【Interview with Female Engineers from Uganda and Japan】Report from the Knowledge Co-creation Program (KCCP) on Power Grid Planning & Operation 2019(2019年7月14日)

Right: Ms. Elizabeth Kabagambe (Uganda)
Principle Projects Engineer, Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Ltd.
Left: Ms. Fumie Igarashi (Japan)
Engineer, Turbine Planning Section, Turbine Engineering Dept.
Hitachi Mitsubishi Hydro Corporation 

KCCP: Power Grid Planning and Operation (A)
From 15 May, 2019 to 8 June, 2019

In order to assist the developing countries in capacity building and their core leaders to lead the nation building, JICA receives government officials and engineers for the Knowledge Co-creation Program (KCCP) in various areas of professions. The KCCP courses “Power Grid Planning & Operation” targets the middle executives in power sector and aims to upgrade their skills and knowledge on a stable power transmission. The stability of power transmission/distribution, from the power plant to factories and facilities and houses, are the key to social and economic development. Thanks to the accumulated skills and sophisticated technologies, Japan currently enjoys the shortest duration of power cut in the world. From May 15 to June 8, ten members from nine countries came to Japan and participated in the course to learn from Japanese knowledge and experience to realize such reliable power transmission in their countries.

JICA makes its effort in contributing towards the realization of Goal 5 “Gender Equal Society” of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), by seeking for better gender balance in composition of participants and by encouraging women to apply for the program. However, as this course targets “electric engineers” and “middle executives”, it is rare to find female candidates applying for it. It seems that fewer women pursue engineering as their career, not only in Japan* but also in other developing countries. In such circumstance, JICA was delighted to accept one female engineer from Uganda, Ms. Elizabeth KABAGAMBE, Principle Projects Engineer of Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Ltd. She was kind enough to share her history to become an engineer. Along with her, a Japanese female engineer/a lecturer of the course, Ms. Fumie Igarashi, Engineer, Turbine Planning Section, Turbine Engineering Department of Hitachi Mitsubishi Hydro Corporation, kindly joined to share her story as well.

Q: What made you to become an engineer?

Ms. Igarashi, explaining the characteristics of the turbine at the lecture.

Ms. Elizabeth: I experienced blackout when I was 14 years old, at my home village in Uganda. I was so amazed to see that the light came back to my house soon after some workers came and fixed something at the electricity pole about 200m away from my house. What kind of magic did they use to put the light back at my house from the distance? That was my conclusive moment when I decided to do the same thing they did: to put the light at every household in my country. I have been determined to be an electrical engineer since then.

Ms. Igarashi: Since my childhood, I was strongly attracted by the outer space and thing related to the spacecraft. Because I also loved math and science, I decided to become an engineer. I chose to work for this company related to hydropower generation, because my work will be linked to oversea, producing something of large scale similar to spacecraft, and contributing to saving the environment. Currently I am in charge of planning for turbine production and I really enjoy my work.

Q: What obstacles have you faced so far?

Ms. Elizabeth, presenting the Action Plan to improve transmission facilities in Uganda.

Ms. Elizabeth: My mother is a nurse and my father is a land surveyor. With their math/science background, they gave me substantial support when I studied math and physics. I was very lucky because it was rare for female students to study math/science subjects in Uganda. In the Engineering Department of the University, there were only 15 female students among 100 in total. Among them, only three female students were able to graduate. Many of my female friends decided to quit studying, under various pressure, as the social norms in Uganda stated that men were superior and women were not expected to study like men. Thanks to the strong support and encouragement by my family, I was able to keep my clear determination to become an engineer and I have survived to realize my dream.

Ms. Igarashi: I majored in aerospace engineering at the graduate university, where I was the only woman among 45 students. It has been 15 years since I had a job at Hitachi Mitsubishi Hydro Corporation. I have recently come back from the maternity leave. It is quite challenge to have good work-life balance, especially because I have no family members living nearby to support childcare. My husband, who is also an engineer, and I are always struggling to do our best in the household chores, childcare, and office work. We are surviving day by day, sharing the tasks and caring each other.

Q: Any message to the female students who want to pursue a career in math/science? 

Ms. Elizabeth, the third from the right in the rear row, cerebrating completion of the KCCP with other participants and lecturers.

Ms. Elizabeth: I think the value of “gender equality” has been introduced to Uganda by aid agencies and NGOs. I feel that this value has spread to the community level and the idea of seeing women as inevitable partners, who contribute equally to economic and social development, is widely shared in Uganda. We have various support to encourage girls’ education, empowerment and sensitization. There are several scholarship programs to support female students to continue math/science study. We have women’s associations to eliminate gender inequality at work. Our former Vice President of Uganda was a woman. Your interest and talent in math/science is something that is determined by you and is inherited inside your mind. That is not to be distorted by the norms of society you belong to. Once you find something you are interested in, have a strong will and keep going toward it.

Ms. Igarashi: Over the years, I find that the institutional support by the company has enhanced to encourage women in better balancing between work and life (household chores/childcare). It is quite encouraging for young generations to pursue their career even with children. I feel that the social norms at the office is changing as well from conventional one, in which men work outside and women stay at home with chores/childcare, to the new ones where men and women equally take household chores/childcare and work. If you decide what you want to do in your life, keep focusing it and realize you dreams.

Changing Africa, changing Japan?

Aid agencies from abroad worked hard to encourage girls’ education and empowerment, says Ms. Elizabeth. She feels positive changes in values of gender equality in various aspects of the society: education, employment and politics. She told me about the innovative rules that all female candidates to math/science major in University get +1 in their score, in order to foster more female engineers in Uganda. This reminds me of the quota system in Rwandan parliament that regulates at least 30% of MPs have to be women. It is the well-known fact that currently 55.7% are women in the Rwandan parliament. (IPU, 2019) Things are actually changing in Africa.

In comparison, although Japan has been providing the Official Development Assistance to developing countries along with the message towards gender equality, itself does not seem to be doing so well in terms of gender equality. The Gender Equality Index in Japan is ranked 114 among 144 countries. (World Economic Forum, 2017) Nevertheless, according to Ms. Igarashi, the social norms seem to be also gradually changing in Japan.

What Ms. Elizabeth and Ms. Igarashi share in common is not only about being a female engineer. Through the interview, I realized that the both of them have a loving partner who is good at cooking. This seems to have notable implications. What do you think?

(Yoshiko Oi, JICA Kansai, Japan)

*Among all researchers in science and technology in Japan, 14.4% is women in 2013. (Statistics Bureau, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication, Japan)