How San­ral is lay­ing the foun­da­tion for girls to be fu­ture en­gi­neers

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - Heidi Harper

THERE is an old African proverb which says “if you ed­u­cate a man you ed­u­cate an in­di­vid­ual, but if you ed­u­cate a woman you ed­u­cate the whole na­tion”. This state­ment has never been more poignant, given that even in to­day’s world where we preach “equal op­por­tu­ni­ties for all”, women are still largely ex­cluded from the ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem – par­tic­u­larly in Africa.

And within that ex­clu­sion, it also holds that women are se­verely un­der-rep­re­sented in many pro­fes­sional oc­cu­pa­tions. One of th­ese is en­gi­neer­ing, where there is an over­all short­age any­way.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2016 Unicef re­port, although progress has been made in re­cent years, girls con­tinue to be se­verely dis­ad­van­taged and ex­cluded from ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems. A study con­ducted by the Unesco In­sti­tute for Sta­tis­tics in 2015 showed that an es­ti­mated 31 mil­lion girls of pri­mary school age and 32 mil­lion girls of lower se­condary school age were out of school in 2013. Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa has the low­est pro­por­tion of coun­tries with gen­der par­ity.

The truth is we can­not af­ford to ig­nore the fact that girls’ ed­u­ca­tion is an in­trin­sic right and crit­i­cal lever to reach­ing devel­op­ment ob­jec­tives. Ed­u­ca­tion helps break the cy­cle of poverty, as ed­u­cated women are less likely to marry young or against their will; are more likely to have healthy ba­bies and to send their chil­dren to schoo.

Qual­ity learn­ing

Girls’ ed­u­ca­tion is es­sen­tial to achieve qual­ity learn­ing rel­e­vant to the 21st cen­tury, as well as in­creased aca­demic per­for­mance. Ado­les­cent girls that at­tend school ac­quire in­for­ma­tion and skills that lead to in­creased earn­ing power which al­lows them to de­lay mar­riage and child­bear­ing.

A ma­jor fo­cus area should be the num­ber of women en­ter­ing the en­gi­neer­ing pro­fes­sion. It is glob­ally ac­knowl­edged that while the num­ber of fe­male en­gi­neers has in­creased since the early 1980s, the pro­por­tion of fe­male to male en­gi­neers still has a long way to go. In South Africa fewer women en­ter the en­gi­neer­ing pro­fes­sion than the world av­er­age.

Girls in South Africa should be en­cour­aged to take sci­ence sub­jects, not only to pur­sue a sci­en­tific or tech­no­log­i­cal ca­reer, but also girls who would then be able to ap­ply sci­en­tific con­cepts in their daily lives. Tak­ing sci­ence sub­jects should not only be seen as a vo­ca­tion, but as a means to de­velop the sci­en­tific and tech­no­log­i­cal cul­ture nec­es­sary for devel­op­ment.

The devel­op­ment of in­fra­struc­ture by civil en­gi­neers con­trib­ute to the erad­i­ca­tion of dis­eases and poverty by de­vel­op­ing bet­ter wa­ter sup­plies, mu­nic­i­pal sew­er­age sys­tems, waste wa­ter treat­ment plants to de­signs of build­ings that pro­tect us from nat­u­ral haz­ards and pro­vide health care, to im­proved agri­cul­ture through wa­ter re­source devel­op­ments. Women are the great­est re­source any coun­try has.


That is why San­ral is pur­su­ing a pro­gramme that aims to en­sure that as many girls as pos­si­ble are pre­pared and em­pow­ered to en­ter the en­gi­neer­ing pro­fes­sion, par­tic­u­larly civil en­gi­neer­ing. We want as many women as pos­si­ble to make their mark by be­ing in­volved in the con­struc­tion and mod­erni­sa­tion of the coun­try’s much needed road in­fra­struc­ture.

We would like to see more women de­sign­ing and con­struct­ing bridges, build­ing new roads and mod­ernising the coun­try’s free­ways and more im­por­tantly, own­ing and man­ag­ing their own con­struc­tion com­pa­nies.

This can only be achieved if so­ci­ety in­vests in the ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing of young girls, as this lays a solid foun­da­tion for the fu­ture. At San­ral we are proud of do­ing ex­actly that, by of­fer­ing bur­saries, schol­ar­ships and learn­er­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties to de­serv­ing stu­dents across the coun­try, par­tic­u­larly girls. An im­por­tant fac­tor is that most of th­ese ben­e­fi­cia­ries end up be­ing em­ployed by San­ral. Many of th­ese women have gone on to man­ag­ing big en­gi­neer­ing projects across the coun­try, projects which were tra­di­tion­ally re­served for men.

Be­cause our coun­try is one of equal op­por­tu­ni­ties, we need to fa­cil­i­tate the en­try of as many women into the en­gi­neer­ing field as pos­si­ble as well as dis­pel the myth that it is dif­fi­cult for women to make it in civil en­gi­neer­ing. Heidi Harper is the cor­po­rate ser­vices ex­ec­u­tive at the SA Na­tional Roads Agency.

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