Why are women missing in infrastructure sector? 

Olive Kabatwairwe

In a bid to promote women’s participation in infrastructure delivery processes, the Construction Sector Transparency in Uganda (CoST), an independent infrastructure sector prefect, held a session mid last year. It brought together women, men and other stakeholders to brainstorm on factors inhibiting women from fully engaging in public infrastructure delivery processes. 

Some issues advanced for women’s lack of involvement in infrastructure delivery processes include unfair working environment, lack of knowledge about existing opportunities for women, employers inability to recruit women in the sector, and the notion that infrastructure jobs are best done by the male gender.  This is in addition to inadequate support in terms of capacity for women, lack of visibility for women, low interest and passion for infrastructure jobs, cultural norms attributed to pregnancy, societal perception, sexism, maternity benefits and improper sanitary conditions, among others. 

In the month that the world celebrates International Women’s Day, it is extremely important that gender gaps in infrastructure delivery is plugged or else everybody, including the economy, stands to lose. This is an economic sector that both gender can equally play a fundamental role. For that to happen, there must be equal opportunity in the sector for both men and women.   

The World Bank has reported that gender equality is about changing the norms and expectations about female and male roles and ultimately changing power relationships. On the same matter, the McKinsey Global Institute, has noted that attitudes and social norms exert a heavy influence on gender equality issues and these cannot easily be budged.  McKinsey Global Institute continues to argue acting on this front is a priority if barriers to closing the gender gap are to be removed.

Further weighing in on the same matter, the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women, noted that changing norms should be at the top of the 2030 Agenda. This is because to address the gaps and gender disparities that exist in the public infrastructure delivery processes in Uganda based on the perceptions and findings uncovered by different studies, there is need for a concerted efforts to deliberately put in place measures and ensure compliance with the set standards, systems and institutional frameworks for women in infrastructure.  We believe that deliberate efforts to involve women in decision making for infrastructure projects delivery is a great gesture to start with. Gender inclusive measures are needed to reverse old industry stereotypes, end discriminatory on-site practices, improve efforts to develop spaces for female representation in decision-making structures. This could be realised through establishing structures in the projects where women could easily fit in. This goes along with creating more spaces for women to give them an enabling environment for investment, the affirmative action for women in education should be extended to women in the economic empowerment sector, the current efforts by PPDA on Women in Procurement should be enhanced and extended to the other sectors, and with strategies to map their effective implementation.Women earn less and remain vastly underrepresented in the senior leadership ranks of both business and government. The lack of statistics of how many women take up senior positions in the infrastructure sector in Uganda should be a cause to worry, lack of statistics is a harbour to lack of improvement. 

Women trail men in access to other services that people need to be productive, like banking, credit, telecommunications and the Internet. Many women entrepreneurs go into business out of necessity, rather than opportunity, and operate in the informal, unregulated and unprotected sector. It is paamount that, key stakeholders come together to find lasting solutions to the “women in infrastructure agenda” putting in place policy frameworks, but also ensuring these are implemented is very important. In conclusion, we strongly believe that there is massive potential of women that is yet to be tapped in infrastructure, and that perhaps explains rampant lack of transparency and accountability, resulting in shoddy works. This is  a challenge that could perhaps easily be solved through fair and equitable gender participation in infrastructure delivery processes. 

Ms Olive Kabatwairwe is a social and public policy analysis with years of experience in gender mainstreaming and activism.


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