DARESSALAAM, TANZANIA – For 32-year-old Lilian James, the biggest challenge of her job as an engineer is not the complex designs she prepares to replace the aging waste-water and sanitation system of Tanzania’s largest city, but rather the increasing sexism she experiences in the workplace.
Yet James – who works with Dar es Salaam Water and Sewerage Authority (DAWASA) as an environmental engineer specializing in wastewater – is seemingly unfazed by the chauvinism of her male counterparts.
“Some people look down upon me just because I am a woman. When it comes to expertise, they are usually surprised by my ability to solve complex engineering problems,” she says.
Perched on a swivel chair, her eyes glued to a laptop screen, James scrolls through multiple complex engineering graphics while briskly scribbling details on a piece of paper laid out on a table beside her.
She is one of the few women in the East African country to have ventured into the male-dominated engineering field. In Tanzania, very few women hold technical engineering positions like this – ostensibly, observers say, due to a lack of motivation and a common belief that engineering is a no-go area for women. “It’s a very challenging job, especially when you are the only woman working among men,” she says.
Addressing Waste-Water Health Issues
Dar es Salaam is one of Africa’s fastest-growing cities and the majority of people who migrate there end up living in squalid conditions. According to the World Bank, 70 percent of the city’s 4.4 million inhabitants live in informal dwellings prone to waste-water pollution and epidemic diseases.
In Dar es Salaam city center, the sewage networks are often wrecked by flooding during the rainy season. This forces stinking effluent up onto the streets and exposes city dwellers to pollutants, local residents say.
Lack of sanitation is one of the world’s leading development challenges. Globally, around two billion people lack access to appropriate sanitation, and around a billion have no toilet. While many city residents prefer flush toilets, the acute shortage of water in many areas makes this a distant dream.
Residents sometimes drain the sludge from their pit latrines into the Msimbazi River, contaminating both drinking and bathing water.
In the bustling Kigogo neighborhood, James dressed in a shiny orange high-visibility jacket and hard hat is supervising the construction of a new sewage system, local residents are constantly grappling with the wastewater that flows from toilets.
“We understand the problems that residents in this neighborhood go through. The installation of a new sewage system goes along with modernization of the area, which entails relocating some residents,” she says.
Changing the Narrative
James says she doesn’t always feel valued, especially by her male colleagues. “People admire looking at engineering work but don’t always appreciate the people behind that creativity,” she says.
But, she says, the engineering profession is a good fit for ambitious and visionary women who are committed to changing the world, making it more renewable and sustainable. At the moment, it is a role with few women takers in Tanzania, who view it as an “unfriendly” career choice.
However, a new breed of young female engineers are changing the male-dominated narrative in the profession thanks to a special capacity-building program supported by the Norwegian government. Under the women-only Structured Engineers Apprenticeship Programme, groups of female engineers in Tanzania are being empowered and equipped with transferable skills to fully master their chosen careers.
The initiative, which started in 2003, has already bolstered the number of female engineers in the field significantly. According to Benedict Mukama, the assistant registrar of Tanzania’s engineering registration board, the $2-million five-year initiative has helped consolidate the expertise of more than 291 female engineers.
“We aim to increase the number of women engineers and bridge the existing gender gap in the profession,” Mukama says.
Rubhera Mato, associate professor at Ardhi University’s School of Environmental Sciences and Technology in Dar es Salaam, says the university’s commitment to mentoring women in water engineering is vital. “Female students need to see their role models performing somewhere to see their path to growth,” he says. “Having women faculty serve as mentors is important to foster the next generation of women engineers.”
Angela Shayo, an electrical engineer working for TEMESA, a Tanzanian government agency, sums up the issue succinctly: “We have a serious problem in this country. Men always think they are on top of everything, even things they are not capable of doing.”
This article originally appeared on Women’s Advancement Deeply. You can find the original here.
No matter what generation, being a teen girl is tough. And it’s not easy for girls to wrap their heads around the fact that the Bible can help them get through some of the more challenging times. Author Katara Washington Patton, in her new book Inspiration for Christian Teen Girls, helps serve girls with Biblical guidance in what she calls “just-the-right-size portions.” Even her subject headers are girl-friendly with titles such as “I Am Beautiful,” “Girl Power,” “Attitude Check,” “Meet the Holy Spirit,” “The Power of Encouragement,” “I Won’t Let Anger Get the Best of Me,” and more. Urban Faith had a chat with Katara about her new book and the impact she hopes it has on young women.
What do you hope Christian girls take away from this book, and what inspired you to write it?
I hope Christian girls feel empowered to walk boldly as Christians; to learn more about God and look forward to a wonderful journey and know that even when it is hard, God provides help for them. I also hope this book helps girls think about their actions and think more about God as a friend and guide. I’ve always had a passion for helping teen girls navigate through this phase in life. I can still recall my teen years and the questions and concerns I had and sometimes feeling like I was all alone. That was not true. I prevailed, and I pray every girl will too without having to live with a life of consequences because of negative choices she made in her teens. Life can be sweet and meaningful when we are following God–even when we are young.
Many teens, girls, and boys alike are struggling to discern who they are as a Christian and what they believe. How will your book help guide teen girls in this faith journey?
This book covers many of the issues that will help girls grow as Christians and connect with God on a personal level; I see God as a friend, and I want girls also to spend a lot of time focusing on getting to know God just like we get to know our friends.
Katara Washington Patton
What are the most challenging issues Christian teen girls face, and how does your book address them?
I think some issues are old and some are new and specific to this generation. Self-esteem is always a big issue for teens especially girls and now with social media and videos with filters and photoshop things are enhanced; girls have to know that God loves each of us for who we are and what we see on social media (or in other places) is not always real. Competition and bullying are also real issues girls face these days; I address both in different entries. Of course, makeup, body image, dealing with parents and other family members are also all included.
Many teen girls see all the romance novels and movies about women finding their prince charming. But what the world values isn’t in lockstep with a Godly path. What should teen girls look for to know if they’ve found their soulmate?
In the entry Find True Love, I, of course, point back to God and God’s example of true love; from there, I ask girls to think of people who truly love them and what they do to show that love. I use 1 Corinthians 13 as a model here, and I try to help girls think through what love looks like, whether that’s in a relationship with a friend, family member, or bae. Romance is something we want to experience, but it really is so much more than we realize or get to see in the movies. I pray this entry, and this book will help girls see this and help them pursue healthy, positive relationships as they grow into young women.
What would you tell a teen girl who is struggling with whether to have sex with her boyfriend?
The entry “Let’s Talk About…,” on pages 38-39 not only shares the word of God from 1 Cor. 6:16-18 from two versions (for easier understanding), but it also offers practical things for girls to think about, such as: Do you want to be connected with someone so intimately when you might not even like this person in a month or so? The activities also encourage the reader to think about just how far she does want to go: holding hands, kissing, French kissing? These are things girls need to decide BEFORE it is too late, before it is dark and they are having all of those emotions. This entry provides a tool to help young girls think about their decision before it happens and to apply God’s word on the matter in their life.
What are three or more things every Christian teen girl needs to know about living a life with purpose?
Build your faith–it really will carry you through so much in life; love yourself–so many negative actions stem from just not loving yourself; God created each of us and wants us to live as the true God-created souls we are; love others– it’s just like the great commandment–we have to be connected to God, love ourselves and love others, which includes vowing to do no harm to ourselves or others.
What are three or more things every Christian parent needs to know about guiding their young woman into living a life with purpose?
I think parents need to listen to their teens–not only what they are saying but what they are doing–so they can keep the lines of communications open. Girls need to be able to come to their parents with what they are feeling and/or questioning in life; I also think parents need to remember when they were teens…things were confusing and complex and now they may be 10 times that; give your girls space and time to walk through this phase, keep them prayed up and keep your hearts and minds open to them; guide them well–hopefully this includes connecting them with faith groups and communities who can also serve as mentors and people they can communicate with. It can be lonely and isolating to be a teen; help girls find the resources and support they need during this time.
As a Christian mom with a daughter, what core principles do you hope to instill in your daughter?
Loving God and desiring to grow with God and turning to God for all of our needs; I think when you have that, you will succeed no matter what.