We live in a global society where women still face biases in society more so in the pursuit of careers in engineering. In Africa, for instance, there are just undesirably few women in engineering to write home about. I am willing to bet most people cannot even name a single female engineer. After all, to them engineering is a male-dominated field.
As Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology marks her 30th graduation ceremony, November 17, 2017, two women have stood out of the pack. Betty King’ori and Monica Mwikali are graduating with first class honours in Mechanical Engineering and Soil, Water and Environmental Engineering respectively. That is no mean feat in a field that is perceived to be an inhospitable choice for women.
With the likes of Betty and Monica attaining high echelons in their various engineering fields, progress is being made but there is a lot to be done. The stakeholders need to understand that getting women interested and involved in engineering early is vital to the industry’s future and the country’s industrialisation agenda.
Betty, currently a graduate trainee at KPMG Advisory unit, says it is time people understood that engineering is about the ability to solve problems, a skill men and women share equally.
“We need to move beyond engineering is not for women stereotype and support prospective female engineers. Only through such efforts, can we hope for more female engineers going toe to toe with their male counterparts,” says Betty.
Monica, currently with the Upper Tana Natural Resources Management Project (UTaNRMP) opines that for women to take up engineering as a course there is need to encourage high school girls to participate in science-oriented subjects passionately.
“We need to make science and engineering courses more attractive to women. My interest in engineering was nurtured by my Physics teacher who encouraged me to pursue science subjects, an area most girls in our school dithered from,” says Monica.
According to the two, it is high time the education system made it a priority to create gender parity in engineering courses for the prosperity of the region. To them, the challenges and opportunities we face in the region cannot be tackled from a male point of view alone.
On why she chose Soil, Water and Environmental Engineering, Monica say she is passionate about environmental issues and is glad that she can apply her knowledge and skills to propagate environmental issues such as the management and conservation of water resources hence playing her part in addressing water scarcity in the country.
“I am keen on details, understanding and researching on new fields in the area of water resources which is my key interest. The challenges that the tasks assigned to me offer is something that I enjoy tackling. I am at my best when faced with challenges that need to be solved objectively, quickly and successfully,” narrates Monica.
Monica believes that her field has great role models such as Prof. Eng. Bancy Mati of JKUAT, who can be ambassadors for change and help attract and retain most talented engineers irrespective of their gender.
Betty recounts that engineering is a diverse field that has broadened her mind to be a solution provider to the community. In October 2017, she co-founded an NGO called Volunteers4Kenya that seeks to improve livelihoods, alleviate poverty and cut down reliance on donor aid in needy communities through implementation of community-based sustainable projects.
“We work on renovations in needy children’s homes and schools through implementation of infrastructure projects that promote self-sustainability. Recently, we renovated a space for Young
Life Children’s home in Ruiru and built an information hub for the boys to enjoy. The hub included a library, engineering corner and computer laboratory from items which we recycled as donations from our friends. We are now looking to delve into sustainability projects especially in the field of agriculture,” says Betty.
A study undertaken by Catalyst, a nonprofit organisation with a mission to accelerate progress for women through workplace inclusion, indicates that only 30 percent of science roles throughout the world are held by women. Both graduands agree that a lot needs to be done to encourage women to undertake engineering courses thus reducing the parlous imbalance in Africa.
The Principal, College of Engineering and Technology, Prof. Bernard Ikua, acknowledges that although the uptake of engineering courses by female student is slow, the college has recorded an increase in enrollment of female students that currently stands at about 25%. He says, the college is leveraging on the presence of the female engineering lecturers to mentor the female students thus helping in debunking the stereotype that engineering courses are only reserved for academically outstanding male students.
“We have also established the Society of Engineering Students (SES) that provides high school students especially girls with that first vital guidance on what it takes to navigate through an engineering course and lay the foundation for a successful engineering career.”