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Local women unite on construction site

BY ALEKSANDRA VUJICIC | MAY 05, 2014 5:00 AM

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This week, women all across the country and locally will strap on their tool belts and put on their hard hats.

It is National Women Build Week, and Habitat for Humanity will continue its tradition of providing affordable housing for low-income families but with a focus on women builders. Lisa Marie Nickerson, the director of Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build Program, said the organization has been able to break the myth about women on the construction site.

“Our goal is to inspire women across the country to devote at least one day during the week leading up to Mother’s Day to make a difference in affordable housing,” Nickerson said.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 818 women worked in construction in 2010 — or roughly 0.9 of 1 percent of employed women.

The National Women Build Week program, which started in 2008, has engaged more than 52,000 women in more than 300 communities across the nation. Lowe’s, which has donated $1.75 million to be distributed to local affiliates, including the Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity, sponsors the program.

This week, the Iowa Valley organization will begin construction on its Women Build home.

The groundbreaking ceremony and wall building will take place on Friday, when Resource Development Director Laura Shoemaker said volunteers will put up the walls of the home. The rest of the construction will continue in August, when more students will be available to volunteer, but the committee decided it wanted to get a head start in honor of this week.

Shoemaker said organizers expect at least 35 volunteers for the wall building, 75 percent of whom will be women.

“Construction is one of those industries where you’re going to see more men on the building site,” Shoemaker said. “So the Women Build gives more women the courage and opportunity in a more comfortable environment to get involved.”

On Saturday, the group will also host the Christine Grant 5K Run/Walk for the second year in a row to raise funds for costs of construction.

Each year, a local honoree is chosen for the Women Build home, and Shoemaker said organizers select an influential woman who has made advancements in traditionally male-dominated industries and someone who has given women the courage to expand into these fields. 

This year, former Rep. and Sen. Jean Lloyd-Jones, D-Iowa City, has been selected as the honoree. Shoemaker said she was chosen because of her efforts to promote gender equality in the Iowa Legislature.

Lloyd-Jones will speak and meet the family that is receiving the home at the groundbreaking ceremony.

“It’s a wonderful way to empower women,” she said. “Most women don’t have any experience building houses. Most women think they couldn’t possibly build a house. It’s a way for women to move a little bit away from their comfort zone and try something they never thought they could do. They’ll be amazed at what they can do.”

Lloyd-Jones said gender-inequality issues converge to almost any field, from politics to the construction site. The problem is that women don’t want to try something unless they are certain they can do it, which is a difference she has found between men and women.

“Most women undervalue their qualifications,” Lloyd-Jones said. “What we’re trying to show them is that the men aren’t qualified, either, but they say to themselves, ‘Well I can learn on the job.’ ”

Jan Down, who has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity for roughly 20 years, said volunteers don’t need to be skilled in the field, but they need a willingness to learn to do something new while keeping in mind that the product of their work is a home for a family.

“Very often, there are more men on other construction sites, but increasingly, women are doing this,” Down said. “They can do this just as well as men can.”


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