Women welders work with iron and fire
Patricia Zeka demonstrates the use of a 4 pound sledge hammer whilst, trainer, Edwin Mpandawana assists. She is one of the four women who constitute the 'Pisa Pisa' welding and blacksmithing group which is part of the livelihoods programme in Hatcliffe Extension, Zimbabwe.Photo: AFSC / Samantha R Sanangurai
Iron and fire are normally left for men to work at to produce hoes, shovels, axes, window frames, door frames, and wheelbarrows; traditionally this trade is out-of-bounds for women.
After all, they say, women do not have the muscle: tender and soft they are made only to love and care.
But this is not so for Swen Tengabwino, Mrs Rushambwa, Jane Kazingo, and Patricia Zeka, now known as the "Pisa Pisa" ("Hot Hot," a phrase that refers to their passion for iron and fire), who decided to join the welding trade under the livelihoods program conducted through the close partnership of American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Silveira House (SH), the Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprise Development, and Zimbabwe Women’s Bureau (ZWB).
After going through an Income Savings and Lending Scheme (a foundational course in savings), beneficiaries are then given a wide range of up to 80 project choices.
Normally women and girls choose traditionally acceptable trades like dressmaking, interior decor, tie and dye, and peanut butter making, while men enter into trades like welding, carpentry, and building.
So it came as a surprise when the Pisa Pisa group chose to join the welding group and started training in September 2010. This was a first in Hatcliffe Extension, bringing up questions in the minds of the community and their families. On the other hand, they had something to celebrate as a partnership: breaking a barrier for most women in this community, where gender based discrimination is still widespread. In response to the organizers saying, "Women can do it!" they have said, "Yes we can!"
Everyone wanted to know why they had chosen this trade. Swen Tengabwino, one of the women, said, "Zvirikushamisa (it is a shock)."
She chose the trade because she wanted to and because she believes that if men can do it then any woman can do it too. “It runs in the family, right now my sister Shupi is in the carpentry group and she is good,” she said.
It is normally difficult for women to be assertive and they usually find it more difficult when their husbands, fathers, and brothers are not supportive. Those who are allowed to pursue their dreams are few.
Mai Rushambwa is one such woman who found inspiration from her husband who is already in the trade. For her, this is a chance to grow the family business.
Many businesses are started after a lot of research has been done to assess markets, turnovers, and capital, and business people tend to fail in their ventures if this research is not done well. Jane Kazingo showed that this information was on the tips of her fingers when she said, “As you know, people in Hatcliffe are still building so they will need door frames and window frames for their houses.”
As it turned out, the first customer they would have to serve was themselves as they are currently constructing their own houses. Patricia Zeka’s house urgently needs window frames and door frames since she is already well advanced in her building.
Edwin Mundawana, their trainer, shared his experiences with Pisa Pisa. He had worked with women before, but he found this group to be exceptional because of its passion and steadfastness. Edwin found the women to be quick learners; they managed to go through their training in the required period. Even though they said that blacksmithing was the most difficult, largely because they had to lift a four-pound sledge hammer, Edwin felt that they did exceptionally well and their work could be compared to that of men in the same trade.
The group found that each time they were producing a new thing it was a different experience altogether. He felt Pisa Pisa would make it without him playing an oversight role, but he felt they still needed accompaniment in window frame making in order for them to perfect a few areas.
Their expertise was evident in the way they used technical terms to describe their products, and in the end, the products were of high quality. It was apparent that the training had sailed through in an environment of mutual respect and enjoyment because of the way the trainer and trainees constantly referred to each other in polite and cheerful manner.
At the time of the interview the women had already made plans to find a place to rent in Hatcliffe 1. Unfortunately Hatcliffe Extension does not have electricity so all trades that require electricity to operate have to relocate to other nearby areas. This normally means costs to run the business increase in the form of rentals at a time when they are still young and growing. The women still prefer to work together, rather than as individuals after the training, and this is a positive aspect which has been difficult to achieve with some other groups. Despite the space challenges, the Pisa Pisa members see themselves becoming leading professionals in the trade.
Their next aim is to learn how to make grinding mills and scotch carts, but before they can do this they have to go through business management training. This is an integral part of their learning, which if neglected might rob them of their future as successful business women.
Women still remain a priority in AFSC’s livelihoods project mainly because they are generally marginalised in Zimbabwean society. Training and accompaniment in HIV and AIDS and gender are all part of the training as well as capacity building in advocacy and lobby skills as well as conflict management.
The project is concerned with the delivery of basic services in the neighbourhood, which does not have access to water, electricity, health, education, or roads. It is our desire that as they become empowered economically they find themselves in a better position to participate in policy issues and claim their rights as women in their homes, in their community and in their nation.
By Samantha R Sanangurai