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BiH women miners

The Washington Post published an article about the women miner of Breza mine.

They’re a legacy of communism — a group of hardy women working deep underground in BiH’s coal mines. They’re set to retire in three years, marking the end of an era.

In communist Yugoslavia, authorities wanted to promote gender equality and encouraged women to attend schools and get jobs instead of staying home and raising kids. Factories filled with a new work force, and it was not uncommon to see women working as coal miners.

Ten women from Breza seem to love their jobs. They enjoy the banter with the 500 or so men. The shafts and elevators echo with laughter and tales of grandchildren.

Paying around 500 EUR a month, mining offers a stable income in a country with almost 30 percent unemployment.

Many younger, female colleagues work in the administrative office above ground — but Sakiba Čolić and Šemsa Hadžo prefer the pit.

“We are always in a good mood down there,” says Čolić. “We get along great with our comrades and we love the jokes that are thrown around.”

For decades she tours the pits and checks the airflow, the amount of methane in the air and the temperature. But in 2016, when mandatory retirement kicks in, they will be the last of their kind.

“They are very responsible and precise,” said pit supervisor Alija Salkić. “But I still think this is not a job for a woman. It’s hard and some are already grandmothers. Somehow, that’s a bit too much.”

In Breza, almost everybody is connected to the coal mine. People for the most part have gotten used to the sight of the women miners. But once, Čolić recalled, “an old lady had to touch me to see if I was real.”

Hadžo says none of her four sisters “would ever dare to go down” but insists she has no regrets.

Putting on lipstick and drying her hair after a shower at the mine, she ponders for a second what she’d do if she had her time all over again.

And there’s no doubt in her mind: “I would be in the mine.”

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