually by some women. They are not trapped by the existing texts so that it does not dampen the desire to continue working in the industry. This condition is in accordance with Kelly’s opinion that women do not need linguistic or semiotic theory to see an object. She maintains that “one of the most influential things feminists have done and that still needs to be continued is to create new languages ​​and meanings that provide women with various ways to name and understand their own experiences” (1994, p. 48).

The meaning of the mining discourse from the side of women workers is an interesting thing to study, let alone bring up real action to work in mine. Because plunging into a very masculine industry requires courage. Their number, which is not large, will certainly make them a minority and even marginalized group. This condition opens up opportunities for sexist acts carried out by the dominant group, in this case, men, either through real actions or simply words that harass women. Although there is explicitly no harassment, acts of sexism can take other forms, such as seeing one group as inferior to another. Cameron (2009, p. 263) explains that for feminist groups, structural relationships in which women are subordinated are categorized as acts of sexism.

The presence of women in mines is a form of resistance to the interpretation of mining as a men’s workplace which emerged after the nineteenth century.  Abrahamsson et al. (2014, p. 19) in research entitled “women’s long history as mineworkers” said that before entering the industrial revolution era in various countries, the number of women working in mining reached half of the total male workers. They even combine professions as mining workers and other professions such as being a farmer. This condition changed in the era of the 1900s when women workers were no longer found in the mining industry. This condition is due to the emergence of the idea that in terms of appearance and character, women are considered unsuitable for being in the mines. Even in the 1900s, a new rule emerged that women should not work in underground mines, which was eventually followed by the general disappearance of women from mining. Since then, the mine is considered a tough world and has masculine character. From this long history, Abrahamsson et al. (2014) concluded that the real character of mining is not defined as mining as the world of men or women, but is defined by a complex historical process and prevailing understanding of masculinity and femininity. One part of masculinization is the global history of the myth that the presence of women in mines leads to accidents and deaths.

The myth that the presence of women in mines is considered synonymous with accidents, indirectly confirms the inability of women to work in hazardous and risky areas such as mining heavy equipment operators. It contrasts with the results of research by Lahiri-Dut (2004) which confirmed that in terms of safety in the field, women are far more careful and able to minimize mining accidents. As Lahiri-Dutt said in his research, “One senior expatriate manager noted that women are more careful in their jobs and as result not one of them has had any accidents. They can also cope better with repetitive and tedious jobs, are easier to deal with, and tend to have a steadying impact on men” (2004, p. 43).

Although women have meticulousness and caution, which can be the main capital for the success of working in the mine, the potential for sexism and discrimination against women cannot be avoided. According to the research, some female participants indicated that they still experience severe discrimination by their male co-workers. “The male co-workers are often outspoken and the female workers often feel degraded and humiliated by remarks and comments made by them, especially when referring to women’s ability and capability to perform mine work” (Doret, 2016, p. 258). This condition illustrates the strong patriarchal ideology in the workplace, especially in the mining industry. Based on dictionary of cultural studies (Barker, 2004), “The idea of patriarchy refers to a social order in which there is recurrent and systematic domination of men over subordinated women across a wide range of social institutions and practices (p. 142).”  Relating to the concept of radical feminism, it is emphasize that patriarchy is the root of women’s inequality and social dominance of woman by men (Firestone, 1971). Meanwhile, Millet (1969) uses the term patriarchy in revealing the cause of women’s oppression and domination. Millet explains that patriarchal ideology is a set of beliefs that legitimize male power and authority over woman, and argues that the ideology within the patriarchy system is a set of ideas, explaining the social world (society as a whole). It indicates explicitly and implicitly how power has been disturbed within the world.

Patriarchal ideology among mining workers, especially heavy equipment operators, appears in various forms, one of which is sexism. Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies (2009) explains sexism is linked to power in that those with power are typically treated with favor and those without power are typically discriminated against. Sexism is also related to stereotypes since discriminatory actions or attitudes are frequently based on false beliefs or generalizations about gender, and on considering gender as relevant where it is not. Mills (2008) divides sexism into two forms, overt sexism such as hate speech and indirect sexism such as sexist humor. However women in particular who work in male-dominated industries have often resisted the dominant account about them and the traditionally assigned roles to them.

As a form of resistance to the patriarchal culture at the mine, especially among heavy equipment operators, the women workers conducted a number of negotiations.  In this context, negotiation is meant as a process of joint decision making in which people with different preferred outcomes interact in order to resolve their differences (Hayes, 2002, p. 224). If it is associated with intercultural communication, Ting-Toomey (1999, p. 40) said, “the concept negotiation is defined as a transactional interaction process whereby individuals in an intercultural situation attempt to assert, define, modify, challenge, and or support their own and others’ desired self-image.”  The negotiation in this paper is focused on how female workers resolve social issues that arise due to the perspective of men on women’s roles. This paper will not discuss the negotiations of women workers on industrial issues, because in the mining company where this research was conducted, gender mainstreaming embodied in various written policies has been implemented.

Based on the problems above, this research will find out how gender policy is implemented in the mining industry?; what is the impact of the gender policy on women in choosing employment? It also aims to examine how the patriarchal ideology works, especially for heavy equipment operators in the mine? and how do woman workers adapt and negotiate against patriarchal ideology at the mine?

The research that was conducted at PT Kaltim Prima Coal, a coal mine company located in Sangatta, East Kalimantan, Indonesia uses a qualitative approach. To see corporate policies related to gender equality and their impact on women’s decision-making to work in the mines, this study uses a descriptive case study method. Meanwhile, the ethnographic method is used to find out how patriarchal ideology works in the mining area and how women workers negotiate with these conditions. Data in this study were obtained from human resources policy implemented in KPC and women mining workers who are known as operators. They are informants who are the main source of research. Streubert and Carpenter (2011, p. 28) said “individuals are selected to participate in qualitative research based on their first-hand experience with a culture, social process, or a phenomenon of interest”. The number of informants in this study is five people. The informants were selected based on years of service and work performance. The working period is expected to illustrate the resilience and ability of a person to adapt to the work. Whereas achievement in the workplace will prove that the perspective of women as a marginalized group can present a more comprehensive and precise perspective than the perspective of men who are in a dominant position.  The data collection was carried out in two ways, observation and in-depth interview. The researcher went directly to the mine area to make in-depth interview and observations of the informant’s perceived work situation. Data consisting of transcripts of interview results and observation notes were processed and coded using hypothesis coding. According to Miles et al. (2014, p. 71), “codes are labels that assign symbolic to the descriptive or inferential information compiled during a study.”


Gender Policy at PT Kaltim Prima Coal

            KPC is a coal mining company that is located  in Sangatta, East Kalimantan, Indonesia. KPC is one of the largest operators of open-pit mining in the world with a total coal mining concession area of 84,938 ha in Sangatta, Bengalon and Rantau Pulung, East Kalimantan, Indonesia  (KPC, 2022). This company started mining in 1990. Based on KPC Human Resources data in October 2022, the company currently employs 3940 people consist of 3654 man and 286 women. From this data, a number of important positions such as General Manager, Manager, and Superintendent are occupied by women. They are women who work in offices. In addition, there are 116 women who work as heavy equipment operators in the field.

The presence of women in this mine cannot be separated from the existing gender equality policy. In carrying out its operations, KPC upholds human rights by prioritizing gender equality.  This is stated in the form of KPC’s Human Resource Management Policy (HRMP)  and BUMI as KPC holding. The HRMP which has been implemented since 1996  stated:

In the case of husband and wife both working at KPC, in consideration of gaining better benefits, the wife may choose to become the head of the family and all benefits resulting from her status as a head of the family automatically are equal to man (KPC, HRMP 01).

The above policy clearly shows that men and women have equal rights to work and receive benefits from their work. Women even can also become the head of the family if the position of benefits is more favorable. Whereas in a culture regulated based on patriarchal ideology, women are always women are always placed as dependents of their husbands in labor industrial relations.  Gender equality in this company is also implemented since the employee recruitment process begins. This is reflected in KPC’s HRMP 02 which reads:

Recruitment is conducted professionally based on qualifications, competence, experience and the principles of Occupational Safety and Health (K3), with respect to the human rights regardless of their skin color, race, relationship and other discriminatory factors. Recruitment section is therefore entitled and obliged to conduct selection based on the above rules.

Referring to the policy, KPC opens itself to anyone who wants to be an important part of the company’s development based on their quality and competence, not on their gender. This good practice is in line with the policies contained in BUMI’s code of conduct which reads:

BUMI is committed to develop a diverse workforce and provide a work environment in which  everyone is treated fairly and respect. The hiring/development/promotion of its employees  is conducted based on skill and contributions and the company will not discriminate based on race, gender,  or other characteristics.

The various written documents that have been implemented since 1996 are proof of KPC’s compliance with the gender equality campaign initiated by the United Nation through the SDGs, especially goal 5.

Mine Discourse in the Eyes of Woman Workers

            KPC’s gender equality policy has a direct impact on women’s desire to work in the mines. Based on KPC’s HR data, the number of female applicants from year to year is always increased. In 1993, for the first time KPC opened a mining fleet operator position, the number of female applicants reached 90 people. The number of women who are interested in becoming operators continues to increase. In 1999 the number of female applicants reached 111 people and in 2019 there were 562 female applicants (Mahmudah, 2020). Women’s interest in this job shows that the discourse of mining as a male workplace with a risky and dangerous connotation does not influence their decision to choose a job. They interpret the dangerous and risky mining discourse as a challenge that must be conquered. They admit that mining work is a job that is challenging, cool, and also proud. Windiyanti, accounting staff who previously  has worked for 12 years as heavy equipment operator admitted that she was prevented from applying to work as a mine operator. She said:

“My two brothers who are mine operators always say that working in the mines is risky and dangerous. Mine is not suitable for women, better find another job. But I didn’t want to be influenced by this discourse, so I was determined to apply and eventually became a mining operator until now.

Meanwhile Umandia, 29 years of service said:

“It is my desire to be a heavy equipment operator. When I first applied, I only saw heavy equipment that had to be operated through pictures. When I saw directly at the mine, I was even more excited. In 1993 when I started working, it was very rare for women to work as operators. I am challenged that if men can I also have to be able to. Being a female operator is proud, it feels cool to be able to drive a car as big as a house. At that time, the operator’s salary wasn’t really good, but I was happy to choose that job. I never thought that the mine was a men’s workplace.”

Umandia’s reasons are almost the same as for other woman operators. Sherly Tempang, 29 years of service said:

“From the beginning, I wanted to be a driver, because at that time (1993) women who became drivers were very rare. So I tried to apply to be an operator. Before that, I didn’t know the size of the fleet I was going to drive. When I saw the heavy equipment I had to drive, I was challenged, not afraid. If men can, women should also be able to. Even though I have not started operating the tool yet, I feel proud because he will operate a vehicle that is as big as a house. Moreover, the salary I will receive is greater than my previous workplace.”

Meanwhile, Yenny Aristha, who has worked for 16 years, admitted that her desire to work in the mines was based on her interest in the profession itself. Yenny said:

At first time, I saw women operators go to work wearing mine clothes. I saw that the women were cool and strong in their operator uniforms. At that time I was only 17 years old, so I didn’t think about working to earn money because I was still living with my parents. I decided to apply to become an operator because for me this is an interesting and challenging profession.”

Yenni’s opinion is no different from Dewi Kartika and Windiyanti, who just started working at the mine in 1999. Both emphasized their desire to prove that mining, especially heavy equipment operator is not a masculine workplace. They stay in the job, not for a short time. Hundreds of female operators who work at the KPC mine have worked for more than 10 years, even some of them have been in this profession for more than 25 years.

Woman operators work with the same operating standards as man workers, including the working hours, fleet to operate, safety standards, and uniforms to wear.  If it is a night shift, woman operators will also stay up all night to operate the mining fleet. The silence of the wilderness and the darkness of the night no longer prevent the woman workers from working seriously. Helmets, vests, and safety shoes are the attributes that they must wear every time they work. With these attributes, of course, their appearance is far different from office women who can change accessories anytime to be seen following fashion trends.

 The Patriarchal Ideology in Mine

            Although the policy of gender equality continues to be echoed, but the opinion that mining is a more suitable industry for men still persists. The  depiction of mining that are represented as risky, dirty, and dangerous acts as described by Evelin above leads to the thinking of workers, especially men that women will not be able to adapt and survive in the long term. This opinion arises because gender terminology itself is often associated with patriarchal domination. The view of women’s abilities in mines is exacerbated by the number of woman operators, which is only around 7% of the total male operators, has put women into a minority group in the mine. This condition results in acts of marginalization and also sexism by male operators against female operators, especially in verbal forms of harassment such as unwelcome innuendoes, suggestions and hints, sexual advances, comments with sexual overtones, sex-related jokes or insults, unwelcome graphic comments about a person’s body of woman.

Based on interviews, various experiences were felt by women operators. According to Suryani . in 1993, there were very few women as operators, so it seemed strange for male workers, when they see there is a female operator. She told,

One day a male operator touched my cheek. Spontaneously I clawed and hit the man wearing a helmet. Since then, they didn’t dare tease me. Not only have that but they (men) also sometimes doubted whether I can work in the mines. Now I have been in this profession for 29 years. They actually praised me back that I am strong and could go through this very tough routine.

Sherly also felt a similar experience. She said, “Before working here, I worked at a Department Store. Every day I dress up in full makeup. I carry this habit in the mine. Men always comment “red lips yeah.” I’m not angry, instead, I tease back “do you like it?” Gradually they got tired of teasing me. Woman operators also often experience harassment against their bodies that are considered weak. Yenny Arista, a woman who comes from the Kutai tribe (a native tribe of Kalimantan), shared her experience,

Due to my stature is small, sometimes the male operators say, “Are you really strong to work in the mine? Your body is too small. ” I said, yes I can do it. They did not immediately believe it, instead they returned a comment, “we’ll wait how long you can last.” After I proved that I could work for up to 15 years, they (men) said, “You are enough strong to be a mine operator. Salute, women with a small posture like you can work carrying heavy equipment.”

Woman marginalization through sexism, both overt and indirect sexism as mentioned above by Sara Mills, do not only come from man colleagues. Man workers, who are actually brother and also husband, also do the same to woman operators who are either their relatives or their wive. Sherly’s husband is the mine supervisor where she works for. She admitted that her husband often asked her to stop working on the grounds that mining was not suitable for women. Her husband wanted Sherly to take care of the household, but Sherly always refused the request.

As a dominant group, male workers also often think that their ability to work is better than that of women. This thought can be seen when the best operator competition was held. Dewi Karticha and Windiyanti, who at that time participated in the competition, had doubts about their abilities. Karticha said,

When I joined for the best operator competition in my department, many man operators commented that it is impossible for me to be the winner. After I succeeded in eliminating about 700 other operators and being able to represent the company to the Asian level, then they said “it turns out that women are capable of being the best”. After that, many man operators like to ask questions about how to operate their machines properly and safely.

Male workers often use sexist humor to seduce women. Windiyanti is very offended by a male colleague’s joke. He said, one day when it was raining heavily in the mine, his friend said, “Windi, if it rains it’s also good to take shelter under the blanket on the bed, why you choose working in the mine? Windiyanti, who is a widow, admits that she often receives sexist insinuations from her colleagues. Various experiences felt by female operators show that men tend to apply patriarchal ideology to marginalize women.

 Negotiation and Adaptation: An Effort to Conquer the Mine

            Various reasons were put forward by the women operators for resisting and negotiating against sexism that occurred in the mines. Based on in-depth interviews with informants, it was found that the basic reason for their resistance was to show the public that mining cannot be said to be a men’s workplace. In addition, their ability to adapt to the mining work environment proves that even though they are physically different, it does not mean that women cannot work in workplaces that are dominated by men. For women operators, their thoroughness and prudence is an important asset to conquer a risky and dangerous workplace such as a mine.

They emphasized that eliminating the patriarchal ideology completely is indeed a difficult matter considering that woman operators are a minority. By engaging in this resistance, they are trying to free themselves from the views and practices that consider women as incapable of working in the mines. Windiyanti said,

By working as an operator of a mining fleet, which in fact is dominated by men, I want to show that women are taking emancipatory steps from the shackles of patriarchy domination. I and other woman operators are proof that women are not only able to work in offices. Women can also work in very harsh and risky terrain such as mines.

Windiyanti’s statement proves that women resist the meaning of mine as a masculine workplace. The same opinion was shared by other informants. In exercising this resistance, the informants conducted a number of negotiations in their own way. There are those who negotiate with actions like what was done by Suryani when she was poked on her cheek, there are those who negotiate with words like Sherly’s, and there are those who prove it with work performance like Karticha and Windiyanti.  Everything they do is closely related to the goal of negotiation to assert, define, modify, challenge, and or support their own and others’ desired self-image  as negotiation concept mentioned by Ting-Toomey previously.

Sherly was able to work for up to 29 years after negotiating with her own husband and also supervisor at KPC mine who considered women unsuitable for working in the mines. Sherly emphasized that it is unfair for women to be returned to the domestic sector just because men are worried that women will not be able to handle household chores properly. There is no double standard between male and female operators in following all procedures and rules that apply in the mine also understood as part of negotiations to achieve gender equality. Windiyanti, who has been the best operator three times in a row and had the opportunity to represent the company at the Asian level event said,

Sometimes there are field supervisors who give dispensation because they consider the physical condition of women. For me, it has the potential for women to be underestimated because they are considered spoiled and take advantage of their gender to gain leeway in working. Acceptance of this dispensation will further strengthen the stigma that women are weak human being. I choose not to accept the concessions granted unless I am really sick. Dispensation for sick workers is the right of all workers, it has nothing to do with gender issues. So even if I ask for a break, it’s just because I am sick. It’s not because I am a woman who needs mercy.

Through resistance and various negotiations carried out, woman operators can not only show the same work performance as men. They were even able to demonstrate to the mining industry that the presence of women who were thought to be closely associated with risk and death was not proven. This can be seen in the company’s accident data which shows that since the first time there were female operators in 1992 until now, there has never been a Lost Time Injury involving a female operator (Mahmudah, 2020).

In addition, the form of women’s success in adapting and negotiating with patriarchal ideology is shown by the number of women who have won the best operator award. Based on KPC’s human resources data, there were 45 women who won the best operator award at the top gun operator competition which was held from 2014-2019. Even 5 of them had represented KPC in the top gun competition at the Asian level. These various achievements show that gender equality is an important agenda towards better mining, especially in the context of equal rights and opportunities to work.

Female operators are not only successful in negotiating and adapting to their male counterparts. They are also able to conquer the harshness of the mines and the pattern of night work which is a very strenuous routine. Based on available safety data, there has never been a Lost Time Injury (LTI) record at the KPC mine involving a female operator from 1992 to the present.


            Based on the various discussions above, it can be concluded that gender equality is an important part of good mining practices at KPC. This is not just a discourse but has been documented and implemented since the company started its operations. The gender equality policy opens up opportunities for women to work in mines. Besides that, women’s desire to work in mines is also driven by their disagreement with the discourse which says that mining is a men’s workplace and is not suitable for women. The emergence of the depiction of mining as a hard, risky and dangerous workplace has not discouraged women from entering the world of work.

Although gender equality has been implemented at KPC, the marginalization of women in mining continues, mainly by male colleagues. However, in various ways, women can adapt and negotiate against these conditions. They are not only able to work well and carefully, but they are able to excel in the midst of the domination of male workers. Therefore, it can be concluded that female workers contribute well to the sustainability of the mine with all the challenges that must be overcome. This success cannot be separated from the implementation of the gender equality policy as a strong foundation for the creation of equal rights toward a better mining in the future.


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