It's a woman's world
Stabroek News
January 12, 2002

Not so long ago, the only women dressed in safety boots and hard hats would have been the models on the calendars or posters of companies using sex to sell power tools. Blonde hair carefully tumbled, helmet pulled rakishly on one side and overalls interestingly unbuttoned, they were photographed with dainty fingers sprouting inch-long nails carefully wrapped around chainsaws it was obvious they could not hoist.

Today, in the developed world, advertisers could not only use women skilled in the so-called non-traditional areas to promote the products, they could also target them for sales.

Guyana is not far behind in this. Last week, 150 women graduated from the Non-Traditional Skills Training for Women programme with newly acquired skills in carpentry, electrical installation, masonry and plumbing. To date, 309 women have been trained in Georgetown and Linden and a third batch is currently undergoing training in Essequibo.

The programme is funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in collaboration with the Institute of Distance and Continuing Education (IDCE) and has been warmly embraced by women.

And in case anyone thought the programme was some sort of affirmative action, they have left their mark everywhere. National Co-ordinator of the programme, Glenyss James, said that the masons had built concrete walls, prepared and laid the steel work for a concrete floor and finished it with ceramic tiles. The carpenters had built doorframes, repaired a roof, made bookshelves, tables and chairs. Those skilled in automotive repairs had dismantled, assembled and tested live engines, serviced and replaced vehicle suspensions and serviced various types of brakes.

Those versed in electrical installation had installed outlets, serviced an entire building, replaced and repaired lamps, outlets, switches and defective circuits. Those in industrial maintenance had become competent in the use of cutting tools, could weld, use portable power tools and operate lathes and shaping machines. A concrete bridge near the Government Technical Institute on Camp Road is also testimony to the application of their skills.

While these were not the first women to be trained in these areas, their numbers and staying power are what have made them remarkable.

James said that apart from co-ordinating the training programmes, she was also involved in finding job openings for some of the women.

The dearth of jobs in the 'traditional' sectors is possibly one of the reasons some of the women chose these careers. One hopes that with some years of experience under their belts some of these women would move to acquire managerial/entrepreneurial skills and set up their own businesses, employing other women and taking young female and male apprentices under their wings. That would be one way of sustaining the skills-building aspect of the programme, since the IDB funding is not a bottomless pit.

In time, there will be nothing "non-traditional" about a woman carpenter/contractor, plumber or welder.