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Discussion Topic: We need to change the mindset ‘construction is for men’

Discussion Topic: We need to change the mindset ‘construction is for men’

Women’s participation in the construction sector is one of the areas where we see very low participation of women as the construction industry in Nepal (and worldwide) is heavily dominated by men. The need for extensive traveling, including to remote places led to men being more preferred for such kind of jobs. This narrative is necessary to understand why the environment within the construction industry is seemingly hostile towards women. While women did come out of their homes to take upon various job opportunities, the domain where they could work was squeezed. Especially within the construction industry, the prevalent mindset is that this job is more suitable for men given the various hardships demanded by this industry.

There are varieties of issues that female workers working in the construction sector in Nepal has to face, starting with viewing women as mere helpers of male workers. Women qualify as "unskilled" while men are trusted and given the opportunity to do more skilled jobs. A woman’s progression from unskilled to skilled is impeded. This leads to the second main issue which is the disparity in payment. The third issue is the lack of additional facilities like separate toilets, breastfeeding rooms, restrooms in the construction sites that would facilitate women to deliver their full potential. The construction industry demands huge labour input in developing countries like ours where we are yet to go through a major technological revolution. Further, it should be underscored that the women labour joining in the construction industry are generally from poor families and are mostly deprived of formal education which makes them susceptible to different forms of exploitation, for instance, unequal payment, sexual harassment, victims of social stigma, etc. This needs to be checked strictly as any form of exploitation, harassment and unequal treatment are not acceptable.

The above is one view of GBV, presented to promote thought and discussion around the topic.  The views expressed in the discussion topic does not necessarily reflect the views of the project or its team members.

One of the key objectives of RAP3 MHLR is to generate employment days by employing local people, both men and women in road maintenance and construction activities, in which a minimum of 33% of the labour force participation should be female. In fact, the project is doing good in terms of gender parity as we have nearly 50% women labour force actively working for the project. Not only does our project provide appropriate safety gear for women, it has worked with local manufacturers to provide safety gear that fits women better than the normal range available in the market.  This ensures women working on RAP3 MHLR have safe and equal working opportunities. Women have equal opportunities to participate in project feedback activities and various committees for oversight.  This allows them to take a leading role in helping the project make decisions and plans that make construction work opportunities more accessible and responsive to the needs of female workers.

Furthermore, menstruation hygiene is a major concern, especially in remote districts like Mugu and Humla where most female workers are unaware of menstrual hygiene management due to lack of knowledge, resources, and poor economic status. RAP3 MHLR noticed that maintaining menstrual hygiene for our women workers in these remote districts is an urgent need as it has a high potential to hinder women’s employment. Therefore, RAP3 MHLR conducted training on the sanitary pad making process enabling easy access of reusable pads for Road Building Groups (RBGs) members. The purpose of this training was to empower these local women to make reusable pads themselves that could enable them to maintain menstrual hygiene and allow them to work confidently on the construction site.

The RAP3 MHLR ensures the necessary security, support, and healthy environment to increase the number of women engineers and workers in construction work so that they can perform their tasks independently and be competent in their field of work. Also, the project has provided an opportunity for women workers in remote districts of Nepal who are rarely seen working on the road construction work, to improve their skills in the construction sector. If rural women were not allowed to work in the construction sector, simply because of their gender, they would have always been deprived of the construction jobs coming to their village which would reduce their employment opportunities in construction-related work. In conclusion, men and women should be given the same priority and preference in all kinds of work, so that they will have equal opportunities in all sectors. 

The critical challenge is- whether such strong safeguards to ensure strong participation and leadership of women in construction will be sustained and scaled up in the future or not.

Construction won’t be a difficult industry to work in for women if we can change the mindset ‘Construction is for men’.

What do you think of having so few women in the construction industry and what can be done about this? Let’s discuss.