Perspectives on Female Participation in Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining: A Case Study of Birim North District of Ghana


Yakovleva, Natalia. 2007. “Perspectives on Female Participation in Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining: A Case Study of Birim North District of Ghana.” Resources Policy 32 (1-2): 29–41. doi:10.1016/j.resourpol.2007.03.002.

Author: Natalia Yakovleva


This article critically examines the issue of growing female participation in the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector, particularly within its illegal segment, drawing upon experiences from Birim North District in the Eastern Region of Ghana. Although an estimated 50% of those employed in ASM are women, few researchers have investigated what roles women play in the sector, or how their participation contributes to rural development. The paper aims to examine the causes of female participation in the ASM sector and the impact of this type of employment on women’s income, health and families. An analysis of collected data suggests that there is a growing need for policies to address female employment in ASM and, more generally, rural employment. The analysis demonstrates the utility of gender mainstreaming in the small-scale mining formalisation process, as well as the need to promote other viable employment opportunities for the benefit of women residing in rural areas.

Keywords: artisanal mining, small-scale mining, informal employment, gender, Ghana



“There is a consensus worldwide that ASM is largely poverty-driven and that ‘…there is a correlation between the human development index 9HDI) position of countries and the proportion of the total workforce involved in ASM’ (Hoadley and Limpitlaw, 2004, p.1)” (29)

“In many cases, ASM operations are conducted informally, outside regulatory and legal frameworks; it is considered that as much as 80% of the small-scale mining operations worldwide are illegal (Hentschel et al, 2003). In this respect, ASM is typical of informal economic sectors in the developing world that offer employment to a significant part of labour market; make important contributions to production and rural income generation; and provide a necessary survival strategy for hundreds of thousands of people” (29)

“One issue that has been particularly overlooked is the role of women, especially in illegal operations. The expanding ASM sector creates innumerable opportunities for thousands of impoverished women to find non-farm employment… However, the roles they play, their struggles and needs have been largely overlooked in both policymaking and research circles” (30)

“Women occupy a distinctly marginal role in the management of small-scale mining operations worldwide. They are rarely identified as miners in their own right and only sporadically attain the same decision making positions as their male counterparts, including concession owners, mine operators, dealers and buying agents and equipment owners” (30)

“Limited access to credit prevents women from participating in small-scale mining activities, which relegates them to menial jobs. A lack of education and technical knowledge, compounded by illiteracy, further inhibits women from fully engaging in the full spectrum of activities and processes of the mining business. Moreover, family commitments and cultural barriers impose a heavy family burden on women, which hinders their independence and mobility…” (31)

“An estimated 100,000 women are employed in Ghana’s ASM sector, the majority is engaged in its illegal segment… in the rural areas of Ghana, small-scale mining has become a somewhat indispensable non-farm income-earning opportunity for the rural poor. Comparatively, the participation of women in the legalized small-scale mining sector is marginal…” (32)

“Many of the women from Ntronang and Noyem who work at galamsey sites have joined artisanal mining along with their husbands and boyfriends. However, there are also single women, who joined galamsey work in pursuit of income… there is a small number who migrated to the area specifically to work for galamsey." (35)

“The most potent health risk in small-scale mining is exposure to mercury, which is used in final stages of gold extraction. Mercury is highly toxic and poses a health hazard to humans and animals… interviews with galamsey miners… suggest a widespread lack of knowledge concerning health hazards associated with mercury and an overall absence of environmentally safe technologies…” (36)

“None of the women have protective gear; they, along with their children, are exposed to dust and noise. Many female interviewees complained about common problems associated with carrying loads… the local health authorities reported malaria, anemia, hypertension and diarrhea as the common diseases that women working in galamsey camps complain of” (37)

“It is evident that the major motivation for women to join galamsey is a lack of productive employment. Landlessness, undeveloped local markets, an inability to physically access wider markets and a lack of financial credit push the poorer women inhabiting rural areas to enter low-skilled, less productive jobs in illegal small-scale mining, where they can be further marginalized and impoverished” (38)

Topics: Development, Economies, Extractive Industries, Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Gender Mainstreaming, Health, Households, Livelihoods Regions: Africa, West Africa Countries: Ghana

Year: 2007

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