Gendered Landscapes: Political Ecology of Small-scale Gold Mining in Ghana

Authors: Janet Adomako*, Rutgers University, Heidi Hausermann, Colorado State University
Topics: Gender, Cultural and Political Ecology, Resources
Keywords: Feminist political ecology, Small-scale mining, Gender, Non-western ontologies, Subjectivities and identities, Ghana.
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Stones Throw 2 - Slate, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Following the 2008 financial crisis, gold-backed reserves became a ‘safe-haven’ for capital investment. Millions of people became involved in SSM as gold prices reached historic highs. This sparked a modern gold rush in Ghana and beyond. Current estimates put the global SSM workforce at 40 million people, with women constituting half that number (IISD, 2017). Yet, miners are often represented as young men, despite women’s ubiquitous and variegated roles in mining. While extensive SSM studies from Ghana exist, there has been surprisingly little attention to gender. Based on ethnographic fieldwork, I thus examine the ways cultural norms, materiality and desire combine to shape men’s and women’s engagement with mining. For instance, gendered understandings of mining technologies (excavators, dynamite etc.), mining spaces (underground, alluvial sites, etc.) and bodies shape the types of mining activities men and women are expected to engage in. Women’s biological and reproductive processes also combine with geology and nonwestern spirit ontologies to shape gendered mining spatialities. Menstruating women, for instance, are forbidden from alluvial mining sites because people believe the river (on which mining takes place) forbids it, or women will “contaminate” the gold. Drawing from feminist political ecology, I detail these dynamics and argue women miners challenge mining and gender norms in important ways – using dynamite, owning concessions, engaging in mining whilst menstruating and so on – thereby shaping extraction, socio-ecological relationships and identities.

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