The Herald (Harare)

7 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Storming Into a Man's World

Charlotte Chani - clad in worksuit, helmet on her head and a trowel in hand - walks confidently to her workplace. It is 7.45am and Chani is about to start her day's work. She is bricklayer. As usual, she is the first to get to the workplace, something that even her male counterparts have failed to do. She has always accomplished her daily target of laying 600 bricks with ease despite being also the supervisor of the team.

Once her counterparts could not agree with Charlotte's choice to head the building brigade as they felt she was too young to lead them.

At 24, she commands a building brigade of 12 builders, with some men old enough to be her father.

But as destiny could have it prescribed, she has to lead and she does that with distinction.

For some of her workmates the hatred has now evolved into respect.

Charlotte is among the few women who have taken the construction industry by storm. They are bound not only to be part of the booming industry but to play a meaningful role in the sector that has been a male preserve.

That is the mission of the Zimbabwe Women in Construction Association, an organisation established with the primary objective of supporting women in the construction industry in Zimbabwe. The association is driven by the will to achieve more. ZWICA members are agreed that time has come to engender the sector and ensure more women participate fully in it.

Even companies with stakes in the construction industry are beginning to see the wisdom of bringing women in the sector and have started to contribute.

ZWICA president Mrs Elizabeth Chakadunga said years of working in a male-dominated environment had given her the zeal to open up opportunities for women in construction. As such she and others started the association of women in the construction industry.

"After the registration of the association in 2004 our membership has grown to over 60 members who are in various sectors of the construction industry.

"Our membership comprises women of various ages with the youngest being 18 and the oldest being me, at 65 years. I trained as a builder with the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare building Blair toilets and wells under a programme sponsored by a Canadian non-governmental organisation in the early 90s.

"Most of the women are in co-operatives, save for few. We are thus encouraging our members to register companies as most companies are prepared to work with registered entities.

"This will also show that women are serious and can compete with men. This is the only way that they can enter into this male-dominated industry," she said.

She said ZWICA still has problems in securing meaningful contracts since most companies were reluctant to deal with women.

"Women have to work hard to remove stigma and win against the underrating by men. Men who head most of these companies are unwilling to offer contracts to females and female headed companies and this calls for extra work.

"We would like to appeal to the Government Tender Board and other private tendering process to set aside a quota for our association members. This will increase the entry of women into the sector.

"The Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development should spearhead the entry of women in the construction sector," she added.

She said efforts of the gender ministry should not be vain but should start getting to the grassroots.

It is in this respect that cement manufacturer Lafarge Cement Zimbabwe entered into a partnership with the association to improve skills among women in construction under the Partners in Building Programme.

Partners in Building Programme, which is a part of the public sector and private partnership, also involves Msasa Industrial Training College. A total of 30 students graduated last week. Of the class 22 were female with the remainder being male.

Mrs Chakabuda said her organisation responded well to the invitation as it was the first such training in the country to specifically set aside places for women willing to train in construction and building technology. "We choose women of different ages with youngest being 18 and the oldest at 65. I took the course because I wanted to show my sisters and children that they have to work hard for their success.

"The course included, among other courses, pre-construction basics, occupational health, setting out buildings, laying foundations, project costing, concrete technology, walling finishes and modification of structures.

"These are critical areas for those who seek to make it in the construction sector as it gives the basics of the industry," she said.

She said ZWICA members were involved in brickmaking, laying, production of tiles and window seal moulding while others have chosen builders.

Mrs Chakabuda said: "We are beginning to see some change in attitude of males and females themselves towards the construction industry.

"Those who have worked with men will tell you that women work harder because they want to prove a point.

"They want to prove to their brothers, husbands and former husbands that they can make it in the trade of choice that is encouraging.

"I have 25 workers at my company and only six are males.

"This is deliberate and I want to encourage more women into construction."

Lafarge Cement managing director Mr Jonhathan Shoniwa said the decision to train the women came after a realisation that the industry employed a large number of semi-skilled women, both directly and indirectly, who needed training and skill upgrading to ensure that they can contribute to the development of the industry.

"The nature of construction systems in our environment is by definition longlasting, hence programmes designed for the construction industry also should adopt a similar resilient approach, which not only ensures protection of natural resources, but also ensures adequate capacity is built in enhancing approaches.

"We also appreciate that the built environment is the centre of many social and environmental challenges hence the need for expertise to effect the social and environmental change.

"That is why Lafarge Cement chose to work with ZWICA, a women organisation, so that we offer a concrete platform to enable women to increase participation in the industry," he said.

Mr Shoniwa challenged women to continue developing their skills and to guide younger females into improving themselves so that they have control of their careers.

He said it was part of the company's community programmes aimed at supporting the people who are using its products and women make up a good percentage.

The company decided to involve women in the programme to ensure gender equity in the sector that is male dominated.

Nyota Engineering managing director Mrs Justina Jonga, who has been in the construction industry for more than a decade, appealed for flexible conditions in the tendering process.

This, she said, would allow women to get jobs in the public sector.

"Government should come up with a quota system that makes it mandatory that a section of the construction work is reserved for women.

"At the same time the board should come up with flexible requirements for tenders to ensure that women get them, even when they have one of two things missing on their presentations.

"I challenge women to stand for their rights and not be intimidated in their chosen professions.

"They need to take the bull buy the horns, otherwise they will continue to cry but with nothing meaningful coming their way," she said.

Mrs Jonga said the quota system should never be allowed to promote substandard work in the industry.

She said it was critical for women to encourage each other into joining the industry hence her decision to join the building technology class with other members of ZWICA.

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