Australian High Commission
Papua New Guinea

Constructing opportunities for women in trades

Media Release 07 March 2023

More and more women are joining building and construction trades, an industry traditionally dominated by men. LizApril Fisa and Sharon Katari are part of this new generation of women in the building and construction industry. Their stories will serve as an inspiration to other women and girls who wish to enter similar skilled technical trades in their career.

Employed by Digara Construction Ltd. (Digara), LizApril and Sharon are proud to be part of the company’s current project- the construction of a new 40 -bed female dormitory at the University of Papua New Guinea’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences, funded by a Papua New Guinea-Australia Partnership Incentive Fund grant of PGK8.1million. 

Companies like Digara have seen the many benefits from employing women and are keen to support and encourage their female workers and provide an avenue for Papua New Guinean women to apply their trade skills. 

Given the project is targeted at improving access to quality education and increasing employment opportunities for women, the focus on having women construction workers participating in the building sector is welcomed.

For LizApril, from Tufi in the Northern Province, joining Digara was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up on. She is determined to make her mark in the industry.

                                                                                                           LizApril Fisa

“It’s kind of tough. When I first came [to this project], there weren’t any females. I was like man, how am I going to survive here? But then again, I’m the only girl in a family full of boys so, I was like, just treat them well, just like how I treat my brothers at home. Talk to them properly and make them feel comfortable because most of these guys have never worked with a female co-worker before so it’s quite hard to communicate and talk to them,” she said.

Her collaborative approach has paid off. “I usually initiate discussions and always put myself out there and say hey, I’m here – you need anything, you need help or whatever let me know’. That’s my approach,” she notes.

And after being on the job as an Electrical Assistant for just three months, she is already noticing a shift in behaviour by her male colleagues.

“They are comfortable with me being around. At first, they were like, we have a female, and we are very careful with how we speak. Because there were no females around in the first place, they expressed themselves freely. It’s different now, they are very mindful and respectful towards us,” she said.

In fact, LizApril has been inspired by her experiences on the project that she hopes to continue in the construction industry and become a licensed electrician in the future.

Sharon from Lufa in the Eastern Highlands province has been in the trade for a lot longer than LizApril, starting with Digara four years ago as a welder. But she agrees that women face particular challenges in the industry, especially juggling working and being a mother to a two-year-old son.

                                                                                                     Sharon Katari

“I’m proud to be in this field – I wouldn’t let the opportunity go by like that. I can’t let motherhood hinder my professional career. There is always a balance in what I do and I’m enjoying it right now. The most important achievement for me is doing a good job and being recognised by the company I work for,” she says proudly.

At Digara, she is responsible for assembling pieces of metal together, repairing damage in metal components as well as reviewing blueprints, cutting metal, and smoothing molten metal to remove creases.

“I’m proud to have come this far in this industry. I can do a job that was always thought of as a man’s job, and that is something I am proud of,” she says.

Although the construction industry can still be tough for women, Sharon is enthusiastic about encouraging other girls and women into the industry and seeing the advantages of the work.

“I’d like to encourage young girls to take up trade courses offered at TVET schools. There are opportunities everywhere. Not every one of us is meant to go to universities, college or be doing office work. There are technical institutions that will develop you and your skills,” she says.

There is still a long way to go for women to achieve equality in the industry, but for women like Sharon and LizApril, just turning up every day and doing a good job is slowly changing attitudes about women’s roles and what women can do.

“We normally get comments like, hey how come you doing men’s job – I tell them that I can do men’s jobs any day and whether they like it or not, I will still do my best to deliver. And with my attitude towards work, I have gained respect from my male colleagues. I’m very determined and I need to do well so I can be on top,” says Sharon, who hopes to grow in the industry and become a supervisor, so she can help train other young girls to achieve their career goals.

Both women welcomed the opportunity to work with Digara on the UPNG School of Medicine and Health Science project, which is a very important project benefiting women and girls.

“This is a good initiative for Digara to employ women because in this field we don’t usually see a lot of females around here. So, by employing a lot of females, it sort of encourages other upcoming female engineers to see where their skills can be utilised,” said Sharon.

“Some of my friends have been asking where I work, when I say Digara, their faces light up. They didn’t know that the company employed women in technical fields. They are always encouraged by my stories and know that companies like Digara continue to make a difference in the lives of women,” she says.

The Papua New Guinea – Australia Partnership’s Incentive Fund and partners are encouraged to meaningfully employ and engage women in all project activities, including technical sectors like construction. Not only does this benefit women like Sharon and LizApril, but it also helps companies access a new workforce to deliver their goals.

Digara Project Manager for the UPNG-School of Medicine and Health Sciences project, Siga Rogo, says: “By focusing on women, we assist emerging female talent in securing a space where their skills, knowledge, and abilities are recognised and ultimately rewarded. There is an ever-increasing need for skilled tradesmen and women in the construction industry. Our company believes that it is fair to employ any gender if they have the right qualifications and experience and give them the opportunity to share and grow with our vision, that is to be the best.”

Upon completion, the new 40 bed dormitory project will strengthen PNG’s health workforce by providing high quality accommodation and increasing access to quality local education opportunities for female students in PNG. The project was launched in August 2022 and is anticipated to be completed in June 2023.

For further information, including access to related materials, please contact the Australian High Commission media team: +675 7090 0100