Women who operate heavy equipment and machinery in the construction industry are very few. The sector is dominated by men. Gender stereo types have played a big role in keeping women away from some jobs or even acquiring certain skills like operating a grader or a compactor.

A study conducted by UNWOMEN in Uganda in 2019 found that of all projects of Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA), only 11% of workforce of projects were women. Even then, most of these were employed as support staff. Majority are flag girls and are paid as little as UGX 300,000 per month.  The average salary of an excavator operator in Uganda is UGX 817,000 per month. Depending on experience and type of equipment, some operators earn up to 3million shilling. What can be done to ensure women get more interested in jobs currently dominated by men? When it comes to construction, women are at a disadvantage.

Society has given women some gender roles which they are not supposed to question. Trying to question those means that they are riding against established norms of society. Employers too are not willing to support women in promoting them and building their capacity and self-esteem when it comes to employment in the construction industry. The competition within the industry is quite stiff to the extent that women find it very challenging to break the barriers for them to be at the same competing level with men. The opportunities within the construction industry are shrouded with little information access by women.

Most jobs of plant operators for instance are never openly advertised. The search for them is often done informally through word of mouth. Employers usually go head hunting for male operators. Since these are normally very few, they are easily known and can be located by a simple search. Acquiring of skills in heavy equipment operations is not easy. There are not many training institutions offering such but even the few that are available, the costs of the same are quite prohibitive, more so to women. Unless one intentionally knows earlier in life that this is the kind of job they would like to have and particularly hunt for the same opportunities with the necessary support and back up, it becomes an uphill task for females to break this barrier to become machine operators.

Besides, operating such machinery is usually looked at as something requiring body muscles and therefore fit for men and not women. It is assumed that to operate such equipment, one must be muscular with a strong body and big muscles which may not necessarily be the case. In essence it requires only appropriate skills and technical knowhow for one to get acquainted and slowly building their skills and capacities.

In 2015, DFID, UKs international development agency supported the construction a plant operators  training center in Luwero with simulation equipment geared at training operators in basic plant operator learning. The center was later handed over to UNRA. Up to the present time, majority of graduates from this training programme have been men with very few women enrolling and completing the course. By the year 2020, almost all trainees who had completed the simulation training were assured of jobs.

The few women that train as operators do so on an individual basis and through very isolated instances. In the year 2018, UNRA had only two heavy equipment operators among its labor force. Though this government agency has been encouraging contractors to hire more women operators instead of men, this has so far not been possible due to very small numbers of women that are trained and certified as qualified operators. There is need for deliberate effort by government to not only encourage women pick interest in heavy machinery operations but also ensure that the opportunities to train then are openly advertised in order to attract more of that gender. The construction sector needs more women for balancing purposes but also to ensure improved performance. No one ought to be left behind.

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