Celebrating women in science during Women's Month, and forming part of the national commemoration of the Year of Charlotte Mannya Maxeke, a female trailblazer and icon of South Africa's past. 

 

More and more women are pursuing artisanal careers, proving that gender is irrelevant when it comes to getting the job done. The electrical trade has for decades been dominated by men, but that is beginning to change as women prove that they have what it takes excel in this field.

 

One such pioneering young woman is Mmatsatsi Shai, a qualified electrician and the first female Maintenance Officer to be appointed at the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI).

 

Shai started her career with the DSI two years ago, and is responsible for ensuring that the Department's offices are adequately lighted and the electrical circuits in perfect working condition.

 

Shai, who grew up in GaMametja, Tzaneen in Limpopo, credits her decision to enter the technical field to one of her high school teachers, who encouraged her to pursue tertiary studies.

 

"I did well in mathematics and physical science. I suppose that is what my teacher saw in me, and am thankful he guided me in the right direction," she said, adding that her teacher had encouraged her to study electrical engineering.

 

While South Africa has made great strides in gender equity, employment of artisans and technicians continues to be dominated by men, according to a 2015 report compiled by the Department of Trade and Industry, "Facts and Figures on Skills in Manufacturing".

 

The report shows that there was a significant reversal of gains in the employment of women artisans between 2002 and 2013, with a decline of over 10 percentage points from 35,4% to 24,5%.

 

Prior to joining the DSI, Shai worked for Maredi Telecoms and Bidvest Facilities Management, and was responsible for building maintenance at BMW's Rosslyn plant.

 

"I am used to comments and surprised stares from colleagues when they see me on a ladder," Shai said. "I don't see anything wrong with a woman climbing a ladder to reach high places – it happens in the house for hanging curtains, and on the farm during harvesting, so why not in the office space?"

 

Shai said she is treated fairly by colleagues at the DSI, and that no one has ever made her feel inferior because of her gender.

 

A mother of two girls, she added there are unique challenges that female electricians experience that their male counterparts don't go through. It is obviously impossible to climb ladders during pregnancy, she said, as the centre of gravity shifts, making it harder to stay balanced.

 

"In this instance one makes decisions that are in the best interest of one's health, but it's not insurmountable," she added.

 

Shai believes the environment has become very supportive of women, and that anyone can excel irrespective of their gender. She actively encourages girls in her community to pursue careers as artisans.

 

Shai holds a national diploma in electrical engineering from Ekurhuleni East Technical and Vocational Education and Training College. She intends to further her studies so she can realise her dream of becoming an engineer one day.