Tanzania’s Female Engineers Strive to Break Male Dominance

Structured Engineers Apprenticeship Programme (SEAP) aims to equip female engineers in Tanzania with knowledge and experience to become professional engineers in a male dominated field. REUTERS/Yuya Shino

By Kizito Makoye

DAR ES SALAAM, March 15 – Shouting above the din of a concrete mixer, 25-year-old civil engineer Angela James says she is unfazed about being the only woman technician working at a busy construction site in the Tanzanian capital.

“I am a trained civil engineer, so you should expect to see me working in the field,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who I’m working with, as long as my job is done perfectly.”

The graduate engineer from the University of Dar es Salaam has over the past two years been gaining practical experience as she works towards her final professional qualification.

“Some people don’t believe that a woman can work in this field, but I have proved them wrong,” she said.

Dressed in a shiny yellow safety jacket and a hard hat, James mingles with the casual labourers while giving instructions on the construction of the wedge-shaped, five-storey building that will house offices and apartments in the Dar es Salaam suburb.

“I have to ensure that all the technical standards are met. There’s no margin of error,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

James is one of almost 300 female trainees participating in the women-only Structured Engineers Apprenticeship Programme (SEAP) which aims to equip them with knowledge and experience to become professional engineers in a male dominated field.

Although the first female engineers in Tanzania graduated in 1976, official statistics show that by 2009 only four percent of all registered engineers in the east African country were women.

But under the SEAP programme, implemented by the Engineering Registration Board, Tanzania’s professional body, with funding from the Norwegian government, the number of female engineers in Tanzania has more than doubled since 2010, said ERB officials.

INSPIRATION

Few girls complete secondary education in Tanzania due to widespread poverty and the perception among parents that girls should carry out domestic duties.

If they are in school, girls have received little encouragement to pursue mathematics and science subjects, often considered the domain of male students.

According to Zuhura Said of Temesa – the government agency dealing with electrical, engineering and mechanical services – more women engineers would inspire young girls to study mathematics and sciences and take up the profession themselves.

“Female trainees will become mentors for young engineers and some of them will take leadership positions,” she said.

Over five years, the Norwegian government has provided 13.9 million Norwegian crowns ($1.65 million) in funds to support trainee female engineers, mostly in the form of a monthly living allowance and training for mentors.

“This programme … aims to bring gender balance in professional training and to empower women engineers to manage their responsibilities,” said Monica Blaalid, a consultant at the Norwegian Embassy in Dar es Salaam.

Benedict Mukama, ERB’s Assistant Registrar, said the programme had enrolled 291 women, of whom 143 have already been registered as professional engineers.

The trainees who have received Norwegian funding had a completion rate of 86 percent, compared to 20 percent for the candidates who had to pay their own way, ERB data shows.

“The Norwegian funding has brought a new spirit – the number of female applicants has increased and more people see the importance of registering,” Mukama said by email.

According to ERB, many of the female engineers have secured jobs in the field even before they finished their training stints, and some have started their own businesses.

“I have several job offers waiting, but I haven’t made the decision yet on which company I will be taking,” James said.

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