New Era (Windhoek)

Namibia: Maria Konjeni Storms Into Bricklaying, Until Recently Considered a Men's World

Eenhana — Namibia's construction industry is beginning to see the wisdom of appointing young women not only as bricklayers but in supervisory positions as well.

Clad in a work suit or what is referred to as PPE in Health and Safety profession, a helmet on her head and a trowel in hand, Maria Konjeni walks confidently to her workplace at the National Housing Enterprise (NHE) here. It's about 8.00 am and she is about to start her day's work as a 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 fellow bricklayers could not agree with their superior's choice of her as team leader of the NHE's building and construction brigade as they felt she was too young to lead them. At 26, she commands a building brigade of 50 constructors, with some men old enough to be her father and uncles. But as destiny could have it, she has to lead and she does that with distinction. For some of her workmates the hatred has now slow and unconsciously thawed into respect.

The young leader is among the few women who have taken the construction industry by storm. She plans to launch the Namibian Women in Construction Association (NWCA), an organisation to be established with the primary objective of supporting women in the construction industry in Namibia. The association will be driven by the will to achieve more out of young women in Namibia. Even companies with stakes in the construction industry are beginning to see the wisdom of brining young women in the sector and have started to contribute.

Konjeni says years of working in a male-dominated environment had given her the zeal to open up opportunities soon after completing her vocational education training in Bricklaying and Plastering at the Windhoek Vocational Training Centre (WVTC). As such, she and others, will soon this year launch the association representing women in bricklaying and construction.

"After the registration of the association, we will go for our membership drive who are scattered in various sectors of the construction industry across the nation. Our membership will comprise young women of various ages with the youngest being 18. Most of the women are in these technical trades and should come out open and are prepared to work. This has shown that as young women, we are very serious and can compete with men. This is the only way that they can enter into this male-dominated industry," she says with a purpose and determination.

"Women have to work hard to remove stigma and win against the underrating by men. Men who head most of these companies, especially private ones, are unwilling to offer contracts and full time jobs to females headed companies and this calls for extra work. We would like to appeal to our government and other private tendering process to set aside a quota for us young women and our future members. This will increase the entry of women into the sector," she urges.

She further implores the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare to spearhead the entry of women in the construction sector adding that efforts of the gender ministry should not be vain but to get to the grassroots. It is in this respect that with her vocational education and skills, NHE agreed to employ her to improve skills among women in the construction industry. "We have started seeing some changes in the 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 and motivating."

"I have 50 workers under my supervision and most of them are males and would like to encourage other young women to embark on this trade," she advises

Having grown in a family of five with three males and two females, Konjeni as the second girl, attended her primary school at Osatotwa Combined School at Okalongo in the Omusati Region, and then finished her secondary education at Onesi Senior Secondary school in 2002. She went on to enroll for a Bricklaying and Plastering course with the Windhoek Vocational Training Centre.

She confesses that the future is very bright for her, and she likes taking on head-on the challenges she has been facing at work so far.

"In fact, it seems the sky is the limit to me in this construction trade and I am expecting many opportunities if I launch my association to be called Namibian Women in Construction Association (NWCA) soon. Since joining NHE in 2011, I have seen the pros and cons of being a woman in this trade. So I am ready to conquer the world," she says confidently

The young and single lady hopes venturing into her own small and medium entrepreneurship (SME) business in the near future, if sponsorship is available to her as she has equipped herself with the required skills in the trade.

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