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International Women’s Day 2022: Meet Moyo Gems

Meet your miner: Mwanahawa with Moyo Gems

Ahead of this International Women’s Day, we’d like to introduce you to the amazing women miners behind the Moyo Gems collection, and why Brilliant Earth supports their initiative to create a more responsible, safe, and fair market for women miners in Tanzania.

What is Moyo?

Rough tourmaline mined by women miners of Tanzania. Source: Moyo Gems

Behind every piece of jewelry is a long supply chain. Often, it starts with the miner who dug the sparkling gemstone from the earth. If you’re wearing a colored gemstone – a ruby, a sapphire, a garnet, an emerald, or others – it likely was mined by an artisanal or small-scale miner, as most natural gemstones come from artisanal and small-scale mining sources. Moyo Gems was first formed to answer the questions: who is the miner, does she mine legally, does she use safety equipment, was she paid fairly, and does she know the value of her gemstones?

Named after the word for ‘heart’ in Swahili, Moyo Gemstones is a responsible miner-to-market gemstone collaboration born in East Africa. They work with women artisanal gem miners and their allies to track beautiful gemstones from artisanal miner to market. This work is made possible through a unique partnership between the Tanzanian Women Miners Association (TAWOMA), the global nonprofit organization Pact, international gem traders, and brands like Brilliant Earth.

How Moyo Is Helping Miners

Cristina Villegas, Gemstone Expert and Director of Mines to Markets at Pact said, “We’ve often found that miners – the ones doing the hardest work in the gem trade – know the least about gemstones. This puts them at an obvious disadvantage when it comes to selling, when the gem’s species, features, cut potential and hues all come into play and when basic gem knowledge is power. We wanted to level the playing field.”

Working with TAWOMA, Cristina and her team connected with the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), which is globally praised for its independent gemstone educational programs. Together, they set up successful trainings in Tanga – in the mining villages themselves – and  taught the local women miners the details and value of the gemstones they were mining. However, these trainings also brought to light that many of the miners lacked a consistent market for selling their gemstones.

It was around that time, that Cristina met Monica Stephenson of ANZA Gems and Stuart Pool of Nineteen48 Gems, who were interested in working with Tanga’s women gem miners.

A few months later, the group visited the women miners in Tanga to solicit interest and co-design a program with the miners themselves, along with the leadership of TAWOMA, and with key local leaders. The result was a responsible miner-to-market gemstones program called Moyo Gems, which officially launched in 2019. Moyo’s partners include Pact, TAWOMA, ANZA and Nineteen48, along with the emerging technology enterprise Everledger, which provides blockchain services for gemstone traceability. Brilliant Earth also partners with Everledger on blockchain enabled diamonds.

Source: Moyo Gems

In order to work with Moyo, miners must be members of TAWOMA, and they must have attended a no-cost occupational health and safety training provided by Pact. Miners must also demonstrate a legal right to mine on the land where they work.

“The idea is to progressively raise standards, making their work safer and more productive, lucrative and formalized,” explained Cristina.

Once they meet Moyo’s participation criteria, miners are invited to attend regular Market Days held near their villages where they can sell to ANZA, Nineteen48 and other international buyers. Local gem brokers who have been vetted by TAWOMA and hold valid broker licenses also attend. Each miner selects a broker to represent her, and together they sell directly to the international buyers. Crucially, miners routinely report that Moyo Gems pays 3-10 times what they would have previously received for their stones.

Source: Moyo Gems

This is a significant change, said Norbert Massay, the Pact program manager who is leading the local Moyo Gems team in Tanzania. “It changes the relationship between miners and brokers from natural adversaries to partners,” Massay says. “When the final price is fair, both the miner and the broker win, and the miner sets the broker’s fee instead of the other way around.”

The buyers then export the gems in accordance with Tanzanian law with the assistance of a Tanzanian gem exporter. Miners and brokers pay a small membership fee to take part in TAWOMA, which goes to TAWOMA’s national advocacy efforts for miners and  reinvestments into mining communities.

“It was important for us to work on this project because it is meeting a real need for women miners, and in a way that gives them more power,” says Salma Kundi, TAWOMA’s secretary general, who mines garnet, tourmaline and zircon.

Moyo held its first two Market Days in May of 2019, in the Mkinga district of Tanga, where more than 70 miners, most of them women, came to sell their gems. The program has since quadrupled. On average, Moyo miners make 95% of the pre-export price of their gemstones.

Meet the Miners

Meet some of the inspiring female miners who are working with Moyo to create a better future for women miners in their community.

Meet Your Miner: Fatuma

Meet your miner: Fatuma from Pact

“Before Moyo, the options for selling weren’t good,” said Fatuma, a 50-year-old mother of six who mines red garnet. “I just waited for the local brokers to come to me, and when they did, I always needed money, so I would sell, no matter the price. The local broker decided everything.”

Besides subsistence farming, Fatuma claimed, mining is the only real option she has for supporting her family. She and her husband mine on their small claim together, usually working six days a week.

“Yes, mining is hard,” Fatuma said. “But I’ve raised my position through mining. There is nothing else. With more knowledge about gemstones and with this market, I can rise up more.”

Meet Your Miner: Prisca

Meet your miner: Prisca from Pact

Prisca is a relatively new miner who mines for green tourmaline. Before becoming a miner, she was a small business woman who cooked food in a local hotel. However, the food business was challenging, and she would often have more supply than demand. She decided to learn mining since it is a thriving business in her area.

“Because we didn’t know where else to take them, we accepted the price [of the local brokers] to be able to meet our needs and the needs of our children,” said Prisca, “I expect Moyo Gems to be a real life-changer. I have learned a lot of things. We have learned how to be safe in the mine. I have learned to be patient to keep my stones until I have enough. Then I sell them on the market day for a fair price. I would like to be successful. It is my hope to provide my children with an education, to buy a better house than my current one, while continuing to advance in mining.”

Meet Your Miner: Asha

Meet your miner: Asha from Pact

Asha has been mining for three years. Before becoming a miner, she was a subsistence farmer, but it wasn’t enough to make ends meet. She saw that miners in her community were earning more, so she decided to give it a try. With a crew that she employs to work her claim with her, she usually mines five days a week.

“We believe Moyo Gems will change our life,” said Asha, “My hope is to have good living standards, and to generally have a good life if I am empowered by Moyo. If I get more money, I will spend it improving my living standard, improving the house I live in, and I will spend some to support my relatives so they can have a good life as well.”

Shop Moyo Gems

The most powerful thing anyone can do to support women miners is to buy their gemstones and the jewelry that comes from this beautiful source. Supporting these women sends a powerful signal to the jewelry industry at large that there is a new standard for labor standards, ethics, and full empowerment for workers in the industry. Moyo Gems are also some of the most vibrant and uniquely cut gemstones that we offer, for those who are looking for something truly distinctive.

Final Thoughts

Learn more about Brilliant Earth’s commitment to responsible sourcing, empowering miners, and providing Beyond Conflict Free™ diamonds and gemstones.

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