The role of women in the mining sector is often downplayed and, at best, undocumented, dating back to centuries that promoted cultures where women were only expected to tend to their husbands and children. Hence, literature that exists rarely mentions women and the roles they play(ed) in the sector.
Today, the tide is beginning to change as more women are gradually finding their voice in the sector, thanks to advocacies and movements like the Women in Mining Initiative. To detail the contributions of women in Nigeria’s mining sector, Women in Mining Nigeria has embarked on a mission to meet and interact with the various women doing amazing things in the sector.
In this interview with WIM Nigeria’s Prevail Falade-Samuel, Mary Stephen Aliyu, a Mining Engineer with Century Mining Limited in Kano State, North-West Nigeria, says it is tough to thrive in a male-dominated industry, but her skills continue to speak for her. See excerpts…
Can you share with us a bit about your background and what inspired you to become a mining engineer?
My name is Mary Stephen Aliyu. I am 41 years old. I’m a native of Eggon in Nasarawa State. At first, I did not know much about mining. I can say that my interest in mining developed after secondary school. In secondary school, while filling my jamb form, I chose the combination of Chemistry, Mathematics and Geography. I wanted to study Geology. I applied to the University of Jos but I was not given admission. So, I applied to Plateau State Polytechnic and then I was offered Mineral Resources Engineering.
After my ND, I applied for HND in Mining Engineering Kaduna. I was discouraged by a lot of people when I applied for my HND but then I was determined and I went for it. I was given the admission and I successfully completed my HND.
An experience that motivated me more was when I visited DUTUM Quarry in Kaduna State. It was my first time witnessing blasting and I was convinced that this is what I want to do. I was inspired by one of the women I saw on site and I believed I could also do what she was doing.
During my NYSC, I worked at SETRACO where I got more experience in blasting. I also taught Geography in a secondary school. I presently work at Century Mining Company in Kano State. I have been working there for close to two years now.
What were some of the challenges you faced as a woman pursuing a career in mining engineering and how did you overcome them?
One of the challenges I faced and still face presently is the fact that majority of the time, I am the only woman in the mining field. There are hardly other women around to relate with. Also, the work is very strenuous for me as a woman that it affects my well-being. Complaints to my boss are always met with “you all are males”. I am always told to not see myself as a woman but as a man, and so, I am expected to always endure. There are no special incentives for me as a woman. I work same hours as the men, and I carry out same tasks as them. So, there’s no special treatment.
Can you tell us about a significant project or experience in your career that you are particularly proud of and why?
I am not just a mining engineer, I’m also a blaster and I’m proud of that. I’m glad and grateful that I’ve always been able to do this without any problem. I also help with daily production in the company where I work and the work I do always makes my superiors glad.
In your opinion, what are the key skills and qualities that are necessary for success in the field of mining engineering and blasting?
In mining engineering, it is important to have technical knowledge. Having this will enable you to make informed decisions and solve complex problems. Also, you need to be conscious about safety. Safety is a top priority in mining engineering and so, you must be well-versed in safety regulations. While blasting, you need to be diligent when connecting detonator to avoid misfire, because misfire leads to delay and that would affect the success of the blasting at that particular time.
Have you ever encountered any gender-related biases or discrimination during your career? If yes, how did you handle those situations?
I have never faced any discrimination in my career. I am very well respected at my work place. I think men are beginning to understand that we’re not in a competition with them, the space is big enough for anyone and everyone to thrive.
What advice would you give to young women who are considering a career in mining engineering?
Be courageous. Believe in yourself that you can do whatever it is you put your mind to. Don’t listen to those that try to discourage you from being a mining engineer. Fear not, and have faith They will say it is not what a woman is supposed to be doing and all other discouraging words, but you must not be discouraged, you can also do the job. Also, you need to understand that mining is full of risks but also profitable. So, you should weigh the pros and cons and decide on what you want to do.
How do you balance work-life responsibilities?
I am not married yet. However, personally, I try my best to develop effective time management because of the strenuous work I do daily. I only have two Saturdays and four Sundays in a month to rest. There’s hardly time for me to engage in fun activities but I try my best to relax whenever I can.
Looking ahead, what are your aspirations and goals for the future in the mining industry?
One of my aspirations is to contribute to the expansion of the mining industry and to contribute in making it the best of its kind. I also aim to be able to manage mining operations.
I also hope that moving forward; the mining industry will be one that is safe and secure for people to venture into and also one that provides a peaceful environment for investors.
Presently, in Nigeria, there are only three universities where people can study mining. This is not encouraging at all. There needs to creation of more training centers for local miners because they need to be encouraged. Also, the government needs to provide more revenue to the mining industry and create opportunities for more women to be involved in the mining sector.
Thank you for your time and responses. We are proud of the work you are doing and we wish you the very best going forward.
Thank you too. I am very honoured by WIMIN and our lovely mother and President, Hon. Engr. Janet Adeyemi with a heart of gold. She has so much love in her heart for young women like me and I’m grateful to her for that. Long live WIMIN, Long live the Mining Sector and Long live Nigeria.