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A new report aims to highlight the challenges and explore solutions to the barriers that female engineers face in Timor-Leste – of which there are many.

Feto Enginhera was formed in 2014 to support the technical and engineering careers of women in Timor-Leste. Less than one in five Timorese engineering graduates are females and even fewer females continue on to develop an engineering career due to various cultural and family influences. 

Meaningful, ongoing employment

Despite three years of operation and success in providing training in professional and personal development, creating industry networks, and working tirelessly to tackle some of the structural barriers that women face, Feto Enginhera members remain volunteers who are still looking for a permanent job in the sector. 

Some organisations have hired Feto Enginhera members for short-term projects, but provided few other prospects. Members are often invited to MC at events and talk about engineering. Raising the profile of women in engineering is a positive step, however, active commitment and practical steps by the engineering sector are needed for this to translate into engineering jobs for women.

Mapping the barriers with EWB

In June 2020 the group completed a project in collaboration with EWB to map the barriers to female participation in the technical workforce in their country.  The report highlights the challenges and explores solutions to resolve the issues – of which there are many. 

The mapping outlined instances of sexual harassment, inappropriate sanitation on worksites, inadequate parental leave, remote locations, and lack of safety and security. This report is now being presented across the engineering and technical sectors in Timor-Leste as a starting point to explore the critical change that is needed to better support and enable women in the sector.

Recommendations

Seventeen recommendations were identified in the report. They included actions that were sector-specific as well as identifying ways to shift more deeply-embedded societal mindsets. Recommendations highlighted the need to start gender equality and diversity education from a young age, provide deeper support for girls and women to pursue STEM careers, and develop an industry code of conduct and gender-awareness training in the workplace.

“There is now a change happening in the culture and mindsets of people in Timor-Leste. In the past the role of females in the community was limited to childcare and domestic duties. After sharing with my family some knowledge I learnt from Feto Enginhera, my family are supportive of my choice to become an engineer. It makes me proud and happy to have the opportunity to do what I want and follow my aspirations. There is still a lot that can be improved, so that all women in Timor-Leste have the opportunity to do what they want to in life, and to have equal opportunities as professionals,” said Elsa Ximenes, Feto Enginhera member and EWB Program Officer.

EWB’s Timor Leste program receives support from the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) and from generous donors.

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Isaura Ximenes Silveira is a member of Feto Enginhera, and is involved in the ERA Agro-Forestry project as a supervisor for road rehabilitation in rural areas, to ensure inclusiveness within this male-dominated field. The project includes nine local contractors, comprising engineers and supervisors.