Naadiya Moosajee is trying to get more African women to study and pursue a career in engineering
March 3, 2016: GDP-wise, Africa is doing well – with 4.5% growth predictions for 2015 and beyond. That doesn’t take way the fact that the continent is one of the world’s least developed regions in terms of infrastructure. This situation, which is linked to a shortage of engineers, can be solved with one single solution, says Naadiya Moosajee from South Africa: opening the field of engineering to women.
When it comes to roads, bridges, rail, ICT networks, and energy grids, Africa has a long way to go. Take the issue of electricity, for instance. The International Energy Agency (IEA), in its latest Africa Energy Outlook, estimates that 60% of 1.1 billion Africans do not have access to modern energy sources. The region needs an additional $450 billion worth of investments to achieve universal electricity access and tackling power outages.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) has come with a similar verdict. In its 2014-2015 Global Competitiveness Report, African states are found dangling at the bottom of the list in terms of electricity supply. These include South Africa (99 of 144 surveyed countries), Angola (138), Burkina Faso (139), Chad (140), Nigeria (141), and at the very bottom Guinea (144).
Inspired by the constitution
The situation is not much different when looking at general infrastructure, such as roads and bridges. In the above mentioned WEF report, 12 of the Top 20 worst performers in the category ‘quality of overall infrastructure’ are found in Africa.
The problem is that the above and other findings regarding Africa’s infrastructure are hampering the continent’s economic growth and development progress. That is why South African entrepreneur Naadiya Moosajee decided to study civil engineering, with a specialisation in transport.
“I have always wanted to make the world a better place. Since I love urban engineering, which is all about how we can make cities better for those who live in them, I ended up doing a postgrad in transportation engineering,” the 30-year-old says.
Moosajee’s choice was inspired by the South African constitution. She says, “Our constitution says that everyone in South Africa has the right to access to healthcare, education, water and energy. However, to access education, one has to be able to get to school. To access health care, one has to be able to get to a hospital. That is why I did a postgrad in transportation engineering, to help people to access their rights.”
One of five female students
It was during the first year of her studies that Moosajee realised that not everyone saw her career choice as suitable for a girl. “I was only one of five female students in my class. When I was doing vacation work, I’d get catcalled by people on site,” she says, adding that she was regularly mistaken for the tea lady or assistant. “Some sites didn’t even have female bathrooms.”
It were those experiences, and a shortage of engineers in South Africa, that made her establish South African Women in Engineering (SAWomEng). “We are, in short, promoting engineering among girls and women in South Africa, whilst making the sector more female-friendly,” she explains. “One of our key programmes, GirlEng, aims to educate female high school students about what engineering is truly all about, and why it is a suitable career choice.”
Whilst breaking the glass ceiling of engineering is good for women, it also makes economic sense: South Africa has been struggling with a shortage of engineers. The same counts for other African countries. Secondly, more female engineers allows a country to better harness the power of female consumers.
”Engineers are involved in everything and anything, not just big infrastructure such as roads, bridges and buildings, but also manufacturing the lipsticks that women apply. What grows today’s economies are no longer primary activities such as mining, but manufacturing, industry, technology and product development. The point is that 54% of the African market of over 1 billion consumers is female. That is huge. The truth is that African women know best what African female consumers need and want, and want to buy. That is why we need more African women engineers.”
Since SAWomEng’s launch in 2006, South Africa has made great strides in terms of girls studying engineering and the number of female engineers on the work floor. Moosajee says, “Girls make up 40-50% of all engineering students in their classes now, making South Africa more or less on par with the rest of the world.”
Of course, there always is room for improvement. The Association of African Women in Science and Engineering (AWSE) estimates that just under 40% of scientists, engineers and technologists in South Africa are women.
Despite this, the Rainbow Nation is better off than other African countries. In Kenya, where SAWomEng launched last year, only 3% of all engineers are women.
The main reason why so few African women, generally speaking, are choosing a career in engineering is the general belief that the sector is not suitable for women. “Many people assume that engineers work in the middle of nowhere, down a mine shaft, and under hardcore conditions whilst wearing hard hats and safety boots,” Moosajee explains.
“However, software, technology, and chemical engineers are not deployed in the bundus (uninhabited locations) and are not wearing hard hats. My first job was office bound and I wore a business suit. We need to change the message about what engineering really is all about.”
|Name: Naadiyaa Moosajee
Born: July 27, 1984, in Johannesburg
Education: BSc Civil Engineering and MSc Engineering degree (University of Cape Town)
Notable achievements: Top 100 Brightest Young Minds in South Africa (2006), Mail & Guardian top 300 Young South Africans (2009), Outstanding Leadership Award from the University of Cape Town (2007), CEO Magazine’s Most Influential Woman of the Year (2009), International Youth Foundation’s Global Leadership Fellow (2010), best NGO in the Top Women Awards (2013), Top 20 Young Power Women in Africa by Forbes Magazine (2014), World Economic Forum’s Global Shaper (2014).