Gender mainstreaming in Engineering
Human civilization has come a long way from the stone-age to agricultural, industrial and technological revolution. But our generation still faces the remains of inequality that had existed in various stages in the history. Focusing on gender inequality in this essay, I am also not denying that there are other forms of inequality present in different parts of the world, given that gender inequality is the common phenomena in every corner of the globe. Female and male are biological terms while men and women are the societal terms created by us. In ancient days when the main activity of the world was revolving around defence, war and agriculture, women were regarded inferior for not having physical strength equal to men due to various biological reasons. Even today, where the world is solving problems not by its physical strength but by the power of knowledge, there has not been significant participation of women in various strata of the society. Moreover, only a quarter of professionals around the globe in the STEM sector are women.
In Nepal, there still lies a stereotype that engineering is not for girls. In spite of this, I find myself a lucky to have supporting parents, who motivated me to pursue my bachelors in architecture.While in college, I found out that only about 10% of the students were female and some more in architecture department. I was in my final year during devastating earthquake in 2015. After completion of my bachelor studies, I wanted to gain some experience before further studies. In the scenario of post-earthquake period, responsibilities of engineers towards society had been more than ever in the history. I volunteered during emergency period for temporary shelter construction through Lumanti Support Group for shelter, where I got chance to work with communities and grassroots. Amid post-earthquake scenario, a national level design competition was held by Nepal Engineer’s Association in collaboration with government and UNDP. I and my friend decided to take part and also made to the consolation prize by the prime minister, on professional category, which I believe as one of the most important motivating factors in my professional life. Then, I joined National Reconstruction Authority for post disaster reconstruction.
Working as a government representative to the rural areas of southern Lalitpur, I was to act as a bridge between the government and the local people. The area was not only geographically challenging but also socially backward. Majority of the people were uneducated and unaware as waves of development had not touched this small village of Bagmati rural municipality, even though it was a part of Lalitpur district. I got opportunity to see a different side of Nepal, the rural life, livelihood, lifestyle of people and their innocence, and I give this credit to the engineering profession that I had chosen. There was only a man who was studying engineering in Kathmandu from the village and he was the first one to pursue engineering. So, it was quite surprising and curiosity among villagers on me, as being a woman engineer going to the village and living there for post disaster reconstruction, far from home alone. It was quite difficult for some of the elders to convince them that I was engineer and that I came to help them. Some of them also thought that I was sub-engineer or assistant sub engineer and questioned my education. They said I did not look as an engineer. Anyway, after working there for months, they believed on me through my works and trainings given to them. I worked there for two years and I hope the villagers will not be surprised anymore if they meet some other women engineers now. As most of the societies are in rural settings, the village can be a representative example of how our society perceives women in engineering sector and how the views changes after being exposed to women engineers and their work.Beneath all of the discrimination and stigma seen especially in ruralcommunity, real change is being made by woman engineers throughtheir presence and representation as woman leaders.Women in engineering are not only capable of carrying out their profession but also are capable of changing the beliefs and stereotypes of the society.
After two years in the village, I was transferred to the district office for some months and now I am working at the central office of National Reconstruction Authority. Working in the district and central office is different from that of the village, but the context on gender mainstreaming is not quite different either. The female engineers were often not involved in important discussions and their potential were under evaluated. They were given works on the office and their involvement in site, tendering and documentation was quite low. All of my seniors were men in the district office. While working at central office, I had got a chance to meet two women senior engineers, from whom I was very inspired. According to a study, only 30% of the women who earn bachelor’s degree in engineering are still working in engineering 20 years later. Given the society we have where women are buried with many family and societal responsibilities as the top most priority, this case couldn’t be an exception here. There are only few women studying engineering and fewer continuing their engineering profession. This could also be the reason why it was hard for me to meet women engineers in higher position of government offices and universities.
Nepal is way ahead in terms of some indicators in gender dimension, with the woman president and over 40% of the women elected in local level election. But it seems like the inclusion has only been made on the political platform and the participation in other key sectors is still poor. Gender mainstreaming is really important in the engineering sector as well. As education has a neighbourhood effect, it doesn’t only serve the woman herself but also plays the vital role in the family and in transformation of the society. For this, rethinking how young girls are raised is very important. The stories of women engineers can be exemplified to give the strength and motivation to young girls that engineering is not only the men’s world. This process cannot happen at a glance but needs constant efforts from the family and society. This can only help in the paradigm shift on how young girls choose their role model and can think beyond the limitations they think they are bound to. There are more difficulties for rural girls to come in this sector due to various socio-cultural and economic obstacles. Women engineers and professional organization should reach out those young girls to motivate them towards engineering.
Eve after pursuing their degrees in engineering and architecture, most of the women are not seen to be continuing their profession. It’s really necessary to debunk the reasons on what is pulling those women engineers from working. In our case, there are of course the societal norms and values, the after-marriage scenario, family responsibilities which are some of the seen reasons. But, its time for women to choose our path ourselves and have a willpower to do on what we are supposed to do as women engineers. Its time to support each other, and create an environment where more women will be welcomed, empowered and sustained. It the responsibility of our own, to be proactive and be a part of change this society demands today.Young girlsfind inspirations through our teachers at university, seniors at offices and women figures at home. All we need is to support each other and show solidarity to our professions. The unity among women engineers in Nepal, will not only just mainstream the women in leading and managerial positions of engineering sector, but also motivate young girls to pursue one, which ultimately contribute to incorporate gender in this sector and towards achieving gender equality.
The writer is an Architect at National Reconstruction Authority, Singha Durbar.
Published on 24 June 2020