How women should view the materials in jewellery
From Queen Cleopatra of Egypt to Princess Diana of The United Kingdom to every day women of the 21st Century, women have adorned themselves with jewellery since the beginning of time. Whether it is to symbolize wealth and power as royal families often do or to announce engagement to be married popular in modern civilization, or even as a fashion accent, this practice of decorating ourselves is here to stay.
Since ancient times, we have been decorating ourselves with different items ranging from bones of animals, teeth of predators, feathers of flying creatures to shells from the ocean. Although most people no longer use the bones and teeth of animals for their jewellery, precious metals such as gold and silver have persisted through time.
Although previously reserved for the rich, precious metals and gems like rubies, diamonds, sapphires, jade, turquoise among many more have become even more accessible to women around the world. So how do these minerals get from the ground to our bodies? With a growing consumer-conscious market, it is more vital in this age that the owners of jewellery have the answer to this question.
Women have been routinely excluded from higher-earning tasks in mining due to the patriarchal nature of the industry. Pili Husen, a now 63-year-old woman from the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, had to disguise herself as a man for 15 years in order to work in the tanzanite mines of Tanzania before she had to out herself. Now a successful miner employing over 70 employees, she is an example of the lengths a lot of women have to go through to get a livelihood in an industry that is still considered a reserve for men.
Gold, in particular, is very interesting as its jewellery represents the greatest demand for gold. In 2019, 46% of total worldwide gold demand for the fourth quarter was in the form of jewelry consumption making it the most sought out jewelry product of the modern age.
Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining
ASM provides a livelihood for a significant population who may not have access to a viable alternative in many developing countries. 75% of mining in this community occurs outside of legal formal structures making it especially difficult for the miners, who produce 15 – 20% of annually newly mined gold, to trade with formal participants in the supply chain due to the risk presented.
Key to the gold supply chain, traders are oftentimes the only source of financial support for miners in ASM as they are the only actors willing to take the calculated risk of investing into the sector. The informality of ASM places a large portion of this community in a dependency cycle with traders who provide pre-financing during low seasons of gold production in exchange for gold when extraction commences. Sadly, these traders are also responsible for supplying mercury, a harmful neurotoxin, to the gold mining community for processing.
Women in mining communities
Many women in ASM are engaged in non-digging activities as crushing, sluicing, washing, panning, sieving, sorting, transporting, mercury-gold amalgamation, amalgam decomposition placing them at an increased risk of mercury poisoning. Mercury poisoning is especially harmful to fetuses and young infants as it affects the brain and nervous system development and is even more acute in local mining communities who present the single largest demand for mercury in the world.
The women gravitate towards mercury use as they not only lack the financial capacity to invest in alternative gold processing equipment but also lack the training and awareness to facilitate a smooth transition into better equipment use. It also does not help that the health effects of mercury occur in the long-term and so ASM communities, often citing mercury’s timely gold amalgamation continue to use the harmful chemical.
Gold Supply Chain
Once gold is mined and initially refined, it is sold to traders or banks, manufacturers, jewelry and watch companies, electronics companies, or other businesses. Jewelry companies may source their gold directly from refiners or from manufacturers, banks, or international gold traders. Gold can be melted down and turned into a different product over and over again, which can make it difficult to determine the provenance of any single piece of jewelry.
Call to Action
Whether you are using the jewellery as a status symbol, currency for trade, for wealth security, signify a rite of passage, for religious purposes, or even as a family heirloom, It takes a myriad of effort to get the jewellery on our bodies and into our lives. It should then be paramount that the human effort it takes to create these beautiful pieces of art is fairly compensated and that their individual contributions do not come at a cost of environmental degradation and human casualties.
Because Jewellery makes you feel seen, powerful, sexy, or loved, the production of jewellery should thus not be to the detriment of human health, but equally be a story of empowerment, respect, and opportunity. The market demand that exists for gold can be used as a catalyst to push major jewellery companies and retailers to responsibly source for the metal and lobby for the formalization of these sectors to reduce the sourcing risk currently present. If companies like Makal Jewellery can do it, then why not?
- Artisanal Gold Council 2020 “The World’s Gold Trading Hubs and their Importance to Artisanal Gold Mining” [online] https://www.artisanalgold.org/2020/04/gold-hubs-importance-for-artisanal-mining/ [Accessed 16.04.2021]
- Investopedia. “Top 10 countries With the Highest Demand for Gold Jewelry” [online] https://www.investopedia.com/news/top-10-countries-highest-demand-gold-jewelry/” [Accessed 07.03.2021]
- Planet GOLD 2020 “Tackling the Challenges of the Interface between Large-Scale and Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining” https://www.planetgold.org/tackling-challenges-interface-between-large-scale-and-artisanal-and-small-scale-mining
- World Gold Council “Artisanal and Small-scale gold Mining”[online] https://www.gold.org/about-gold/gold-supply/responsible-gold/artisanal-and-small-scale-gold-mining [Accessed 15.03.2021]