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CAMEROON: Breaking the Glass Ceiling in Technical Education

Sophie Ngassa
Posted December 20, 2016 from Cameroon

She was once called “Madam Builder” as an insult. Now Sophie Ngassa commands respect for her technical prowess.

“What is a woman even doing on a building site?

That Monday morning, I dressed up in a blue and white skirt to look my best. It was an important day for me. This was my opportunity to showcase the work of my first class of students to parents and other members of our school community.

I was newly graduated from the Higher Technical Teachers Training College and a little intimidated by my students—all huge boys. This was 12 years ago, and I knew that as woman teaching an all-male class in a technical school, I was going to be seen as out of place. In Cameroon at that time, the children who were sent for technical education were those whose parents didn’t consider them bright enough for general education. These students were expected to be unruly, a norm I never questioned. I was growing accustomed to experiencing constant ridicule as a woman in that environment.

We held our Open Door Day event at a work site, and I trod the path with extreme caution in order to prevent a mixture of cement and sand from smearing my black shoes. There was still a lot of work to do when I arrived. I supervised the students as they completed their building models for the exhibition. Watching them, I was anxious to know if the boys had grasped the lessons I had taught them. I could not wait to prove to the community that I was not only a woman technical teacherbut an excellent technical educator.

As I made my way past a boy plastering the wall of his model, I suddenly felt a splash of fresh mortar fall on my face. I watched in shock as it trickled down to my skirt. I could not believe any of the boys would go this far!

Shortly, the event would begin. How was I going to appear in front of the parents and other guests?

“Who did this to me?” I shouted. I saw some students laughing, and I quickly identified the student who had committed this act. The guilt could be seen on his face. First, he pretended it had been a mistake. But the next words that came out of his mouth contradicted this: “What is a woman even doing on a building site?” he asked. As if I had not received enough humiliation, the other students laughed even more. They jeered at me, calling me “Madam Builder!”

My happiness and excitement from earlier that morning turned to embarrassment. I was so young and eager to do my best at work. I knew a student would never have done this to a male instructor. I am sure he took this opportunity to provoke me because of my gender. I started to believe I might actually be in the wrong place.

I paused for a few seconds, calmed myself down, and remembered a lesson on self-control from my Christian Women’s Fellowship group. I decided to talk with my male colleagues about what had happened.

They were even more bitter than I was and reported the incident to the head of thedepartment, who next took the case to the discipline master. The student concerned faced a disciplinary council, which warned and sanctioned him.

As a disciplinary council member, I also attended this meeting. I will never forget the words of one of my colleagues: “Somehow I understand this student. Until I saw Madam Sophie take up this job in our school, I had never imagined my sister on a construction site.”

Later on, the discipline master had a talk with the class. This situation served as a good lesson for all the students and even my male colleagues. Since then, I have never had this kind of issue again.

This incident could have belittled my self-esteem, but I made up my mind not to let it spoil my day. In the moment, cleaned off the mortar as best I could and continued on, confident in my technical prowess. From that day on, I have continued to learn how to be brave and courageous in this male-dominated field, and how to handle the issues that arise that could cause me to lose motivation in my job.

That day, I had to stand up for myself as a woman. It was also important that I had the support of men. The next day I recounted the story to my husband, with whom I share all of my dreams and my challenges. He encouraged me and gave me some tips on how to handle such issues. I am also grateful to my male colleagues for their support and encouragement, and for making work more comfortable for me.

This has strengthened my belief that we need to start at home by educating our boys to understand that a woman can do the same job that a man does. And we need to join with our male colleagues to build a collaborative and supportive work environment. It’s time to break those glass ceilings and make it easier for women to take on “male jobs.” I’ve proved that it’s possible!

Comments 17

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Anjana Vaidya
Dec 20, 2016
Dec 20, 2016

Congratulations Sopie, You have set the example for being/working women in nontraditional sector. As women are only engaged in cooking , caring and cleaning and those work are not yet considered as economical contribution in many countries. So once again congratulations and best wishes for your future. Keep inspiring people. Love, Anjana

Sophie Ngassa
Dec 23, 2016
Dec 23, 2016

Dear Anjana, Thanks for the great encouragement.Today the story is different and I have become unstoppable in the STEM field. Women need to believe in themselves and make use of their talents.Love Sophie.

Lily Habesha
Dec 21, 2016
Dec 21, 2016

Congrats Sopie,

You've really done such a great job in your commuinty. Do you know what?...Harassing a women seems in the community, especially in developing countries seems "a must do thing".

We have to stand together and should stop them. Women as mothers, sisters, grand mothers and friends ...should deserve better respect from every male.

You remind me of some story about building, let me write it and post it before i forget.

Cheers

Lily

Sophie Ngassa
Dec 23, 2016
Dec 23, 2016

Dear Mulatwa,

Thanks for your great comment. Yes, we need o stand together and say "NO".But today, working with technology is amazing and exciting.

Waiting to read your story too. Love Sophie.

Feka
Dec 21, 2016
Dec 21, 2016

Congrats Sophie, you are such an inspiration to the Cameroonian women and girls.

Everyone including women are experts

Sophie Ngassa
Dec 23, 2016
Dec 23, 2016

Dear Feka, thanks for your comment. 

We need to build a safe working environment for women by supporting each other.

 It has been a long journey of learning, building self-confidence and esteem. Love Sophie.

danadabbous
Dec 21, 2016
Dec 21, 2016

Thank you for sharing this Sophie. It is wonderful that you can be in a position that is a step towards shattering the gender roles in the workplace and in professions. Congratulations and good luck with your work.

Take Care, Dana

Sophie Ngassa
Dec 23, 2016
Dec 23, 2016

Dear Danadabbous, Thank you.

I am happy to contribute in closing the gender tech gap in Cameroon. I hope this story will inspire other women in the tech field to become brave in facing and overcoming challenges.

Love Sophie.

muhfreezepeach
Dec 22, 2016
Dec 22, 2016

I wish I was a Ms. Builder. Great work! ;)

Sophie Ngassa
Jan 03, 2017
Jan 03, 2017

Dear MuhFreezepeach, Thank you for wanting to be Ms Builder.

Women need to stand up together with one voice.

Now, I am really very brave and I encourage many women in Cameroon to join me in breaking the glass ceiling. Love Sophie.

Sophie Ngassa
Dec 23, 2016
Dec 23, 2016

Dear MuhFreezepeach, Thank you for wanting to be Ms Builder.

Women need to stand up together with one voice.

Now, I am really very brave and I encourage many women in Cameroon to join me in breaking the glass ceiling. Love Sophie.

Adanna
Dec 27, 2016
Dec 27, 2016

Hi Ngassa,

I smiled while reading your story! Your determination is a shinning example for young girls and women who are afraid or scared to do what they love.

I admire your courage! Keep it up.

Love,

Adanna

Sophie Ngassa
Jan 03, 2017
Jan 03, 2017

Dear Adana,

So nice to read your comment, I also smiled while reading it. Thanks for the great support, really World Pulse is a place to be. I will do my best to get many women on this plat form. Cheers!!! Love Sophie.

LillianVB
Jan 04, 2017
Jan 04, 2017

Great story of resilience and dedication . Inspiring , I am happy you kept going. women all over the world have to excel to prove a point and if we continue to do this, then there will come a time when it will be obvious to all that women are not just as good as men but always excellent workers!

LVB 

Anne McCaw
Jul 13, 2017
Jul 13, 2017

Sophie, I am in awe of your courage and your determination.  I am from the U.S., and this kind of thing is going on all the time as well.  There are male colleagues that understand and those who are just as uneducated and INTIMIDATED BY US as you found your students to be.  You are such a model for us all, Sophie.  I hope to be as unstoppable as you.

Ashwani Gupta
Jul 13, 2017
Jul 13, 2017

Thank you, Sophie, for sharing your remarkable story and for showing us why it is important to stand your ground. Women all around the world can build on your shining example of courage.

Molly Gates
Jul 13, 2017
Jul 13, 2017

You are an inspiration and role model to girls AND boys! Thank you for sharing your story and for leading by example that girls can grow up to be whatever they set their hearts and minds to, just like you have done.