Working hand in hand to overcome gender barriers, EWB Australia and Feto Enjiñeira are empowering women in Timor.
A civil engineer in Timor-Leste, Dulce Adolzinda Ximenes Soares, is passionate about the importance of sanitation. Dulce wants people in remote and rural communities to learn how to build latrines and more importantly, how hygienic behavior can have a dramatic and positive effect on the whole community.
“By building latrines some people might be thinking that this is just a toilet,” Dulce explains. “However, it is not just the latrine itself, but hygienic behavior we are trying to encourage. Access to latrines can prevent the spread of common illnesses that can impact on childrens’ ability to attend school and adults’ ability to work and look after their families. The aim is to encourage them to understand a healthier way of living.”
Dulce, who works as a Project Manager of a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Schools program for Plan International Timor-Leste, was instrumental in forming the local Women in Engineering group (WiE), known locally as Feto Enjiñeira, which is facilitated by Engineers Without Borders Australia. Timor-Leste is one of the poorest countries in the world and years of conflict have left a huge deficit in infrastructure and education. EWB is supporting industry groups like WiE to ensure the local engineering sector has the skills and knowledge needed to address shortfalls in housing, energy and sanitation.
Engineers Without Borders International Program Manager, Heidi Michael discusses, “community organisations like WiE play a crucial role in helping local engineers build their skills. We support WiE to increase the capability of professional engineers and build sector-wide capacity in Timor-Leste, especially in regard to our partner organisations and the development sector.”
“We do this by ensuring members of WiE have access to training and mentoring as well as networking, internship and scholarship opportunities.”
WiE member, Dircia da Costa, says “I am so grateful to join the WiE group because it is a network of women that offers inspiration, support and professional development. They have helped me improve my communication skills, broaden my knowledge, enhance my professional network and I have made new friends.”
WiE also strives to empower female engineers, raise awareness of gender equality in Timor-Leste and encourage girls to consider careers in non-traditional areas such as engineering.
Environmental Engineer Carolina Carlos, who is the leader for WiE, says, “I want to encourage Timorese girls to study engineering, science and technology as careers. In these areas you work as a part of a team, develop knowledge and can dedicate yourself to our beloved country.”
EWB Australia’s Project Facilitator for the Professional Skills Development Program in Timor-Leste, Vlasta Jeftic, explains. “Engineers and technical professionals are crucial for rebuilding our country. With women’s participation in engineering in Timor-Leste well below 30%, it is important future generations are given role models and career options. By educating secondary school students, both boys and girls, on the importance of an inclusive sector and listening to their concerns, we can work together to overcome challenges currently affecting women’s participation.”
Dulce says the WiE group provides an important forum for female engineers to share experiences.
“We come from different backgrounds, but we share knowledge and experience with each other which is very motivating. Together we bring our positivity to empower more women to get involved in engineering and create a better future in Timor-Leste.”
EWB’s support of the project is part of its’ International program which aims to foster long-term relationships, build sector-wide capacity through education and support partner organisations through collaboration, knowledge sharing, long-term volunteer placements and by exploring appropriate technologies for water, sanitation, housing, energy and education challenges.
This program is supported by ANCP and Australia Aid.