|Women Constructing Their Lives: Women Construction Workers - Four Evaluative Case Studies (HABITAT, 1997, 146 p.)|
The Women in Human Settlements Development Programme of UNCHS (Habitat) regularly receives requests to support special women's projects in the construction sector. These case studies are meant to evaluate the effectiveness of such projects. Is construction a sector in which women can gain income and independence? Are the obstacles to entering such a male bastion not too large to overcome? Is it worth the effort at all to try to enter into a sector which more than any other (with the possible exception of the armed forces) is associated with men and male values? Once the determination is there a new set of questions arises. How to enter the construction sector? Join the existing technical schools or start a separate training programme? What skills have to be learned in order to have a chance in the market? Once skills have been learned how to enter a market where old boys networks prevail? And even if a first job has been found, how to continue working? How to cope with the sometimes harsh conditions on a building site, where women may be subject to harassment? How effective are existing training programmes for women in construction? Do women -specific training programmes have an impact on the job-market for women? If so what are the crucial factors that determine success?
Here we present four cases studied by four researchers. Meera Bapat looks at two training projects for women in India in her paper "Brick by Brick, Training Women to Build". Victoria Abankwa compares the experience of several women, trained as well as untrained, in the construction sector in Ghana. Angela Heron describes the very successful Women's Construction Collective in Jamaica, and Christianne Chauvet-Urquidi traces the Mexican group that was modeled after the Jamaican experience but that ceased to exist, Each of the four researchers are from the country in which their case is situated. They all have wide experience in the construction sector but are not related to the cases they investigate. No effort has been made to make the four cases uniform in their style or approach. This is deliberate. The four cases can be read independently and have in fact been prepared independently from one another. As interesting as it is to compare the experiences from different parts of the world; it would be incorrect to rigidly apply the same questions, to such different cases. The four studies are really examples, not representative samples for the world. Construction is an extremely local trade. The case of Jamaica for example can not be considered representative for the whole Caribbean region. In fact the cases may not even be representative for their own country: A relatively small country like Ghana knows numerous building styles, methods and techniques, each of them with their role for women.
Are these case studies interesting even if universal lessons cannot be drawn from them? Yes, certainly. When comparing the approach in any one case with the situation in a given country it is possible to distil the factors that determine success or failure, and translate them to other situations and environments.
In general, the cases portray a rather bleak situation for women in construction. Even where a women's construction group has been successful, often the situation was such that women already had a certain amount of access to the construction sector. Even then a lot of favourable conditions exist, for example: determined leaders, good contacts in the building industry to guarantee job opportunities and outside support. In some cases even with all these factors present the results remained below expectation as the case of India will illustrate.
All four cases focus on skilled construction work, mainly masonry but also carpentry, painting and others as well. References is made to unskilled labour or on the other hand, professional work such as architecture and engineering, for comparison purposes. Often women do work as unskilled labourer in most adverse conditions and for lower wages than men. The plight of such women is not within the scope of this study. What is of interest is the possibility to move out of into higher levels of the construction industry through learning and improvement of skills.