Zambia: heavy equipment engineering's no longer a male-dominated field
09 March 2020 Raquel RIFF
“Everyone has the ability to accomplish great things in life, if they are given the chance. If I, as a woman and a mother, can do it, then everyone can do it. Nothing can stop us from reaching greater heights,” says Daisy Chisulo, a trainee at the Zambia Industrial Training Academy (ZAMITA) in Ndola, the third largest city in Zambia.
In a series of interviews, young female trainees taking part in ZAMITA's Heavy Equipment Repair training programme smash gender stereotypes by showing their motivation and encouraging female participation in training programmes previously seen as men-only domains.
Zambia is one of the youngest countries in Africa, with a youth population (15 to 35 years old) of 4.8 million, representing 36.7% of the total population. Unemployment is one of the most pressing challenges facing Zambian youth.
In its National Development Plan for 2017-2021, the Zambian government has set a goal of creating one million jobs over the next five years in key sectors. Next to agriculture, the extractive and transport industries are the biggest existing employers. In order to support the government initiatives to bolster youth employment in key sectors, the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) is implementing a project to foster systemic change in the development of a skilled workforce.
In 2015, UNIDO, with support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and in partnership with the Volvo Group, established ZAMITA as a modern training academy able to provide industry-relevant training programmes. In the first phase, over the course of three years, some 450 students received training in skills relevant for the transport and heavy equipment sector. An estimated 75% will find gainful employment after graduation.
Ruth Mutanga, a final-year student in Heavy Equipment Repair training programme, spoke on behalf of all beneficiaries of the ZAMITA programme. She expressed her gratitude to the donors and administrators of the programme for imparting the knowledge that the students require to become "some of the best engineers the country has ever produced".
“The programme has changed the minds of female students, which is evident from the fact that now 13% of the students are women. This is a true reflection that heavy equipment engineering is no longer a male-dominated field, as was the case in the past,” she concluded.
Experience has shown that there are critical factors that help increase female participation in technical training. These include the existence of female role models and male relatives and friends playing a significant role by supporting and encouraging girls to choose a technical career path. In this context, the ZAMITA project puts special focus on making men challenge traditional stereotypes and on promoting respect for women in industrial jobs.
Chilufya Mukupa is qraduate of ZAMITA's Heavy Equipment Engineering programme who now works for Kalumbila Minerals, a Zambian subsidiary of Canadian mining company, First Quantum Minerals. Asked what he thought about the statement, "engineering is only for men”, Mukupa replied, "That’s a lie, because in the company that I’m coming from there are female engineers in senior positions. They haven’t got those positions easily. It’s through hard work."
Mukupa continued, "Engineering isn’t for males only. Females can be engineers. And you will find that most of the women doing engineering are doing fine! You can be anything you want to be regardless of your gender in this world. Nowadays, we even have pilots who are female…We have male doctors, we have female doctors… In the past, it used to be a problem, because men said that certain things were just for men. Nowadays, there’s diversity – things are changing. The world is transforming every day.”
In late 2019, UNIDO, the Embassy of Sweden in Zambia, the Volvo Group and the Government of Zambia pledged to continue their support for ZAMITA until 2022 in order to address the skills shortage in the commercial transport sector. At an event to launch the second phase of the ZAMITA project, Marcus Horberg, Vice President of the Volvo Group Southern Africa, said, "It's great to see the teachers and their students here - very inspiring - and extra inspiring to see so many women taking part and wanting to be engineers and mechanics in the future."
At the same event, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Zambia, Coumba Mar Gadio, said, “We are committed to this task. As we all know, education is a fundamental human right and it is indispensable for the achievement of sustainable development.”
Gadio said that while education needs globally were immense, companies could leverage their resources and core competencies to support governments in delivering on their promise of education for all. “The training of engineers, who are able to innovate, design, create and maintain products, systems and equipment for the benefit and well-being of all peoples, is cardinal,” she added.
The ZAMITA trainee, Daisy Chisulo, summed up the attitude of many of the women at the training academy, saying, “I was often told that I was wasting my time by studying heavy equipment repair. I was rather encouraged to study something much simpler, so that I could easily start working on my own...but I took up the challenge, and started studying heavy equipment repair to show people that women have greater capabilities than they think.”
Ruth Mutanga, another trainee, voiced her ambitions, stating, "After completing the course, I would like to have the opportunity to apply all the skills I acquired. I will then use the experience I have gained to help the single mothers out there who didn’t have the chance to attend this kind of courses, by starting up other programmes and opening companies related to engineering activities."
Editor's note: In a Political Declaration adopted on 9 March 2020 by UN Member States commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, leaders noted the importance of, among other actions, "strengthening efforts to realize the right to education for all women and girls, eliminating barriers in this regard, ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education, training and skills development, promoting lifelong learning opportunities, and supporting women’s and girls’ participation in all sectors, especially those in which they are not equally represented, in particular science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and strengthening international cooperation on these issues." (emphasis added)
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Kafula Chanda, Team Leader Media Production, Zambian Industrial Training Academy (ZAMITA)