Women's Work, Health and the Environment in a Small-Scale Mining Site in Northeastern Ghana

By Renne, Elisha; Basu, Niladri et al. | Women & Environments International Magazine, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview
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Women's Work, Health and the Environment in a Small-Scale Mining Site in Northeastern Ghana

Renne, Elisha, Basu, Niladri, Gager, Erin, Koomson, Elizabeth, Lee, Bianca, Lee, Shuriah, Leeth, Aimee, Manigault, Douglas, Rajaee, Mozhgon, Sajjad, Ayesha, Smith, Monique, Yee, Allison, Women & Environments International Magazine

The Site Called Kejetia

Around 1995, registered concessions were granted to five small-scale mining groups (Hilson 2010) and the Kejetia mining site named for the prosperous market in Kumasi, Ghana was organized by eight men. According to one miner, the site had "around 15,000 people in 2000. There was a huge gold rush at that time, which has since reduced because you need equipment now to reach the gold." An official with the Minerals Commission estimates that the general population living in Kejetia in 2010 is about 2,500 people, although he conceded that "it's hard to tell how many people there are." People leave the site during the rainy season when mine pits flood making it impossible to work. However, during the dry season, work at the site attracts many women.

Kejetia has come to resemble a town with small houses, food shops, beer parlours, a butcher's shop, stalls selling packaged foodstuffs, everyday amenities, and a range of clothing and electronic items. The area is dominated by gold mining - there are places where deep mines have been dug that are surrounded by heavy equipment, pumps, diesel electric generators, and drilling equipment. Areas around a nearby stream have been used for surface gold mining. Throughout the site, there are abandoned pits - some partially filled in, hoses carrying water from deep wells to the surface, and obsolete equipment.

The Kejetia mining site was established on unpopulated and undeveloped savannah, and basic infrastructure such as wells, roads, electricity, and sanitation continue to be non-existent. After 15 years, there are still no government services, although a small primary school has been built. The stream is the primary source of water for cooking, bathing and washing, although petty traders sell small plastic pouches of drinking water brought to the site by taxi. Housing consists of mud-block structures in various states of construction and repair, and some enclosed within large walled compounds. Electricity is only available in a few compounds whose owners have purchased generators. The impermanence of Kejetia, which is dependent on the vagaries of gold mining and gold prices, has discouraged compound owners from building more permanent sanitation facilities such as pit latrines; thus "free range" open defecation at the site boundaries is commonplace.

Women Living at the Mining Site

In May- June 2010, a study of women's work and health was conducted at Kejetia, focusing specifically on exposure to mercury as a consequence of working and living in a gold mining site. At that time, 60 women were interviewed concerning a range of topics, including work, education, reproductive histories, health, and diet. Women's education levels ranged from no education to completion of secondary schooling, although the majority of women (42%) had no education. Many of the surveyed women living at the site have come from the immediate area, with 75% identifying themselves as Talensi, the main ethnic group in Talensi-Nabdam District. Some women resided in compounds with as many as 14 residents, although most lived in households with three to ten people; two women lived by themselves.

Of the 60 women surveyed, 50 had been pregnant or had given birth. Of these women, 56% had one or more children living with them at the site suggesting that childcare was an important part of the work day. While some older children are engaged in mining work, other children attend a private elementary school nearby. Most of the children at Kejetia were born outside of the site. Of the 50 women who have given birth (or are pregnant), all but two have attended at least one antenatal session, although the lack of public transportation and condition of the roads make these trips a time-consuming and arduous undertaking. Yet having children is extremely important for these women and, as will be seen, much of their productive work at the Kejetia site is similar to the types of work they do in raising their families.

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