Home maker to home builder: Building a different future for Congolese women

For 26 Congolese women, this year’s International Women’s Day will be remembered as the beginning of an unprecedented journey towards a livelihood they could never otherwise have imagined – and along the way, educating their husbands, families and future co-workers on equality and empowerment.

March 8, 2021 is the first day of training for women who are now part of Project MaC - ‘Menagere a Constructrice’ or ‘Home Maker to Home Builder’ – which will allow women in the Pokola region of the Republic of Congo to develop skills for constructing wooden houses and the opportunity of jobs with Congolaise Industrielle des Bois (CIB – An Olam Group Company).

CIB’s Project MaC embodies multiple elements of the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals including those aimed at furthering gender equality, productive employment for all and an end to poverty. Ajita Chowhan, Head of Communications, Congolaise Industrielle des Bois (Olam Wood Products), conceptualised and launched the project, elucidates. “This project is challenging gender stereotypes, shifting mindsets and opening up what was seen as a men-only domain by enabling women to learn wooden housing construction.” 

Talking about the lifecycle of the project, she informs, “Some 1,200 application forms were distributed to women in Pokola, the biggest of the five CIB concessions in the Republic of the Congo. Five members of CIB’s community relations team spent one week visiting houses, markets, schools, and social venues to tell the community about the project.”

“To have launched the project in Pokola was not without challenges”, she adds.

Even though the CIB team committed to cover all the costs of the training, there was uncertainty about the number of women who would come forward to participate in the project. One of the most rewarding elements has been the enthusiasm of the girls and women of Pokola – not only those who turned up for the written tests but also the successful applicants’ commitment to the three-month programme.

OLAM
Women appearing for written test.

Some 200 applicants expressed interest in taking the required tests in French language and mathematics – many recognized that aside from imparting skills and creating economic empowerment opportunity, the project could become an agent for social and cultural change.

Challenging gender stereotypes

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Workers, all men, at CIB Wooden Housing Team being sensitized on discrimination, gender and workplace related themes.

The next challenge was to get the men of Pokola on side and to raise awareness of gender issues in the community. One of the CIB team members, Pulcherie Ekanga, who has walked virtually every street of Pokola to distribute the application forms, recalls: “Many men ridiculed and mocked the project with opinions like, ‘who will cook at home if my wife will be out working?’; or ‘I will not allow women of this house to work with strangers’; or ‘women are not a physically able for house construction’.”

One critical initial step for Project MaC has therefore been to educate men at CIB and in the wider community on gender issues, women’s rights, and sexual harassment so that the environment is welcoming, not hostile, when the women start their training.

“While women may be willing and able to work, we wanted to address perceptions about gender stereotypes and take steps towards ensuring a supportive work environment”, says Francis Kamissoko, CIB’s Head of Human Resources.

He took up the challenge of ensuring that the predominantly male workforce at CIB’s wooden housing operations understands issues like discrimination, zero tolerance towards workplace harassment, and complaint and grievance procedures.

Measuring success

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The team behind Home maker to Home builder- Communications, Human Resources, Medical Staff and Industry Team.

To ensure the success of the programme, Head of Wooden Housing and Furniture at CIB, Hermann Mackouaky, has developed a detailed training plan for the selected trainees, making sure that all resources are available and is structured in a way that can be replicated in the future. He adds: “Today my department is mainly male workers and we want to use this project to strive towards a better balance in gender equality. I will only say that this project has been successful when the first house is built, 100% by women.”

So, on March 8, these home makers will be on their way to becoming home builders. By June, when they ‘graduate’, each of women will have learned the skills required for the job and assigned to specific projects for CIB, and the Republic of Congo will see new homes built by eager and empowered women.

As one of the 26 finalists, Martina Ingoba said: “This is something I could never have believed I would be able to do. Initially I was very stressed. But now, I am so motivated. I will be very proud to be a Congolese woman who can build homes for the Congolese people. I feel very special that I am in the first batch, and I want to become the best home builder that I can be. This project of CIB is going to impart me a lifelong skill”.

“This is not a one-time project for CIB. We will continue this workshop of women, training them and employing them in various departments in CIB”, says Ajita. This is just the beginning.

For further information and details contact Congolaise Industrielle des Bois or follow them on LinkedIn .

 

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