Women in UNOPS

March 7 2017 by Global Careers

Click for GCF’s UNOPS page for more information

“Men are traditionally the head of the family so we need to engage and educate them on women’s rights… but day-by-day, month-by-month, year-by-year, I believe it will get better.” – Zahra Akbari, Community Mobilizer, Afghanistan

​​​​​​In support of Women Deliver​ — the world’s largest conference on the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women — we’re highlighting the work of Zahra, setting an example in Northern Afghanistan.

Zahra Akbari works full-time, attends university four nights-a-week to study a Bachelor of Law and Political Science, and has a nine-month-old daughter. This juggling act is no small feat, let alone as a woman in Afghanistan.

As a community mobilizer, Zahra works closely with women in northern Afghanistan, where UNOPS is connecting remote villages to services and markets through improved roads, thanks to funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

“When I travel to rural communities, I’m often the only woman with a dozen male colleagues. For me it’s become routine – I work with these men every day in the office. In the villages, some of the older women disapprove, but a few of the younger ones are inspired – I can see their eyes light up. There are already a few female leaders in these communities and it is my hope to see more and more.”

Zahra is supporting Afghan women to earn money by keeping livestock, spinning wool, tailoring and participating in other small-scale enterprises set up in parallel with the Rural Access Improvement Project.

With an extensive background working with women and increasing their awareness of Afghanistan’s political landscape and woman’s rights, Zahra is shocked and disheartened by the prevalence of gender-based violence in the country.

“Afghan families can comprise up to 10 people – a huge group to survive on one income. It’s even more difficult for widows who might have five or six children, or the wives of farmers who can’t grow anything during the winter months.”

Because of these challenges, Zahra said most men were interested in their wives, sisters, mothers and daughters working to support their families. But there were a couple of women who left the working groups because their husbands didn’t approve. Zahra’s husband, on the other hand, encourages her efforts as an employee, a student and a mother: roles made more taxing as the security situation continues to deteriorate.​​

Click for GCF’s UNOPS page for more information

“The most difficult part of my job is being accepted and respected as a female engineer.” – Tezy Nguizani-A-Tezo, UNOPS Site Engineer, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo)

I have been a Site Engineer for UNOPS in DR Congo for almost a year. In this role, I am responsible for overseeing technical studies and monitoring works for a project that aims to revive the agricultural sector and improve food security in the north west of the country.

I spend most of my time in the field rather than at the office. Life on the road isn’t easy and living conditions are tough. Very often, I have to conduct studies on roads in remote areas. I sometimes have to travel nearly 200 kilometres by motorbike – a six- to seven-hour-long journey – just to reach the worksite. In those situations I usually spend more than 10 days in the field, in a village not far from the site. That’s the reality on the ground.

Joining the large UNOPS family really allowed me to forge my personality, my character and my vision of life; it brought out the best in me. My team is really supportive and keeps me going, especially in tough times. The field is so far removed from urban areas; in rural areas, people still think a woman’s place is in the household, raising children. Women don’t have a say in important decisions. This is why I always have to explain to local communities that I am an engineer, just like my male colleagues. It is not about being a woman or a man, we are all engineers.

The best part of my job is getting to see first-hand the concrete result of our work: better living conditions for local communities. Thanks to the roads rehabilitated by UNOPS, people can easily transport their agricultural products to local markets. The roads also help reduce unemployment (even temporarily) because we hire local workers.

What I find most rewarding is seeing the proud look on people’s faces – women in particular –when they see me supervising works on the ground. These visits allow me to encourage young women in rural areas to take part in our projects, for example by participating in trainings to lead our local teams.

No matter where they live, girls and women can make a difference not only in the DR Congo but also around the world in general. My advice to them would be to keep hope alive, because tomorrow will be brighter. Those who have the opportunity to go to school must aim even higher. Just like the men in our country, women can also become professionals, or even engineers, like me!

Click for GCF’s UNOPS page for more information

“It was certainly time for me to be back home ‒ to help make a difference to the lives of my country people and those in neighbouring countries.” – Linda Agbesi, UNOPS Programme Support Officer, Ghana.

​​​I had been back in Ghana for just about a year when a devastating event hit Accra, one that deeply affected me. The city was experiencing heavy rainfall with the associated problems of flooding, which is typical for that time of year. People were scrambling for shelter and fighting to keep their belongings from floating away. Vehicles sat parked and unused because of the rising floodwaters. Amid the chaos, gasoline whad been leaking from a gas station and spreading to surrounding areas with the flooding.

It is unclear what happened next, however,​​ a spark must have caused an explosion at the gas station, triggering a major fire. Sadly, this event claimed around 200 lives of people who had been seeking shelter in the area. Like many others in our vibrant city I was horrified. I grieved for the catastrophic loss of life and destruction of property. I kept thinking that the flood and fire should never have happened and could have been prevented with stronger infrastructure and safety measures. The whole terrible situation showed me that it was certainly time for me to be back home ‒ to help make a difference to the lives of my country people and those in neighbouring countries.

My husband and I spent the better part of a decade in the UK, where I worked for a private organization focused on transportation. The private-sector approach that I’m used to, of getting things done efficiently and quickly, is very much present in UNOPS work, which is really good to see.

I joined UNOPS earlier this year and am helping establish our new office in Ghana, which is responsible for operations in Gambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria, as well as Ghana.

One of the first things that struck me about UNOPS is the high value our leadership places on different ideas and types of talent within the local team. We each play an important part in realizing the office’s objectives, which creates a positive and motivating work environment.

After I started my position, I was also very happy to discover that UNOPS operates at the highest standards. When we procure goods and services for our work, the tender process is extensive, transparent and fair. Everyone submits a bid as per the requirements, which is then objectively evaluated. You are not selected based on who you know on the inside. This approach is not as common as it should be in other places, so we are setting a really good example in this regard in the region.

Besides the job, I am also happy to be back among my friends and family in Ghana. Ghanaian society is very collective and cheerful. We spend a lot of time visiting each other and celebrating one thing or another. Interestingly enough, we come together in large numbers to celebrate funerals; we believe in rejoicing a person’s life and sending them off in style. You will often hear older people reminding their younger kin to keep this in mind when their time comes.

I feel like I am starting a new chapter in my life and look forward to my future with UNOPS and everything it brings with it. I look forward to working with the organization to make a positive impact on the lives of my fellow Ghanaians.

Click for GCF’s UNOPS page for more information