Rebecca Appiah is Stakeholder Engagement and Gender Officer at Golden Star Wassa Limited (a member of Chifeng Gold) in Ghana. She has been with this company for thirteen years, having started as a national service personnel and then rose through the ranks to the position she currently occupies, seizing every opportunity that came her way while juggling her studies and a young family. Rebecca has been part of major community projects and programmes, such as Resettlement Projects, developing a corporate Social Responsibility Memorandum of Understanding between Golden Star and its host communities, and creating a Gender Desk to give a voice to women in the communities. She holds Bachelor of Education (Social Sciences) and Commonwealth Masters (Public Administration) degrees from University of Cape Coast and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, respectively.
Rebecca is on a mission to help organise and empower women in her mining communities to seize the great opportunities mining provides to the people. She was recently named as Gender Diversity Champion of the year by Women In Mining and Energy Africa (WiMEA).
By Kathy Sole
You originally trained in education and social sciences. Please tell us how you ended up working in the mining industry?
I am a native of Wassa East District in Ghana, where the Golden Star Wassa Mine is located. During my early years, I recall that mine workers regularly visited my father, who was then Divisional Chief, to engage in community and stakeholder consultations. The miners always wore flashy bright vests, which caught my attention to want to be part of them someday. I held on to my childhood interest and had the opportunity to do my internships and National Service with the company. My interest in constantly engaging the communities continues to be my passion.
Please describe your career progression and your current role.
During my National Service, my tenacity and effort led to my employment as an Assistant Community Relations Officer in 2010. During that time, I was also given additional responsibility on a Resettlement project to help with stakeholder engagements and consultations, after which I was promoted to Community Relations Officer.
I currently work as the Stakeholder Engagement and Gender Officer, a position I assumed in 2020. The role encompasses coordinating engagements between the company and external stakeholders, as well as monitoring and reporting on mine-related gender issues in the communities.
Over the years, I have organized gender-sensitivity training programmes and provided guidance for local women, through capacity-building empowerment programmes and local development, and holding experience by sharing visits to model women and girls on changing gender roles. I also regularly facilitate inspirational sessions for girls.
I have championed a number of projects including the following: Fertility and Fibroids in Women (Women and Health), Basic First Aid and Safety Practices at home (Women and Safety), Parenting in a Digital Generation (Women in Technology), Generation Equality – Realising Women’s Rights for an Equal Future (Gender Equality), Annual Breast Cancer Screening and Awareness Creation exercise in the communities (Women and Health), Annual Menstrual Hygiene Education for girls in the communities (Girl Child Development), Financial Literacy Training for local SMEs (Women in Business), among others.
These programmes have led to a tremendous improvement in women’s access to information, and improved knowledge and skills in their endeavors. This has shaped their confidence level, increasing their participation in local development activities.
You have spent much time and effort involved in local community negotiations and liaisons regarding a resettlement project owing to mining activities in the area. Please tell us about the challenges involved in this emotive subject. Do you believe that being a woman in this role helped you to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes for both parties?
Resettlement is inarguably a sensitive subject that involves tough negotiations, even so for a woman in a male-dominated industry where socio-cultural practices make it easy for males to assume superiority over females. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed tremendous support and respect, and hence, my voice is usually heard louder, especially when the right things are said. The biggest challenge I have faced was when I had to engage an entire community—Chief, elders, old and young—to explain to them why they should accept being resettled from their community to another location. Juggling between the expectations of the people and the company was a tough discussion. However, rising from the community myself and understanding of the needs of the people, and being vocal about opportunities that mining offered to the community folks, particularly young girls and women, helped to smooth the negotiations process.
There are many occasions when the men provided added support to my submissions as long as they supported the general wellbeing of the community, particularly if the benefit was more considerable for women and children. The voice of the women’s group in the community also provided an additional layer of support to my work of influencing such decisions. It is important that I don’t work in isolation from the women’s group, and seek counsel and lobby from the elders, before deciding with my team what has to be presented to the negotiating parties. I must say that the community will not accept my position if my side of the bargain will not benefit them and they suspect an imposition of the project, even if it will benefit them.
You also work on many fronts related to empowerment and inclusion of women and girls. What inspires you to be part of these initiatives?
My inspiration comes from a desire to see girls grow to become independent and be able to make better decisions for themselves and their families. Within the communities, women play an important role in their homes and ensuring the well–being of their families is protected. Empowering them with the knowledge and exposure to tackle their challenges is just right. This is dear to me and a plan I will always wake up to pursue.
What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining sector? Do you feel you have had to adapt to ‘fit’ the industry, particularly after your mine was acquired by Chifeng Gold, a Chinese mining company? What has been your most significant challenge?
Working in the mine as a woman has been both intriguing and challenging. I believe I’ve evolved over the years, adjusting to the male-dominated environment where socio-cultural dimensions could make you easily predict what to expect in that environment. My affinity to work in the mine increased tremendously when I came to the realisation that women are treated equally in the mine and provided with the same opportunity to grow as their male counterparts.
Chifeng’s acquisition of the mine presents more opportunities for me to work in an international company that has other subsidiaries. This provides an avenue for me to learn about other cultures and gain the experience I need for my next level role in the industry. So far, Chifeng has fulfilled all its promises set out in the Sales Purchase Agreement, with a significant payment of US$ 34 million in severance and injection of approximately US$ 40 million in capital development. The perception of Chinese companies operating illegal mining in Ghana cannot be said of Chifeng. Chifeng is a listed company on the Shanghai Stock Exchange and is yet to list on the Ghana Stock Exchange. Since taking over the mine, they have continued with our operating model, introduced new work systems, and upheld the stakeholder agreements we have with the communities to ensure that development is brought to the local people. There is collaboration with the local team to deliver on the set targets to ensure that the value of benefiting more people through the development of Chifeng Gold is realised. Although we expected that Chifeng would replace the local leadership with Chinese people, Chifeng maintained Ghanaians as heads of departments and assigned Chinese project team members to support the development and various expansion projects. An all-inclusive management style is openly displayed, with opportunities given to women to work with the company. I feel more empowered with the support I receive from the Ghanaian and Chinese teams. Realising that one doesn’t need to struggle to fit into the mine is gratifying.
Chifeng Gold has partnered with GIZ on various agreements to serve the communities. The programmes cover social interventions and training for artisans in the communities. In addition, Chifeng Gold has entered into a new agreement with Mining Share Value, a member of Engineers Without Borders (Canada) and GIZ, to enhance local procurement in the western region. For example, Golden Star Resources with GIZ launched a menstrual hygiene campaign in September 2022. This campaign will run in 14 schools in Wassa East district. Over the course of the campaign, 772 girls will benefit from almost 14,000 packs of sanitary towels to improve their menstrual hygiene management.
Finally, as a mother, working away from home leaves little time for the family, which is the most significant challenge I face; however, my husband has been very supportive, and the company provides time off when required to attend to family needs.
In many ways, Ghana still holds very traditional attitudes regarding female roles in society. Please describe the current status of women in the mining environment (both professionals and non-professional roles). How is this changing and evolving?
Recruiting women into traditionally male-dominated roles has been challenging due to their historical exclusion from mining and some perceptual and cultural beliefs or attitudes. Although they may not explicitly express prejudice against women, some institutions, policies, and practices in Ghana are not gender-neutral.
The social taboos and domestic and family responsibilities that significantly load women and limit their independence and mobility are linked to the impediments to effective female participation in mining. This also affected the number of females undertaking mining-related courses at the tertiary level. However, the dynamics have changed with the increase in global gender advocacy for women’s empowerment and the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) acting as a yardstick for organizations to work towards. There is heightened interest in the development and progression of women across the mining industry, and this has culminated in more girls undertaking mining-related courses.
For example, Golden Star Resources’s target is to achieve 20% female representation across the business by the end of 2025, and higher in subsequent years. This will be a significant step forward from the current 8% female representation.
What actions and programmes can mining companies implement to improve acceptance and inclusion of women in the workplace, particularly with reference to the West African context?
I would say women will feel more accepted and belonging when their male colleagues show them love and support and accept them as work colleagues. Strict policies should be in place to protect women against discrimination and harassment of any form.
Women should be given opportunity in leadership roles, which have seemingly become the preserve of men. It’s a fact that men occupy more than 90% of all leadership roles in most mining companies. Even though this is changing, the pace is very slow and makes women think the drive is just more rhetoric. We cannot also ignore the fact that there is a skills shortage of women in mining that the industry is contending with in an era of women’s inclusion. Women themselves should also step forward when there are opportunities at the leadership level. Finally, labelling women as weak, vulnerable, and defenseless is a stigma that needs to change if the dilemma of increasing women’s inclusion and acceptance has to be solved.
What are you most proud of having achieved in your career so far?
I am proud that through the Gender Desk and other initiatives I champion, women in my communities feel encouraged to participate in community activities and speak out on issues affecting women, youth, and children. I feel encouraged that my effort is recognised at the workplace and by gender-awarding organisations. My recent award as the Gender Diversity Champion of the year by Women In Mining and Energy Africa (WiMEA) is a great achievement for myself and an encouragement to other women to strive for excellence.
What has been your most rewarding professional experience or project?
The establishment of the Gender Desk in the communities has brought together Queen Mothers, Assembly women, and other female representatives from twelve communities who now manage the affairs of women in the communities. This is a rewarding professional experience, knowing the impact this initiative is making in the lives of women and children in the communities. Of course, I can also talk about the many engagements on resettlement projects and the successes I have chalked; however, they don’t provide me with inner rewards that the Gender Desk opportunities provide for women‘s empowerment.
What are you passionate about in your work and find most rewarding?
I love the day-to–day interactions with the communities. My passion lies in my interactions with the women and girls in the communities to share my experiences on how I have survived working in a male-dominated institution. I feel rewarded when I get to initiate a change to solve a community problem.
Please describe your personal and professional attributes that you consider have been most influential in your success.
My innate personal qualities of honesty, dependability, and a good sense of humour have helped in my community engagements. As a women‘s advocate, I needed to exhibit confidence in my approach to dealing with people and build strong interpersonal skills. In my line of work, having good emotional intelligence has contributed to my success in dealing with the community members who come to the table with different views and opinions and sometimes with tense emotions.
What is your next or ultimate career goal? What would you love to do one day?
My medium– to long-term goal is to see myself in a Community Relations leadership role where I can influence decisions on women empowerment, inclusion, and diversity, and initiate projects to support the communities in which we operate. I make an effort in my current role, but the outcomes depend on the decision–maker’s priorities. I believe being in a leadership role will give me the advantage to drive my thoughts to the end goal.
It is important to bring new talent into this industry, particularly from diverse backgrounds and to make the workplace more inclusive. Do you have any suggestions on how to attract young girls and boys, particularly from rural communities, to enter a technical career in a science or engineering field?
Developing an interest in science and maths is the first step towards getting young boys and girls to work in the industry. At a tender age, the formation of science clubs in basic and secondary schools builds the needed interest in science and maths. Secondly, encouraging young boys and girls to see mining as lucrative will shift their attention to pursuing mining-related programmes at the tertiary level. Parents in mining communities should point their children in the direction of pursuing mining programmes, and seek sponsorships from the companies to help in the education of their wards’ science education. I also think the mining companies should make a conscious effort to identify young talents (particularly those from the catchment communities) and provide them with opportunity to undertake traineeship programmes in the mines whilst schooling. This will make it easier for them to identify with mining and aspire to work here after school.
It is critical to educate parents and guardians on career guidance in science and engineering courses so that they give their support to their children when they choose to pursue science and engineering fields.
Do you have any advice to young women starting out in their studies or careers in this field? What do you wish you’d known when you were 25?
My advice to young women is for them to identify mentors in the field, remain committed to their studies, never shy away from responsibilities, and always be confident in presenting their opinions.
Have you any hobbies, pastimes, or secret talents that you would like to tell us about?
Many hobbies come to mind, but reading, dancing, music, and research rank high, and, of course, cooking is both a habit and a hobby.