Formidable force in a 'male' industry

WOMEN'S month highlights South Africa's commitment to the empowerment of women.

Over the years the government and businesses throughout the country have shown increasing dedication to engaging with communities in their quest to uplift women.

"The government cannot be held solely accountable for the social development and support of women in the country," Nomsa Masuku, head of corporate social investment at Standard Bank, says.

"Business too has a part to play in developing programmes that help women gain important qualifications, supporting them in setting up their own businesses, and looking after them physically, emotionally and spiritually."

One such initiative is Women for Housing, which is making it possible for women to shine in what was traditionally a male-dominated industry.

Established in the late 1990s as a small volunteer network for developing skills and creating meaningful opportunities for women in the housing sector, Women for Housing has played a catalytic role in changing the fabric of the construction and housing sector. Today it has a full-time staff and a network of more than 2000 women working in housing delivery.

"Housing is a basic need of society and it is important for women who maintain the family unit to be involved in the type of housing they need as well as the housing construction industry," Masuku says .

"Women for Housing is just one of the organisations that Standard Bank works with to nurture entrepreneurship and develop enterprises. Its holistic approach to skills development and entrepreneurship resonates with our view of integrating social and business development."

Each year hundreds of women attend Women for Housing's business development and technical workshops which cover all aspects of contracting and business development. Courses are provided in partnership with industry bodies and accredited training provider Tjeka Training, and include construction (plumbing, roofing and tiling) as well as marketing, project management and computer training.

In addition, topics such as social housing, corporate governance, opportunities in real estate and investing in property are presented by recognised figures in the industry who volunteer their time.

Most newcomers enrol for the Emerging Contractor Development Programme, which comprises business development and technical skills workshops held over a year.

More recently the Rea Abelana programme was launched to offer professional development to more experienced contractors. A student programme is also available to help students develop and distribute their CVs and access work opportunities through Women for Housing's network.

The organisation's strength lies in its ability to leverage relationships which enhance opportunities for women. Its network includes government, academics, engineers, architects, planners, project managers, financial institutions, housing organisations, developers, contractors, consultants and real estate and property management players.

This network enables the organisation to offer a range of career training and business development opportunities aimed at women.

"Women for Housing has proved to be a formidable force in changing women's relevance in the industry. It plays a role in addressing the housing backlog and shortage of construction skills, while empowering women as well as addressing the need for more affordable housing in SA," Masuku says.

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