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Female Engineers Defy the Odds

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, Apr 13 2016 (IPS) - Nearly every aspect of modern life is a result of the work done by engineers; from running water to the internet, sky-scrapers to smartphone apps that people use for dating. Sadly, in Tanzania this profession attracts only a few women due to prevalent attitudes that it is a man’s job.

Women have been kept at bay due to lack of interest in science and maths that is mandatory for one to venture into the field. But the industry is slowly changing as more and more women have followed their passion to become engineers.

In Tanzania, few girls complete secondary education due to widespread poverty and the perception among parents that girls should carry out domestic chores rather than going to school. If they are in school, girls receive little encouragement to study mathematics and science subjects, which are widely considered as the arena for only male students.

‘‘You need to go where your heart leads you. Be flexible and opportunistic. If something comes up, jump on it. If it doesn’t work out – you can always go back.’ said Zuhura Said a trained female engineer currently working with Temesa—a government’s agency for electrical and mechanical works.

With funding from the Norwegian government, Tanzania’s Engineering Registration Board (ERB) is implementing a special initiative which aims to double the number of female engineers. The Structured Engineers Apprenticeship Programme (SEAP) is designed to equip female engineering graduates with practical knowledge and experience to become professional engineers.

In Tanzania, a four-year engineering education and a minimum of three years practical work experience is required before one is allowed to register as professional engineers.

The engineering profession is highly male-dominated in Tanzania. Many women who venture into the field often drop out due to lack of funding and other reasons.

Although the first female engineers in Tanzania graduated in 1976, official statistics show that by 2015 only five per cent of all registered engineers in the country were women.

But under the SEAP programme, technical women are empowered to confidently hold and manage positions of power so that they can be competitive in a male- dominated profession.

“Focus on being an engineer, rather than worrying about being a woman in a male-dominated environment,” Said advised, adding that ‘it is important to understand your motivation as most women in engineering are asked’.

Under this programme, SEAP trainees are placed at relevant engineering institutions where they gain practical working experience. They have to prepare a weekly and quarterly report to submit to their mentors

After three years of practice, the trainee has to submit a final report compiling information about the content of the work experience acquired. This report has to be reviewed by at least three external senior registered engineers and approved by the ERB for the trainee to become registered as a professional engineer.

According to ERB, the SEAP programme has contributed to increase the number of registered female engineers and contribute to an improved gender balance in the profession.

The Norwegian government has since 2010 injected a total of NOK 13.9 million to support and strengthen the capacity of female engineers mostly covering their monthly allowances. Benedict Mukama, ERB’s assistant registrar said since its inception, the programme has enrolled a total of 291 female candidates out of which 143 have already been registered as professional engineers.

According to Mukama, the foreign donors support is crucial to help female engineers manage themselves financially and to limit the number of drop-outs during the training.

“The Norwegian funding has brought in a new spirit, even the number of female applicants has increased and more people see the importance of registering,” Mukama said. According to ERB, the total number of female engineers has steadily increased from 96 in 2010 to 297 in 2015 as compared to 4,091 registered male engineers.

“There are more women now who are taking science subjects, most of them are doing better than men. We have been receiving the best graduating female engineers from universities who have done better that their male counterparts”, Mukama told IPS.

According to ERB, many female engineers who got financial support have secured relevant jobs even before they finished their stints and some of them have started their own businesses.

According to her female engineers still face hurdles in climbing the career ladder due to lack of role models, mentors and access to professional networks. “I think that there are still unique challenges that female engineers in Tanzania face, because it is such an incredibly male-dominated field,” said Martha Daniel a trained engineer and SEAP beneficiary.

ERB statistics show that female engineering trainees who do not have access to extra funding often have a higher drop-out rate than those with extra funding. A number of female engineers interviewed by IPS expressed optimism that one day they will be able to defeat male dominance. “Some people were telling me it is very hard to become an engineer as a woman, since engineering is for men only’ felt Daniel.

According to her, the presence of a higher number of registered female engineers would motivate young girls to study science subjects and take up engineering courses. ”I am working on something which I can see, even my children will see, as something which was supervised by mother” she said.


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