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Encouraging employment of women engineers in Bosnia and Herzegovina

By Bojana Vlajcic

Nikolina Stojčić is one year into her first job, as Quality Assurance and Control Engineer at Integral Inženjering a.d., a company involved in building the country’s strategic transport artery and biggest-ever infrastructure project, Corridor Vc. She is overseeing the construction of the bypass road around Doboj and loves her job. Most of her colleagues at the construction site are male, and she admits that at first she wondered whether, as a woman, it would be difficult for her to integrate with the team.

“However, now I see that those preconceptions were wrong, and my experience of working on the site has been nothing but positive. Here what matters is what you know, not whether you are a man or a woman,” she says,

The construction sector is one of the largest industrial employers in Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, women engineers make up only around 10 per cent of the total workforce.

Although women are employed in the sector, they occupy mainly administrative positions and are underrepresented in engineering jobs.

“Women are underrepresented in the workforce in Bosnia and Herzegovina overall, and many young people are leaving the country. Creating economic opportunities for women is not only a gender issue, it is an economic priority for the country,” explains Manuela Naessl, Head of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

The EBRD has been working with the motorway companies of Bosnia and Herzegovina to address these challenges within the context of the Bank’s financing of Corridor Vc.

Since 2008, the EBRD and the European Union have been financing the construction of the motorway. Once completed, the section in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is 325 kilometres long, will cross the country from north to south, eventually connecting the Adriatic port of Ploče in Croatia with the Hungarian capital, Budapest.

“In addition to providing financing for this flagship infrastructure project that will better connect Bosnia to Western Europe, we are providing technical assistance to help local authorities and two motorway companies develop programmes and policies to encourage the employment of women in the construction sector. We started working with Autoputevi RS and JP Autoceste in 2019, supporting female employment by developing gender action plans and providing training opportunities for young people, for example,” adds Naessl.

One of the main challenges has been changing public opinion and pre-conceived ideas about gender roles. The infrastructure and construction sectors are generally seen as male-dominated domains where working conditions are harsh.

To address this challenge, both public motorway companies have launched dedicated public relations campaigns. “These campaigns are designed to promote equal and fair treatment of all our employees, especially women,” explains Jasna Dragojević, Environment and Social Issues Associate at Autoputevi RS.

“As an organisation that has managed to attract women, we have built a positive reputation, which makes us more attractive to men as well. With this programme, the public company Motorways FBiH has introduced a mechanism that includes continuous awareness-raising on the prevention of gender discrimination and on gender equality,” says Orhan Pašalić, Company Secretary at JP Autoceste.

The two companies have also launched a scholarship programme for girls who want to study at technical universities.

For Nikolina Stojčić, these are encouraging signs of positive developments in the sector.

“Our company has become a company of equal opportunities. Women are employed in the same jobs and enjoy the same salaries and conditions as men. We are trying to motivate women, including through training, to join us.”

For the EBRD, inclusion of women in the economy remains a key priority, including in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  

“While achieving a certain percentage of female employment is not a condition for accessing our financing, the EBRD absolutely strives to promote equal opportunities through its investments together with all its clients. We expect 40 per cent of our investments overall to contribute to gender equality by 2025”, says Naessl.

Barbara Rambousek, EBRD Director, Gender and Economic Inclusion, also takes a long view: “Projects like this demonstrate the true value of our equal opportunities and human capital development for our clients and countries of operation. It is of critical importance to unlock the full potential of women in male-dominated sectors and support their education and skills development, as well as employment and career progression in those sectors. This is especially true in countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the labour force participation of women stagnates at around 40 per cent. The Gender and Inclusion team is very proud of our cooperation with so many other teams across the Bank to deliver the Women in Construction project there.”

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