Perfil (Sabado)

‘Albañilas’ – meet the female builders breaking down barriers

Growing number of women constructi­on groups, debunking the myth that building is a man’s job.


Dressed in blue overalls, Bárbara Burruchaga pulls a rope lifting buckets of sand up to the roof.

Alongside other Argentine women, she breaks stone, mixes concrete and builds walls — they’re not just constructi­ng houses, they’re breaking down barriers.

“Being a builder makes me happy, we women were told ‘no’ for a long time,” Burruchaga told AFP.

“I love telling my dad, who’s the person who is the most surprised and had the least faith,” added the 21-year-old as she hauled materials to renovate an old cultural centre on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

Change is coming fast to the sector. According to the UOCRA (Unión Obrera de la Construcci­ón de Argentina) constructi­on workers union, the number of women in the industry increased by 131 percent from 2003 to 2010 and they now make up five percent of the workforce. That may sound like little, but compared to other Latin American countries like Mexico (0.4 percent), it’s significan­t.

Burruchaga is one of the eight members of Deconstruc­ción Disidente (“Dissident Deconstruc­tion”), a collective of women and minority genders dedicated to constructi­on work.

One knocks down a wall as others mix concrete while they listen to music and drink mate.

The patriarcha­l system “says we don’t have the strength for these tasks,” said Eva Iglesias, 36. But “not all builders are big and muscular, there are many shorties with bellies,” added the petite worker.

Most of them suffer from back pain but “they don’t say so because they’re not allowed to look weak.” ‘GO AND WASH DISHES’ There is an increasing number of women constructi­on groups operating in Argentina.

Nosotras lo Arreglamos (“We Fix It”) is a feminist collective that publishes constructi­on workshops on Instagram and functions as a profession­al network.

‘Dissident Deconstruc­tion Network’ is a Whatsapp group with 90 members working in architectu­re, constructi­on, plumbing, electricit­y and carpentry.

Some groups, though, are designed for women that need help with their DIY.

Hairdresse­r Valeria Salguero, 34, couldn’t afford to hire a builder to build an extra bedroom for her daughter.

She created a Facebook group called ‘Building, a woman’s thing,’ to ask for advice.

The result was “crazy.” In just one month she had garnered 6,000 followers — mostly single mothers — including from Uruguay and Costa Rica, all eager to repair their own homes.

While some comments were negative — “go and wash the dishes” or “feminazi” — she was recently contacted by an internatio­nal constructi­on company that offered to train and employ an “all woman” crew.

GOVERNMENT SUPPORT Carolina Gutiérrez, an architect and builder, says womenonly constructi­on sites are necessary. “When there are men and women, [the women] are automatica­lly given cleaning jobs,” she said.

They also suffer from harassment and wage inequality. “We’re a long way” from equality in mixed sites, she said.

But even the government is involved in encouragin­g women to take up the building profession.

In April, President Alberto Fernández inaugurate­d 48 homes for vulnerable people that were built by mixed crews in the Avellaneda suburb to the south of the capital Buenos Aires. The Peronist leader created a furore by specifical­ly thanking the women builders. Twenty women aged between 29 and 59 were trained by the government and employed in the building of the homes, on equal salaries to their male colleagues.

“The most important thing is that they access economic independen­ce,” said Magdalena Sierra, the Avellaneda cabinet chief who created the project.

Andrea Figueras managed the female members of the crew who were “more perfection­ist,” kept the site and materials “cleaner,” and never lost any tools.

However, she says there is still much work to be done.

“We go home and there are the kids, the food, the dishes. They [men] go home and are served food. We need to create equal rights in the home,” said Figueras.

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