10 December 2012

Rwanda: Skilled Women Still Rare in Construction

At first sight, Flora Muragijemanya seems to be an ordinary woman. Yet go and visit her at her workplace, and the picture changes. Currently, that is a construction site in Kiyovu and contrary to what you might expect, you won't find her doing some menial work - she's the one giving the orders.

"I came as an intern while still a student at Butare University , I completed and I was called back, I'm now the foreman here and oversea everyone's work including the men," says the civil engineer. "Working with men has become normal because eventually we all treat each other as employees."

Muragijemanya is an exception in the construction sector. At her site in Kiyovu, all the other women are mainly porters while some are mixing materials - yet with a man manning the machine. Sabina Nyirasabimana, who has been there for only three months, says while the work is tiring, she has to survive and it has been worthwhile.

"People think that women can't do certain things but those days are long gone," she remarks. "Sitting at home and hoping for things to come on a silver plate is something of the past. Not only have my finances improved, but I have also learnt interesting things here."

On of her colleagues, Benita Twahigise, for her part admits that while it was not easy to start at the job considering she had to get dirty and work with men, she has no regrets. "People assume we are harassed or abused by the men, but that it is not true. They actually help us learn to do what they do, so it is just co-operating with each other," she explains. "Besides, when we are getting employed we are picked from almost the same area."

One male foreman who has been in construction for five years says that in the past having women at a site was somewhat uncomfortable, but now it is very normal. "Women can do as much as men, all they need is encouragement and the ones I have dealt with have been eager to learn," he says. "It's really impressive."

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