Silent No More - Forging Pathways in Timor-Leste
BlogSilent No More - Forging Pathways in Timor-Leste

In Timor-Leste, three in ten people lack access to clean water – essential services and infrastructure are still developing. A relatively low-skilled engineering sector compounds these challenges, and women face specific barriers accessing education and employment.

EWB Australia’s program Feto Enjiñeira (Women in Engineering) works with female graduates and students of engineering to build their professional capacity and engagement through skills development, mentoring, and peer to peer support, and in turn is an important catalyst for diversity in this male dominated sector.

Across 2017 and 2018, 31 young women joined Feto Enjiñeira, and together the group engaged in outreach activities with 476 high school students, including 260 females.

Feto Enjiñeira also collaborates with the EWB Australia Professional Skills Development program (add link to PSD program) on skills workshops and student design challenges, building the skills of 500 engineering and technical professionals across 2016 and 2017, of whom 167 were women.

“In this country even in organisations that recruit women with a technical background they are sometimes recruited to work as an administrator instead of as an engineer,” explains Dulce Soares, who leads Feto Enjiñeira. “This means there is a lack of belief in them as a technical person. By having Feto Enjiñeira step up, and talk about the importance of being involved in leadership, that can influence others. We talk about challenges for women engineers, we share ideas, and increase our capacity as women in engineering, so that we are not left behind.”

Marilia De Araujo Martins agrees. Having studied petroleum engineering she is motivated “to see more women working in technical roles in the oil and gas industry in Timor-Leste”, and believes “engineering is crucial to the development of the nation.” But like the others in the group, she was discouraged from studying engineering, and told “if you study that, all you will be is a builder.” With only a small number with a friend or family member in the engineering sector, the mentoring and peer-to-peer support they receive through Feto Enjiñeira is highly valued.

In time, Dulce says, the positive shift in skills and confidence these women gain is truly transformative.

“When participants join Feto Enjiñeira they come from a belief that women often need to be silent. Our activities give them a voice – with many opportunities to talk, to lead, to organise and to create. This has proven to be incredibly empowering. Witnessing the change in these women is wonderful. They feel valued and come to understand that their role is important.”

Sylviana Ferreira Carvalho, a civil engineer working with CHL, believes her experience with Feto Enjiñeira, and as an intern with EWB Australia’s Professional Skills Development program ‘helped a lot’. Her professional skills facilitated her to secure her current role, and she has confidence working in a male dominated construction environment, saying “If you are professional then they will respect you.” Dulce witnessed this transformation first hand. “The person that I knew joining the group was very quiet. But now I see Sylviana always raises her hand whenever there is a question, she always comes up with something else. Before it was only a ‘yes’, but now it’s ‘Yes and I also have these ideas!’

The transformation doesn’t stop there. As Dulce looks across the sector as a whole, she is encouraged to see engineering companies adapting to this new culture of women in engineering. “What we hear is there are now a lot of women in leadership in the engineering sector, and people have started recruiting women for technical jobs in the field. There are changes, and to make it stronger we have Feto Enjiñeira networking with organisations and with the government,” says Dulce

“If people really understand the concept of women in engineering then it changes the idea that it is only about physical work. When we talk about creativity and about ideas, you don’t need to show your physical strength for that.”

Marillia agrees that old attitudes are being overturned. “I have learned a lot about leadership, and when we go out to work in communities, we are role models to others. So what we have learned is important not just for us, but for all women working in engineering in Timor-Leste.”

This program receives support from the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).