In 2017 Naadiya Moosajee, co-founder of WomEng, a South African social enterprise now operating in 13 countries, shared that only 11% of all engineers globally are female. This to some degree has even led to researchers accounting the low number of female engineers in the sector to the lack of recognition of females.
In an article titled "An Engineer's View: 'My Experience as a Female Engineering Student" Marietjie M Jansen van Rensburg notes that the discrimination of women engineers is more subtle now with less outright belief that men are better than woman.
In her article she said, "Today, the female engineering student doesn’t experience sexism in obvious, outright ways, but rather through subtle acts and role divisions. For example, in a group project where taking down minutes is mandatory, you will often see female students being given the role, sometimes at the expense of doing more technical work".
The role of women in the engineering sector is no different from that of a male. Both sexes contribute to the economy of the country in the same way through developing infrastructure that provides basic services such as energy; water and food security; transport and infrastructure; communication; and access to education and healthcare. Furthermore, both sexes possess the same capabilities that will bring change to the country.
It seems rather pedantic for one in 2018, -24 years past the democratic dispensation and 42 years since the women of 1976 marched to the union building-, to raise issues of better parity between sexes in any field let alone those that are male dominated. However, it also makes one seem ignorant when the issues of gender equality particularly in the engineering sector are not raised or even discussed so as to ensure that even though the sector is male dominated, that each individual operating within it receives equal recognition.
In pursuit of transforming the sector and changing the landscape to ensure that more woman are part of this sector, the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) established the Engenius programme to highlight the importance of the engineering field among primary and high school learners, especially from grade 10 onwards. The programme strives to promote the engineering profession nationally to over 20 000 primary and high school learners annually, through its core message: ‘Engineering Makes It Happen’. In the previous financial year this programme reached over 30 000 learners through exhibitions and school visits especially those from far flung areas seeking to unearth STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) talent from women.
Furthermore, over the years the number of registered candidate females has increased, in 2013 there were 1938, 2014 there were 2492 and by end of the 2017/18 financial year 5879 female candidates were registered with ECSA thus reflecting a 203% increase over the five year period. The male counterparts in the 2013/14 financial year recorded 7313 registered candidate engineers and by 2017/18 the number increased to 16 890 and reflecting 131% increase. Although the numbers of male candidate engineers have increased over the years, greater strides with the number of female candidates have been made.
In recognition of these great strides towards the transformation of the engineering sector it is time for women to be equally recognised in this field, to be celebrated for their achievements when they hold leadership positions in the industry, to be given accolades when they become part and win the international design competitions not because they are women but because they are engineers.
As South Africa marks the annual commemoration of Women’s Day on 09 August, let us all celebrate the engineering sector and the women who work tirelessly to contribute to it.