UNEARTHING HER CROWN

Ghanaian women at the bottom of the global gold chain industry. 2019 - ongoing.

Researcher and project partner: Melani Mennella

Ghana’s total value of gold export in 2019 was around $27 million every day, while the majority of women working in artisanal small-scale gold mining live on just $2 per day, child labour here is mostly free. Small-scale and illegal gold mining plays a significant role in Ghana, contributing around two-thirds of the country’s output with about 3 million people forced to live off mining due to poverty and lack of work. Our research shows that around 30% of ASGM workers are women.

Limited by systemic and cultural constraints, female miners experience gross disparity in the extractive sector resulting in tragic economic malaise. Driven by hand to mouth sustenance for their families, these women spend decades in the trenches of ruble and mud searching for gold dust. Gender injustice and imbalance within the ASGM exacerbates the feminization of poverty and prevents women from meaningful economic participation, independence, and self-empowerment. Female artisanal and small-scale gold miners largely work within galamsey or illegal mining. Operating in the shadows, their individual stories and collective narrative are unknown and undervalued. Furthermore, there is a paucity of data chronicling the specific impacts and barriers experienced by female ASGM workers in direct relation to labour market exclusion and economic disempowerment.

Ghana is the number one gold producer on the African continent. Foreign multinational companies own the vast majority of Ghana’s gold wealth amounting to a disturbing ecological imperialism. According to The Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources in Ghana only in 2019 around $9 billion worth of gold exports remained unaccounted, being smuggled to the major importer countries like India, United Arab Emirates and Switzerland. The foreign monopoly of natural resources and its collateral consequences of land appropriation, livelihood deprivation and environmental degradation, marginalizes ASGM who are desperate to share in the earth’s profits.

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Family members wash loads of earth at the base of an illegal small scale mining site. The land is cleared by rented excavators, which dig deep pits exposing the gold line. Rain water collected in shallow pools is pumped through a nexus of hoses to strategically placed washing stations. A hierarchy of management, helmed by a chairman, oversees 75 plus workers, each with defined responsibilities. The visual assault is sound tracked by of cacophony of generators and grinding excavator treads.

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Female galamsey miners loading ore to wash it as part of an assembly line at an illegal artisanal mining site.

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Female galamsey miner washes loads of earth as part of an assembly line at an illegal artisanal mining site.

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Female galamsey worker at the mine site with her 3 children. She is working here carying load of 70-80kg for 6-8 hrs everyday for around $3 per day.

Female galamsey miner washes loads of earth as part of an assembly line at an illegal artisanal mining site. Clay is washed in makeshift elevated sluice boxes lined with high pile carpet or synthetic turf. Gravity pulls heavier sand and rock containing gold into the lining as lighter material is washed away. This crude methodology is labour intensive and low yield. Upwards of 70% of gold is left in the muddy waste water and rock. Photograph presents a found situation during galamsey investigation.

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Female galamsey worker taking shower after finish her day long work in illegal gold mine site. Photograph presents a found situation during galamsey investigation.

Female galmsey worker in front of her house amalgamate gold dust using toxic mercury methods. She sell her unrefined gold to bush buyers for a fraction of the gold standard price.

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Daughter of female illegal gold mine worker playing with her friends around the village chief house. She will be the next generation of women, who works in galamsey for decades.

Female galamsey worker at the bush based gold buyer.

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The Queen mother of a village full of women works in an illegal gold mine for decades.
"Queen mother's" in Ghana represent the female part of the communities and connect them to the males world. Every issue concerning women in the community must be presented first to the queen mother, and then she discusses it with the chief, who represents the males and the village.

Female galamsey workers at the street market in village located next to the biggest US gold mine in West Africa.
In June 2021 police clashed with the people from the village demonstrated against Newmont Gold Ghana for relocating members of the community from their ancestors land to a new location without prior notice and compensation.

Additionally Ghana Mineworkers Union in Ahafo have appealed to the government: "Newmont Ghana is the only mining company in the Region and they duly pay their taxes to the government but there is no development in the communities.

As mining community, their road network is in a very deplorable state, connection of some communities to the National Grid is a challenge and not talk of source of good drinking water”.

After several years of mining in Ahafo, many communities have not seen any facelift considering the mineral wealth generated from these communities.

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Female illegal gold mine worker at her house. Since she lost her hair salon shop to structural damage in a storm. She collect waste rocks from the illegal gold mine and transporting load from the site to the grinding station where the ore is crushed and washed. Whole family (4 people) income is an average of $10 per week, though some weeks she works without profiting.

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Galamsey worker preparing herself to sleep  after all day work in gold mine. Her bed is a piece of wood board in a stone grinders shed, located in the middle of the bush, not far from the mining shafts. She is staying in the bush for a few nights every week, because she cannot afford to pay for transportation back home.

Female galamsey miner washes loads of earth as part of an assembly line at an illegal artisanal mining site. Clay is washed in makeshift elevated sluice boxes lined with high pile carpet or synthetic turf. Gravity pulls heavier sand and rock containing gold into the lining as lighter material is washed away. A few washing stations line the base of a muddy hillside that is dug by male pickaxe workers. As earth accumulates into loads, it is fetched and thrown onto the frames with water by an organized team. This crude methodology is labour intensive and low yield. Upwards of 70% of gold is left in the muddy waste water and rock. Photograph presents a found situation during galamsey investigation.

Female galamsey worker on her way to the church. Sunday is the only day that she take a break from the gold mine for a few hours.

8 y.o. daughter of 21 y.o female illegal gold mine worker at her house. Since her mum lost her hair salon shop to structural damage in a storm. She help her mum transporting load from the site to the grinding station where the ore is crushed and washed. Whole family (4 people) income is an average of $10 per week, though some weeks her mum works without profiting.

Female galamsey worker at illegal small scale mining site. The land is cleared by rented excavators, which dig deep pits exposing the gold line. Rain water collected in shallow pools is pumped through a nexus of hoses to strategically placed washing stations. A hierarchy of management, helmed by a chairman, oversees 75 plus workers, each with defined responsibilities. The visual assault is sound tracked by of cacophony of generators and grinding excavator treads.

Power cut in the village located in Amansie West Region, electricity may be gone here even for a few days. Almost every person in the village live from illegal gold mining. The village is located next to the giant Canadian gold mine.