“What motivated me was simply my will to eliminate oppression and bridge a gap.”
A passionate advocate for the voiceless, poverty-stricken, and unrepresented women artisanal miners in Nigeria, Janet Adeyemi has used her role as an elected representative in the National Assembly to advance legislation to encourage the development of women in this sector and put structures in place to improve working conditions and support. She is currently working on initiatives to require the formal mining sector to adhere to Responsible Mining initiatives and to use taxes generated in this sector to uplift communities in mining regions.
By Kathy Sole
How did mining come to you? How did you choose mining as a career?
It is interesting. I studied geology, but when I graduated, there wasn’t much happening in the mining sector in Nigeria, so I went to an oil company, but this sector did not allow women to effectively participate. I then found myself in the water industry, from where I was encouraged to read engineering, then from engineering to politics, from politics to law. But the truth is that I was drawn to the mining sector out of passion, out of need. I saw a gap and I believed that gap had to be filled. So, based on my political experience in the National Assembly, I took up advocacy and that is what has kept me going.
I took interest in mining because of my membership of the Federal House of Representatives in Nigeria where I served on the Committee of Solid Minerals, a committee with oversight functions for the Ministry of Mines and Steel. Attending an international conference where I met many women working in mining triggered my interest to establish Women in Mining in Nigeria. We started in 2006 with 25 artisanal women miners, based in Jos, a historically well-known mining destination in Nigeria. I was traumatised and thrown off balance by the situation there, where the women were so disconnected from reality, lacked basic knowledge, were oblivious of government legislations, and their children were so unkempt and exposed to severe negative environmental impacts. Poverty really stared at me! This experience inspired me to start an association to be a voice for these women. It was first registered as the Association of Women Miners in Nigeria. In 2015 we rebranded and re-registered as the Women in Mining Association and have grown the membership to about 1,500, which includes women who are married to miners, career professionals, operators, investors, and advocates. We have since grown to associate with other networks, some of which include WIM chapters in West Africa (WIMOWA), Africa (AWIMA), and globally (IWIM).
Most women in mining around the world are formally affiliated with an operating company. In Nigeria, most women are involved in artisanal mining and the informal sector. Please describe this type of work.What motivated me was simply my will to eliminate oppression and bridge a gap. I could not erase the hardship those children were exposed to from my mind. Seeing those children on site was unfair, yet their mother needed the meagre income to put food on the table. Most of the women were bare-chested because of the extreme heat from the sun. At the end of the day, what they take home to their tin sheds is not commensurate with the value of their product because of their level of education and desperation to survive. They live day by day because the push and pull factors attract them to keep working. Our organisation works with capacity building, networking, and exposure to market (physical and digital) to assist in developing entrepreneurs in this highly capital-intensive and technical sector. We are happy at recording progressive growth in our fold.
Please describe your current role
I am the founder and President of Women in Mining in Nigeria, an organisation we built from scratch. Mining is seen as a muscularised sector and our patrilineal culture made it difficult for women to effectively participate in the sector. Through hard work on advocacy and sensitisation, we were able to influence policy changes and working towards inclusion of GESI (gender, equality/equity, and social inclusion) in the framework. The capacity of women is built through diverse training on technical, legal, and financial requirements for integration into the sector. We ensure that female career professionals are not discriminated against and more women are gradually embracing the sector. We have established 18 functional chapters across Nigeria and our women are encouraged to formalise into commercial cooperatives for easy management of members. Our four critical pillars are: (1) Forming strategic partnerships with NGOs, government, and private sector; (2) Collecting, managing and dissemination of knowledge and best practices in the network; (3) Educating individuals and the public; (4) Advocacy to the Nigerian government for programs and policies that enhance gender equality in the mining sector.
What is your experience of being a woman working in the mining sector?
In earlier times, mining all over the world was seen as an exclusive club for men because it is energy sapping, it is tedious, it occurs remote areas with poor accessibility, workers go underground, so all the pointers and indicators make it seem as if it is impossible for women to be in the sector. But mining involves a variety of processes from exploration to exploitation to processing, beneficiation, and value-chain addition to the market, so there are a lot of opportunities today. In the past, women accompanied their artisanal miner husbands to the site, some mine as a family or as a group, some go there as vendors. Technology has now opened up the sector and women play many roles, because mining is going to drive the economy of the continent over the years. The male-dominated workplace must yield to diversity through the inclusion of all. The He4She Alliance in the mining sector led by giants in the mining sector such as De Beers is a welcome development, which I hope will be emulated in Nigeria. Newmont in Ghana must be commended for their great gender inclusive initiatives too.
What are you passionate about in your work?
I am so passionate on the mobilisation of the younger ones into the sector and to shield them from the hassles and harassments my generation went through. We are continuously building their capacities through training, summer camping, etc. and their confidences. We call them “soft hats” for we do not want to encourage them to lose their feminism because they are in this sector. We are almost concluding our Graduate Mentorship Program for female STEM graduates.
How do you define success?
For me, success on this project will be measured based on the realization of the goals and objectives of the organization: simply put, the vision and mission of WIM. We set out to be the voice of these women through the creation of value: economic, social benefits, and outcomes that serve to mainstream women into the mining sector and ensure they are recognized stakeholders with full rights to economic participation. Rating our performance is extremely challenging, looking at where we started from: the paucity of funds, lack of institutional support, so we have only really just started. However, we are on the right path. We have succeeded in mainstreaming into the sector, secured the attention of the Ministry of Mines and Steel, and are attracting younger women into the industry.
There are still so many issues to address. We need resources for the strengthening of WIM as an association and to be able to build the capacities of the women at the grass-root level using local languages, especially on the impacts of mining, expand our graduate internship scheme on mining matters to help them secure good appointments, and provide extension services to our women in active mining. Mining must impact our livelihoods positively: only then are we successful. Host community engagement is very important to ensure that lives of those living in mining communities are impacted by ensuring that we forge synergies between host communities and mining companies.
I am convinced that we are on the right path and we are doing what we need to do. The accomplishments: yes, we have accomplished so much and there is still so much to accomplish. So for us, it is a journey that we are on: more women are embracing it and more young girls are embracing it, so we know that, surely, success will come.
You have contributed immensely to the legislative process in your country. Tell us about this experience and some of the changes you would still like to see.
The legislative process is very cumbersome for people who really understand what it is about. I am proud to say that when I was elected to the National Assembly, I went without a godfather, so it was my voice that made submissions, aired my views, and was not afraid of being reprimanded by any leader. My sole objective was to contribute to ensuring that good laws are legislated. I contributed to the legislation of 15 laws in National Assembly, among which are Bitumen Development Commission and Eradication of Female Genital Mutilation.
The mining sector is very tricky, but one of the few things that I would like to see is a legislative framework that is extremely robust. I want to see the West African region legislate on the Geo-Extractive Bill presented by WIM West Africa for the inclusion of women in the extractive sector and protection against negative impacts of extraction. It is also important that the Nigeria Mining Act and other acts are amended to ensure gender participation and respect fundamental human rights. The Cluster development project can support the inclusion of women in the industry to guarantee the sustainability of a circular economy and livelihoods of women in mining communities. Government should encourage and support Women on Boards policies to accelerate inclusion of women in the sector. There is a need to establish a comprehensive baseline survey (gender-disaggregated), which should be tracked through detailed monitoring and evaluation to ensure the Sustainable Development Goals are realized through appropriate utilization of revenue earned from the mining sector. Granting of appropriate tax incentives should guarantee that a percentage be specifically dedicated to addressing gender and children’s issues in mining communities. The procurement process should not be gender-blind. There is the need to re-evaluate our educational curriculum across board to be able to meet our manpower requirements in the sector. There is the need for policies that will adopt stringent measures to ensure that mining companies adhere to all laws and regulations: licences to continue mining should be subject to assessment of adherence to the 13 Responsible Mining Indicators.
What would you love to do next?
We want to set up lapidaries and gold processing plants in our gold-producing areas and adding value through jewellery making and take the products to the markets. Our plans are on and we shall get there. Value addition is very important and the market is readily available with Nigeria’s population at 250 million.
Any advice to young women starting out in their careers? What do you wish you’d know when you were 25?
Young women should associate with the older women to gain knowledge and have a feel of the sector early. They should identify their area of interest before coming into the sector based on their years of association.