Front Cover
 The urban working groups and identifying...
 Laying the groundwork
 Organizational structure
 New directions
 Support for the trainees
 Looking ahead
 Lessons learned
 Training summary
 Back Cover

Group Title: Seeds
Title: The women's construction collective
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00088781/00001
 Material Information
Title: The women's construction collective building for the future : story
Series Title: Seeds
Physical Description: 24 p. : ill. ; 26 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Mcleod, Ruth
Publisher: Seeds
Place of Publication: New York N.Y
Publication Date: 1986
Subject: Women in development -- Jamaica   ( lcsh )
Construction workers -- Jamaica   ( lcsh )
Women -- Jamaica   ( lcsh )
Mujeres -- Empleo
Genre: non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage: Jamaica
Statement of Responsibility: by Ruth Mcleod.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00088781
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 17387075

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover 1
        Front Cover 2
        Page 1
    The urban working groups and identifying the need
        Page 2
    Laying the groundwork
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
    Organizational structure
        Page 11
        Pages 12-13
        Page 14
    New directions
        Page 15
    Support for the trainees
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
    Looking ahead
        Page 20
    Lessons learned
        Page 21
        Page 22
    Training summary
        Page 23
        Page 24
    Back Cover
        Page 25
        Page 26
Full Text

SEEDS is a pamphlet series developed to meet requests from all over the world
for information about innovative and practical program ideas developed by and for
low income women. The pamphlets are designed as a means to share information
and spark new projects based on the positive experiences of women who are
working to help themselves and other women improve their economic status. The
projects described in this and other issues of SEEDS have been selected because
they provide women with a cash income, involve women in decision-making as
well as earning, are based on sound economic criteria, and are working successfully
to overcome obstacles commonly encountered. The reports are not meant to be
prescriptive, since every development effort will face somewhat different problems
and resources. Rather, they have been written to describe the history of an idea
and its implementation in the hope that the lessons learned can be useful in a
variety of settings. They are also being written to bring to the attention of those in
decision-making positions the fact that income generating projects for and by
women are viable and have important roles to play in development.

Administrative support and project direction for SEEDS is provided
by The Population Council. Editorial policy is set by the SEEDS
Steering Committee: Judith Bruce (The Population Council), Anne
Kubisch (The Ford Foundation), Katharine McKee (The Ford Found-
ation), Jill Sheffield (The Carnegie Corporation), William 0. Sweeney
(Communications Consultant) and Ann Leonard (Editor).
Publication of SEEDS is made possible by support of the Carnegie
No 9 1986 Corporation, the Ford Foundation, Oxfam America and the Population
ISSN 073-6833
Statements made and views expressed in this publication are solely
the responsibility of the author and not of any organization providing
support for SEEDS.

The Women's

Construction Collective:

Building for the Future

Story by Ruth Mcleod


The Caribbean island of Jamaica has a population of roughly two million
people, over half of whom live in urban areas, the largest being the capital city of
Kingston. The island's sophistication is clearly demonstrated by the high-rise
buildings that comprise Kingston's financial center and the luxury hotels that dot
the island's North Coast. However other tell-tale signs of rapid urban develop-
ment are also highly visible: squatter settlements and urban ghettos charac-
terized by high unemployment, political partisanship and a low standard of
living. In these densely populated areas a complexity of social, economic and
political problems confront development planners, particularly those concerned
with improving the status of women.
Given that at least one-third of the island's households, and one half of
those in urban areas, are headed by women, and given that women's unemploy-
ment rates are over twice those for men, it is not surprising that the position of
women within Jamaican society and their role in the development process
attracted considerable attention during the International Decade of Women
This edition of SEEDS focuses on a project developed to integrate low-in-
come women into Jamaica's construction industry. In two years, 34 women have
passed through the project's basic training and skills upgrading courses. More
than 90 percent of these women have been employed, the majority as masons
and carpenters. The story of how this field was identified as a potential source of
income for women, and how the project developed and evolved in response to
changing circumstances, presents many useful lessons. These should be of
particular interest to those seeking to identify employment areas where women's
participation is feasible and in helping them prepare women for entry into
nontraditional skill areas.

The Urban Working Groups
In July 1981, the Population Council in-
itiated a program entitled, "Women, Low In-
come Households and Urban Services in
Latin America and the Caribbean." Its goal
was to bring low income women's concerns
into the existing urban planning and service
delivery process through the creation of
local working groups in three metropolitan
areas: Kingston, Jamaica; Lima, Peru; and
Mexico City, Mexico. The working groups
were made up of urban planners, re-
searchers and statisticians, development
practitioners and social scientists. This en-
couraged linkages to grow between govern-
ment bureaucracies, academia and com-
munity development organizations. Through
the working groups, information about the
urban poor from a variety of perspectives
was brought together and realistic priorities
for action were identified.
The Population Council, under a
cooperative agreement with the U.S.
Agency for International Development's
(USAID) Office of Urban Development and
Housing*, provided each working group
with a modest fund which could be used to
support low budget projects such as
documentation of ongoing action projects,
experimentation with new service ap-
proaches, reanalysis of existing data and
generation of new, primarily qualitative, in-
formation. The information and policy ad-
vice generated by the working groups were
then disseminated locally by the groups
themselves, internationally through the pub-
lication of working papers, and through
meetings and seminars coordinated by the
Population Council.

Identifying the Need
In May 1983 the Jamaica Working
Group, made up of approximately a dozen
planners, researchers and community de-
velopment specialists, approved a proposal

*The work continues into a second phase (1985-1987)
with support from the Women in Development Office
of USAID. The Kingston Women's Construction Collec-
tive is one of the successful projects undertaken by
the Kingston Working Group as a part of this overall

for an experimental project to train and
place unemployed women in jobs at the
trade level of the Jamaican building and
construction industry. Why women in con-
struction? Three factors were behind the
Group's decision to pursue a project to train
and integrate women into the construction
(1) In mid-1982 the building industry
was booming. According to the Plan-
ning Institute of Jamaica, the industry
grew by 14.8 percent in 1981-82 and
by mid-1983 it was contributing 6.1 per-
cent to the island's GDP while employ-
ing 32,000 people. The president of
the Masterbuilders, an organization
representing construction contractors,
had predicted that 5,000 new skilled
workers would be required annually for
the next three years. However, only
800 of those 32,000 currently em-
ployed were women. Of these, only
100 women were ranked as profession-
als, 600 were clerical or service work-
ers and 100 were unskilled manual
workers. Women also were unrepre-
sented in official Government statistics
as trade workers in the industry.
(2) In effect, women had recently been
excluded from entry into the Govern-
ment's building and construction train-
ing program at the trade level due to
implementation of a new training pol-
icy. Before 1983, over 100 industrial
training centers were in operation
throughout the island, offering daytime
classes on a coeducational basis. An
estimated 1000 women were trained
in building skills between 1976 and
1980, though few had found jobs in
the industry. In 1983, the Government
shifted to a policy of utilizing a smaller
number of larger training facilities that
offered residential training for men
only. While theoretically open to
women on a day student basis, as of
December 1985, not a single woman
had been trained in building skills
under this new system.
(3)There was particular concern that
the high unemployment rate for young
women would undermine the National
Family Planning Board's attempt to re-
duce teenage fertility through the pro-

vision of free family planning services.
A positive correlation had been ob-
served between female unemploy-
ment and fertility, particularly in the
ghetto areas where the role of "baby
mother" (in Jamaica mothers are typi-
cally called "baby mothers" while
fathers are referred to as "baby
fathers") was frequently the only
source of status available to young

The Working Group found the pro-
posed project of particular interest because
it would address these problems at both the
industry and community levels and might
offer a way to strengthen linkages between
training and job placement for women. At
the same time it would offer an opportunity
to document the role of women within a non-
traditional skill area. The latter was of high
priority since there were no accounts of the
women who had received construction skills
training earlier or of the results of their job
seeking efforts. These women thus re-
mained invisible within the statistics and
could not serve as a positive example for
the construction industry or provide role
models for other women. In the absence of
such documentation, policy makers de-
veloping training programs tended to as-

sume that women either were not interested
in the construction area and/or were unable
to find work in this sector.

Laying the Groundwork
The project began with the formation
of a collective which would be the vehicle
through which a training program, tailored
to the specific needs of young, unemployed,
low-income women could be made avail-
able. Not only would this training program
provide women with skills, it would also help
them learn about the realities of the work-
place, including men's reactions, and
develop strategies to overcome their fears
about the practical obstacles involved in
working in a male-dominated field.
Initial plans called for ten unemployed
women from Western Kingston to be
selected, put through an intensive training
program, placed in jobs and monitored so
that their experiences, over a 15-month
period, could be closely documented both
photographically and in writing. The docu-
mentation would serve to strengthen the
case for opening the Government Skills
Training Program to women.

The project was proposed and has
been coordinated by Ruth Mcleod, who was
originally a human resource development
consultant to the Incorporated Masterbuil-
ders Association of Jamaica (IMBA), an or-
ganization that represents nearly 80 percent
of the island's building contractors. Her role
at the IMBA was to advise the Government
on building skills training curriculum. She
later became managing director of the Con-
struction Resources and Development
Center (CRDC), an independent nonprofit
research and development organization
made up of representatives from seven pro-
fessional and trade associations, including
architects, engineers, surveyers and trade
A number of problems had to be ad-
dressed from the outset. One concerned
the 66 occupational groups recognized in
the Jamaican construction industry, many
of them with three grade levels. Which would
provide the best opportunities for job place-
ment? These complications were exacer-
bated by traditional hiring practices. Sub-
contracting is a major feature of the
Jamaican construction industry, with be-
tween 70 and 100 percent of all trade work
on each site being carried out by subcon-
tractors on a task basis. The vast majority
of subcontractors work through informal
trade gangs, the composition of which may
change as often as the jobs. Most subcon-

tractors have no known addresses, let alone
telephones or secretaries. Entry into these
trade gangs occurs through access to a
male network of friends, relatives and work-
ers met on previous jobs. Clearly this was
not going to be an easy network to break
into-particularly through formal, let alone
female channels.
The balance of building work, how-
ever, is carried out on a direct hire, day-rate
basis. In this mode, the main contractor nor-
mally hires site supervisors, timekeepers,
equipment and plant operators, security
guards, trade helpers and casual laborers.
Trade helpers are often selected from
amongst the laborers and may be assigned
to work with specific trade subcontractors
as construction progresses. The planners
felt that if women could find employment as
trade helpers, this would provide them with
access to the subcontractors' network
which, in turn, would provide them with on-
the-job training opportunities and the
chance to upgrade their building skills while
earning an income.
Another complication was presented
by the extensive influence of territorial polit-
ical rivalries in the Jamaican construction
industry. If a site is located in an area as-
sociated with a particular political party, the
followers of that party automatically expect
exclusive job privileges. These expecta-
tions are encouraged by official or semi-of-

ficial representatives and those affiliated
with other political parties enter at their own
risk, unless they possess a scarce skill or
a strong tie to the main contractor. Early on
the Collective realized that it might have to
confront the violence associated with this
political territoriality in developing its prog-
An additional problem was accurately
anticipating the funds required to operate
the project. The initial budget provided by
the Working Group was U.S. $8,000 over a
15-month period. This amount would need
to cover facilities and instructors, materials
and transportation, and the job placement
process, which would require time for re-
search and establishment of appropriate
contacts. Any major deviations in planning
could require additional fundraising.

The first step in developing the training
program was locating a suitable training
base. This task was undertaken by the Pro-
ject Coordinator, given her experience in the
field and her knowledge of agencies able
to provide such training. The CRDC often
develops experimental training programs
for adult construction workers, frequently in
cooperation with the Vocational Training De-
velopment Institute (VTDI). VTDI is an
agency responsible for training vocational
instructors for Jamaica and other Caribbean
islands. It also provides short-term courses
to upgrade skills in a wide variety of indus-
trial areas. The project benefited from work-
ing with both CRDC and VTDI in developing
its training program.
The second step was identifying po-
tential trainees. One member of the Working
Group, the Community Liaison Officer for
the Western Kingston area, agreed to select
the participants. All were to be chosen from
the Tivoli Gardens section of Western
Kingston, a community developed as part
of an upgrading scheme during the 1960s
when the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP) was
in power. It consists of 1,000 living units,
mostly four-storied apartment blocks and
terraced units. This community strongly
supports the current Prime Minister. It is
characterized by high rates of female
unemployment and teenage pregnancy and
a large population of young women with
dependent children. Women were chosen
to participate in the Collective on the basis

of literacy and numeracy tests as well as
input from leaders of the local youth club.
It was decided to select women from
a single community as this would provide a
strong basis for cohesion among the women
in the Group. They would know each others'
strengths and difficulties and could help
each other with practical problems, such as
child care. They would also know the
Community Liaison Officer, who acted as
an important anchor for the Project,
particularly in the early stages. For example,
when a woman had problems with her "baby
father," she would talk to both the man and
the woman. She also made sure that the
community was kept informed about the pro-
The majority of the original recruits also
belonged to the Tivoli Community's Ultimate
Youth Club. This Club is managed mainly
by men who, fortunately, recognized the
importance of developing new employment
options for women and agreed to support
the project from its inception. They provided
ongoing assistance in organizing
fundraising events and also attended some
of the Collective's early meetings. The

support offered to the women by influential
members of the local community was very
important. It made their attempt to enter a
male-dominated field not only credible but
legitimate. People such as the Youth Club
leaders and the Community Liaison Officer
talked about the project in the community
and portrayed the women as pioneers and
examples of strength and determination.

Overall, the training aspect of the pro-
ject can be broken down into four phases:
October 1983, Phase One begins at
VTDI with 10 women;
January 1984, Phase Two begins with
five women initiated as part of the CRDC's
Building Maintenance Program;
May 1984, Phase Three begins with 15
women recruited from newly selected com-
munities; and
June 1984, four additional women re-
ceive training at CRDC.
On the basis of initial research, the ex-
perience level of the Collective members
and the funds available, it was decided that
trainees would begin with a five-week
masonry and carpentry training program.
This would consist of three components:
practical tasks, classroom sessions and in-
struction by visiting lecturers experienced
in the industry. This basic training would
then be followed by a wide range of skills
upgrading programs, developed in re-
sponse to needs.
The ten women who arrived at the VTDI
Building Department in Kingston early one
morning in September, 1983 resembled any-
thing but a potential gang of construction
workers. They wore shoes suited only for a
dance floor, wore stockings of the sheerest
material and, with a few exceptions, giggled
nervously behind their hands as they were
asked to introduce themselves to the team
of instructors. They were all between 17 and
25 years of age, from Tivoli Gardens and
had completed at least a grade 9 education.
All were numerate, literate and physically fit,
and most had borne at least one child by
the time they were 17. None had ever consi-
dered looking for employment in the build-
ing and construction industry. It was difficult

to imagine that within five weeks these same
women would be prepared to start work as
trade helpers on large construction sites.
By then they would have developed basic
building skills and an understanding of
building terminology. And if they were suc-
cessful in finding a job, they would be
guaranteed take-home pay of at least twice
the minimum weekly wage and a chance to
become skilled tradeswomen.
Getting right to work, the training
began with an exercise of the most practical
kind: the VTDI Building Department had no
bathroom or changing facilities for women.
Thus the women's first task was to partition
the existing male facilities so that they would
have access to their own washing and
changing area. During this process a sub-
stantial number of stockings were ruined
and within a few days the physical appear-
ance of the women began to change. Jeans
and sneakers replaced skirts and sandals
and work began in earnest.
In addition to hands-on experience,
there were classroom sessions on topics
such as accurate measurement, estimation,
and correct mixes for mortar and concrete.
Each woman had to build a concrete block
wall using a trowel, hand hawk, plumb-bob
and spirit level. The wall had to be rendered
correctly and finished neatly. In addition,
she had to saw up wood for making building
formwork and construct a correctly jointed
Both male and female visiting lecturers
spoke to the women on various topics. A
woman contractor introduced some of the
practicalities of working as women on a
building site. Questions about changing
facilities, keeping the respect of men and
dealing with menstrual cramps were dis-
cussed. This woman operates six of her own
companies, ranging from a building and
contracting company to a manufacturing
plant for gas cylinders. She therefore pro-
vided a formidable role model. Since her
initial participation as an instructor, she has
also sponsored booths for the Collective at
trade fairs and she supported the training
of one member at the College of Arts, Sci-
ences and Technology (CAST).
Another lecturer, a prominent male
contractor, is also an ongoing supporter of
the Collective. He spoke on career options,
which later led to all the members taking a

tour of the offices of engineers, quantity sur- attend this institution on a residential basis.

veyors and builders as well as to a building
component factory and at least three build-
ing sites.
Halfway through the training, most of
the women had completely changed their
idea of the building industry. As one woman
put it, "I thought it was just laying blocks
and digging trenches. I didn't realize there
were all these other jobs-I mean even com-
puter work."

Pauline dropped out of school two
months before graduating, pregnant with
her first child. She then tried commercial
college, but had to drop out when her baby
father got sick. When he left for the United
States, Pauline became fully responsible for
her child's support and started looking
around for work. She heard about the Collec-
tive because "all her friends were talking
about it," and decided to join with the sec-
ond group of entrants in Phase Two.
Pauline has spent 10 months working
on a large construction site, building a new
training facility for building-skills trainees. If
she were a man, she would be eligible to

However, as a woman, she cannot attend.
Asked about her experience in con-
struction, Pauline replies: "It has been real
good for me. It has more career possibilities
than the sewing I did before. If it wasn't for
the Collective, I wouldn't have (got involved)
in construction because there wasn't any-
thing to involve women in work like this."

During training the women were ex-
pected to work hard. If they were persis-
tently late or absent, or became pregnant,
they faced expulsion. They would never sur-
vive on a construction site if they were not
disciplined and physically tough. No trainee
allowances were provided other than lunch
and enough money to pay for a bus ride to
VTDI and home again each day.
After the first training program for
Phase One recruits, the training received by
members of the Collective took many differ-
ent forms. The basic objective was always
to develop skills of the kind and to the level
that the industry could use. The three basic
components of the training remained the
same, but as women were recruited from

other areas, the program was changed to
adapt to their needs and to the changing
demands of the industry in order to optimize
the use of available resources.

While the first 10 women were being
trained, an agreement was reached with
contractors to place them as trade helpers
on a Government market upgrading project.
This project involved refurbishing of several
downtown Kingston markets used by ven-
dors (almost all of whom are women) who
bring produce from all over the island. The
market facilities are extremely old and the
upgrading project was aimed at improving
sanitation, lighting, ventilation and stall
space. Since the chief architect was a
member of the Working Group, and the pro-
ject was in an area sharing the same political
alliance as Tivoli, the women's involvement
might not be resisted on political grounds.
The contractor had agreed to take the
women into the regular labor force, pay

them the same rates as male trade helpers
and allocate them work with subcontractors.
However three weeks into the training pro-
gram major budget cuts by the Government
led to the indefinite postponement of the
market project. In terms of placement, the
project was back to square one.
Training ended toward the end of
November and with the approach of Christ-
mas, arranging job placements became dif-
ficult. The Collective members agreed to
meet on Sundays at the Tivoli Community
Center. As December progressed, the
mood became more and more depressed.
However, the Collective soon developed a
new strategy for finding placements through
"job auditions"-offers to work on-site on a
trial basis at no cost to the employer. If the
employer was impressed and offered a
long-term placement, the auditioner would
be paid for the time already worked. If, on
the other hand, the auditioner did not per-
form satisfactorily, the contractor would be
under no obligation to pay her.
A number of contractors were con-
tacted and asked if they wished to audition
members of the Collective. In mid-January,
the woman contractor who had participated
in the training responded. She offered to
hire two women on a trial basis for a housing
project in Spanish Town, 12 miles outside
Kingston. Two women with excellent techni-
cal evaluations from VTDI were there the
following Monday, complete with new
trowels and measuring tapes provided by
the Collective. By the end of the week, they
had been taken onto the regular work force.
Soon afterwards the male contractor
who had addressed the trainees offered to
try four women on a site in Kingston, build-
ing middle-income housing units. They
began regular work almost immediately. At
last it seemed the job drought was over. Every
woman who auditioned after that got a job.
One problem associated with this strat-
egy is deciding who should be chosen to
attend a job audition. At first, with only 10
women, the selection could be handled eas-
ily on the basis of technical performance
during training. As the Collective became
more diverse, however, a system was
needed. Thereafter women without job ex-
perience were given first consideration for


Initial Training

5 weeks
full time

12 weeks
part time


5 weeks
plus 6 weeks
"live" project

12 weeks
part time
plus 6 weeks
"live" project

Tivoli Community
Nannyville Community
Glengoffe Community
To be Placed
Drop Outs

(A major attraction of construction
work as a possible employment area was
the potentially high wages even at the entry
level. For example, entry level masonry and
carpentry helpers earn a salary of J$100 per
week, while the official weekly minimum
wage in Jamaica is J$56 per week and the
average pay for a woman doing domestic
work is J$50 per week. One Collective
member began work as an industrial painter
at a starting wage of J$500 per week. Gen-
erally construction helpers can expect to be
earning J$125 per week at the end of one
year. Overall the monthly income of Collec-
tive members ranges from J$400-2000 per
month. As of January 1986, J$56.00 =

Soon it became apparent that the ris-
ing demand from employers justified expan-
sion of the project. Five more women joined
the Collective in January, but still there were
more jobs available than women to fill them.
In February, 1984, the Collective was asked
to provide 10 to 15 women for a factory build-
ing project. However, to further expand the

Collective would require additional human
and financial resources. A number of critical
decisions needed to be made regarding the
Project's further development. For example,
How would new participants be
What kind of organizational structure
would permit the Collective to cope with an
increasing membership?
How could the Collective become inde-
pendent and self-sustaining in the long

The Collective could have expanded
its membership with new recruits from Tivoli.
This, however, would have resulted in the
Collective being clearly identified with the
political party to which the community was
allied-the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP)-
and would make the Collective vulnerable
to charges of political partisanship, which
in turn could threaten its long-term develop-
mental prospects. Another alternative would
have been to advertise for new recruits on
an open basis. This option was rejected be-
cause the experience of the Working Group
indicated that a strong community base can
greatly increase the ability of women's

10 5

groups to develop cohesion. A third option
was to identify specific new communities
for recruitment.
The Collective finally agreed that the
best approach would be to identify addi-
tional feeder communities with different
political affiliations. A proposal outlining this
approach was presented to the Canadian
International Development Agency (CIDA).
In the meantime, a local foundation, the
Grace Kennedy Foundation, helped with a
short-term grant of J$5,000.
In making the decision to expand the
project to other feeder communities, selec-
tion criteria had to be spelled out.
The communities would have to de-
monstrate high female unemployment rates,
particularly among younger women with de-
pendent children.
They would have to demonstrate iden-
tifiable and sympathetic community leader-
ship (formal and informal).
They would need to have a local meet-
ing place available for use by women joining
the Collective.
They would have to be within reason-
able distance by bus of the training institu-
tion and the areas where construction jobs
are available.
Ideally one of the communities would
be as strongly identified with the opposition
political party-the People's National Party
(PNP)-as Tivoli was with the JLP
The final decision to expand coincided
with the arrival of a new volunteer resource
person who offered to assist with the man-
agement of the project over the next year.
Her major role would be the monitoring of
up to nine different construction sites in
geographically separate areas.
By May, the funding from CIDA had
arrived, the new co-manager was in place
and expansion could begin. Two new com-
munities were selected to participate in the
Collective: Nannyville, a housing settlement
built within Kingston city limits in the 1970s
by the PNP Government, and Glengoffe, a
rural community about 15 miles outside of
Kingston. Nannyville met all the criteria, in-
cluding political allegiance to the PNP Glen-
goffe was selected as a result of ap-
proaches made by a community worker who
was developing a women's horticultural pro-

ject. This project required that women be
trained to construct and maintain plant
houses, but did not have funds to design a
special training program. The Collective
therefore decided to include five women
from Glengoffe, at least on a temporary
basis. (While it was felt that Glengoffe was
geographically too remote to make access
to work sites easy, the horticulture project
should have absorbed the women's labor.
As it turned out, this project was not im-
plemented and these women also ended
up in need of job placement.)
There were some political concerns as
expansion began about possible violence
to PNP supporters entering Tivoli or JLP sup-
porters going to Nannyville. Initially it was
assumed that two separate collectives
would be required. This division, however,
was adamantly opposed not only by the new
recruits but by the Collective's original mem-
bers. At the women's insistence the Collec-
tive remained a single entity. It now holds
its monthly meetings on neutral territory at
the CRDC offices. As one of the members
puts it: "We don't have any business with
tribal politics. Let the men have that, we
women have had enough."

"Before I became a member of the
Women's Constructive Collective, I was at
home suffering from the frustration of de-
pending on my family for whatever I needed
for my use, not able to obtain a job and
thinking of what I could possibly do to make
myself independent."
Sharon was 25 years old and the
mother of two children when she joined the
Collective. She has always been very close
to her grandfather who encouraged her to
make little trucks and fix things with his tools.
Her father worked in construction too, and
used to take her with him to visit building
sites. When Sharon first told him about the
Collective, he laughed, but he is pleased
now when she talks about one by twos or
two by fours. "If I had been a boy, I would
have been working at the Public Works De-
partment helping to patch roads, but Public
Works does not seem to really employ
women except as secretaries.

- ^1
'** ,^

Her baby father "talked against" her
joining the Collective so, "I told him I was
just nailing a few nails and didn't tell him
anything about the cement. When I took
home the stool I made, he started calling
me carpenter and now, when anything
wants to fix, they ask me to do it."
Sharon has learned how to put up an
entire wooden house and to use electric
drills, squares, sledge hammers, saws and
hammers. She laughs when she says, "I
never thought of myself hitting down walls
and all that, I really enjoy it."
Sharon joined the group in the third
phase and comes from Nannyville. She feels
strongly about the unity of the Collective.
"We're supposed to be close to each other
as sisters-I don't see where politics comes
into our bracket. I don't see where it would
help us. I think it's good that we're women
from different political areas all mixed up."

By June 1984, nearly one year into the
project, the members of the Collective de-
cided that further expansion of the Collec-
tive's membership might be unwise as there

were clear signs of contraction in the build-
ing industry. Housing starts declined by over
30 percent in 1984, and the Ministry of Hous-
ing's budget was cut from thirty million
Jamaican dollars to J$100!!! Instead it was
decided to consolidate and focus on further
skills development for the women already
in the Collective. There was still a long way
to go before any of the women could really
be considered "skilled" and able to work
without supervision. However, this approach
also would require further resources. Funds
needed to carry out the skills upgrading
program were secured from the Inter-
American Foundation.

Organizational Structure
Since 1984, the CRDC has served as
the "parent organization" for the Women's
Construction Collective. CRDC administers
the international funding, hires personnel,
and provides office space, as well as a
structure and legal framework for the Collec-
tive until it became an independent legal

~CI~ fr

The process of expansion led to a re-
definition of the role of the Collective and
the creation of a new organizational struc-
ture. The challenge was to increase the Col-
lective's ability to govern itself and gradually
decrease the need to rely on the judgments
of the coordinator and the co-manager, thus
enhancing the capability of each woman to
play a responsible role.
The question of dependency has been
a critical issue since the Collective's forma-
tion. The first group of women spent a con-
siderable amount of time discussing the
issue and actually expelled one woman from
the group because of her almost total pas-
sivity and inability or unwillingness to take
responsibility. A good example of this prob-
lem was the enormous effort required to
open a bank account in the Collective's
name. After the Project had been operating
for three months, the coordinator refused to
go to the bank to get the necessary forms,
arguing that the members should allocate
that responsibility among themselves. Sev-
eral women were eventually selected to deal
with the banking matter, but it was two
months before they coordinated their efforts
sufficiently to open a standard bank account
(that could have been opened in 10 minutes
by the coordinator). By the end of the two
months, however, at least a few members
had learned how to deal with bank person-
nel and how to open a standard bank ac-
One of the results of the attention fo-
cused on dependency was the Group's de-
cision to set selection criteria for new re-
cruits entering Phase Three of the project.
The objective was to weed out early those
who were not highly motivated. As part of
the selection procedure, the members de-
signed two test papers, one in English and
one in mathematics, that every potential re-
cruit would be required to take. The tests
included a question asking the applicant
why she wanted to be a construction worker
as well as specific questions relating to es-
timation and measurement using building
Initially the women elected a single
gang leader, who chaired meetings and
acted as the Collective's spokeswoman, a
secretary and a public relations officer. In
addition, most women working together at

a particular construction site would also
select a site gang leader to represent them
with the employer and to speak for them at
monthly meetings. One group developed an
informal, revolving system of representation.
By the end of the first year, the Collec-
tive's gang leader and the secretary were
complaining that everything was being left
to them and that "the women are cussing
us and giving us a hard time when we ask
them to do things."The Collective as a whole
therefore agreed to appoint a formal Execu-
tive Committee with clearly defined job re-
sponsibilities. As a result, the Collective now
has an active Executive Committee of five
women who meet on a regular basis with
the project coordinator.

Millicent is President of the Collective
and is also one of its youngest members.
She was only 18 when she joined the first
phase. She lives with eleven relatives in a
two-bedroom apartment in Tivoli, but spent
much of her childhood with an aunt who is
a farmer.
When she first heard about the Collec-
tive, she thought it was a "bit weird," but
decided she might as well try it. "Being
made gang leader was a real challenge. I
knew it would mean a lot of trouble because
some of the girls love a 'long argument.'
When we started to pay money into the tool
fund and put on activities to raise money,
there were a lot of problems. Everybody
seemed to have an excuse for not doing
something. But one of the things I like about
the group is that everyone is open and we
can talk things out."
Millicent walked three miles to get to
her first building job. "I was a bit scared at
first because the men looked rough, but
after talking with them, I felt different as they
always wanted to work with us. When the
mason men did not come, we helped cast-
ing. We filled the first foundation and laid
the first set of blocks. When the mason men
came the next day, they were amazed and
said they did not know women could do it."

M E1
,: jsE-l i

The transition of the Collective as a
whole from dependency on outside man-
agement to independence is taking place
relatively slowly. Initially the project coor-
dinator made most of the key policy deci-
sions regarding participant selection, train-
ing content, job placement, etc. When the
co-manager joined the Collective, it was de-
cided to select two members as trainee
managers. One women had been the gang
leader and now serves as the Collective's
President. The other woman had joined the
project during the third phase and came
from Nannyville.
When the co-manager left the Collec-
tive after one year, it was agreed that the
time had come for the members themselves
to take over the day-to-day management of
the Collective. The trainee managers have
now moved into the old co-manager posi-
tion, taking charge of bookkeeping, place-
ment, site monitoring and other organiza-
tional tasks. They are assisted by other
members of the Collective's newly ap-
pointed Executive Committee.

New Directions
One move to encourage greater inde-
pendence has been the establishment of

the Collective's own business: a repair and
maintenance business and a carpentry
workshop. Women who are not employed
with contractors rotate through the business
in five to eight-week cycles, either in the
workshop building wooden components
such as doors, shelves, windows, etc., or
carrying out repair work throughout the
Kingston area. The workshop is run by a
male carpenter employed by the Collective,
while the repair work is done "on the road,"
supervised by a former government build-
ing skills instructor.
The repair and maintenance business
emerged in response to a clearly identified
need for firms able to carry out small-scale
domestic repairs such as rehanging or re-
placing doors, fixing windows, installing
shelves and so on. Also, many female
clients tend to feel more secure about letting
women into their homes. This project-based
training pays for itself out of business fees.
Each woman is paid as a trade helper during
her training, according to rates established
in the industry, and is expected to carry out
an individual project such as making an item
needed by the Collective. The business'
earnings go into the Collective's fund. The
workshop building, for instance, was con-
structed by the Collective with money made

nm TCEJT,[T"ac
W -RItr tl~

* -U-


when the business built a wooden house
for Ma Lou, one of Jamaica's famous potters.
Initial funding for the business came
from Inter-American Foundation funds, which
allowed for upgrading of training and pro-
vided equipment and two vehicles. The lat-
ter reduced the dependence of the Collec-
tive on the one or two people able to drive
the CDRC's pick-up truck and has encour-
aged more women to learn to drive.
Now that the Collective is operating on
so many levels, the need for effective coor-
dination is becoming much greater. Re-
cently CRDC staff and the Women's Con-
struction Collective members involved in the
workshop, the repair business and the office
agreed to meet on Friday afternoons for an
open "rap session" to discuss the previous
week's activities and to allocate tasks for
the coming week. There is little question that
both the organizational structure and the ad-
ministrative framework of the Collective will
continue to change and adapt to new de-
velopments over the next two or three years,
before settling into a permanent form.

Support for the Trainees

The industry focus of the project ap-
pears to have been largely responsible for
the high placement rates achieved, but the
emphasis on community participation and
support that accompanied it proved no less
important in laying a strong basis for cohe-
sion among Group members. The commu-
nity support system played a crucial role in
helping the women in their transition from
unemployment to nontraditional employ-
ment in the male-dominated world of con-
Family support was also needed, but
not always forthcoming. This took time and
education. As current Collective President,
Millicent Powell, said: "At first my parents
were not in favor of me doing construction
work because they spent money on me for
business study." Other women described
how their families thought they were joking
and that they could not seriously be consid-
ering working as construction workers:
"Everybody knew that was a man's job."

Some women were even prevented from
joining because their baby fathers "did not
want two men in the house." Two relation-
ships were broken off as a result of the con-
One of the interesting findings of a uni-
versity student who interviewed members
of the Collective was that they had received
far greater support from female members
of their families than from the males. This
support also appears to have come from
women in church groups. In contrast, one
male pastor was totally against the project
because it encouraged women to "wear
However the strongest psychological
support system was probably provided by
Collective membership itself. The Group
meets one Sunday each month. Not only do
the women share their experiences on the
job and the reactions they receive at home,
but they also organize group events, such
as team sports and outings, that increase
the Collective's cohesion. The Collective
also initiated a public awareness campaign
through local newspapers, on television,
radio and through a video showing the
women at work and talking about their ex-
periences, which also describes the training
model used by the Collective in its early
Women require not only the will to enter
a nontraditional field, but also the financial
means. It is practically impossible, for in-
stance, to get a job as a carpenter's helper
if you do not have a saw. For this reason,
the Collective runs its own revolving tool
fund. Each woman is loaned tools to job
audition. If she gets the job, she keeps the
tools and, as she begins to earn income,
repays the cost into the tool fund. She must
repay in full in order to be eligible for further
loans or for sponsorship in additional train-
ing programs. The tools are not so costly
when purchased in bulk and the operation
of a revolving loan fund in an interest bear-
ing account ensures that new tools can be
provided on a credit basis without requiring
Nowadays a member of the Collective
who wants to participate in a skills upgrad-
ing program can approach the Executive
Committee. If they consider that the training
will be beneficial both for the women and
the Collective, and if the necessary loans


are available, then the applications for train-
ing will be approved.
The Collective also provides the
women with bus fare to attend monthly meet-
ings and any training for which they are
sponsored. This is particularly important for
the women who may not be working be-
cause they have not been placed or are
between jobs. Occasionally the Collective
fund, which is managed by the Executive
Committee, has been used to give loans for
health and child care, but this is very un-
usual and is not encouraged as the Collec-
tive does not aim to become a welfare sys-


Lurl joined the Collective in May 1984,
having passed through the selection proce-
dures developed by the original members
of the Collective. Her first task as a member
was to introduce herself, which she did while
giggling and covering her mouth so that
much of what she said was inaudible. It fi-
nally emerged that she had not completed
high school, had two children to support

and had never been employed, but wanted
to be a beautician. Failing to find oppor-
tunities in that field, she was prepared to try
anything that came up. What came up was
the Women's Construction Collective. She
started training in Phase Three.
When the five week training period was
up, there was nojob immediately available
for Lurl due to delays in implementing a par-
ticular building project that was to have em-
ployed her. Instead, she started on-site with
10 other women who worked unpaid for six
weeks to refurbish an old wholesale liquor
store that was to become the CRDC and
the WCC's center. In the last week of this
exercise, the Collective was asked to send
two women to interview for a maintenance
job with one of the large bauxite companies.
Lurl was the first to arrive at the interview
and started work the next week, earning the
highest wage any of the members has ever
Shortly afterward there were rumors,
later confirmed, that Lurl had moved out of
her community. Lurl had left her baby father.
One of eight children from a poor rural fam-
ily, by the time she was 14, Lurl's mother
could hardly cope with the economic bur-
den of supporting her family. The burden
was eased by moving Lurl in with a male
benefactor who agreed to pay her way
through school. By the time Lurl was 16, she
was pregnant by her "benefactor" and out
of school. At 18, she was already the mother
of two children and being beaten regularly
by the man on whom she was economically
As a result of her experience, Lurl had
no hesitation about packing her bags and
leaving as soon as she had an independent
income. Today she lives in another parish
with her two children and a sister. Her work
as an industrial painter is stable and her
performance has been favorably evaluated
by her employers, who are now considering
employing other women on their mainte-
nance team.

Sharon, Millicent, Pauline and Lurl
have all had different experiences during
their time with the Collective. While the long-
term impact of the project on them and their

families may be difficult to evaluate, other
changes have been rapid and dramatic. As
they found themselves able to earn their own
livings in a male-dominated industry, they
developed new confidence in themselves.
All four of them have stuck with the project-
two of them, between themselves, have
turned down five job offers in more tradi-
tional areas. Many have become articulate
spokeswomen for the Collective and all
have learned a great deal about individual
and group responsibility. In the course of
two and one-half years, of those women who
have left the Collective, four did so because
of pregnancy. Two of these women claim to
have been made pregnant against their will
by their baby fathers who did not want "two
men in the house." Neither of these women
started work on a construction site and
neither has returned to the Collective.
The impact of the Collective on the
construction industry appears to be posi-
tive. This may be due to the early analysis
which determined the needs of the builders
at the trade level. The willingness of project
participants to job audition, and thus prove
themselves, certainly helped with place-
ment. Reported decreases in violence and
increases in productivity on sites where Col-
lective members are working seems to be
directly related to the positive perception of
women's roles. Builders and foremen report
that men almost automatically behave less
abusively and violently in the presence of
women. They also feel that both men and
women tend to compete with each other on
the job-the women working to show that
they "could do the job as well as men," and
the men trying to "always outdo the
women"-a form of competition that almost
inevitably boosts productivity. Another in-
teresting achievement has been the ability
of the women to move across political boun-
daries. Women from communities asso-
ciated with one political party have been
placed on sites identified with the opposi-
tion party without any serious problems.
As yet the women present no serious
threat to male dominance on construction
sites. They are few in number and have not
reached the skill level where they can com-
pete for jobs as subcontractors. In effect,
they are still "bossed" by men and this may
account for the absence of any serious resis-

tance to them by their male co-workers.
However, as jobs in the industry become
more scarce, resistance is likely to increase.
One women recently reported being
threatened on-site by a man who declared
she was taking away his job because he
was a man and came from the "correct"
political territory, while she did not. She
seemed to think that the politics of the situ-
ation were more significant than the sex, at
least in this instance.
On the other hand, the publicity that
the project has received in the local media
has made the concept of women working
on construction sites increasingly accept-
able both at the work place and in the com-
munity. This is demonstrated by the ability
of the Collective's members to retain jobs
and find new placements despite the seri-
ous slump in the industry and by the regular
requests received for entry into the Collec-
While the entry of 34 competent
women into the construction industry at the
trade level may not seem significant, con-
"" -:1- tractors who have employed Collective
members report they are now employing
other women. This may mean that some of
the over 1,000 women who received building
trades training prior to 1980, along with
those who may benefit from the introduction
of the new residential training institutions,
will now have employment opportunities.
The Collective has also been excited by the
interest shown in its activities by women's
groups in other countries, largely as the re-
sult of the video tape produced to document
the Collecctive's activities.
Overall, in the two and one-half years
it has been in operation, the Collective has
trained 34 women and placed over 90 per-
cent of them in construction jobs in the areas
of plumbing, masonry, carpentry, electrical
installation, painting and steelwork. More
than 15 Group members have also received
further skills training ranging from driving a
car to reading blueprints. Two women have
completed the Construction Technology
Course at Jamaica's College of Arts, Sci-
. --. ences and Technology (CAST), and two
members have taken over day-to-day man-
agement of the project. In addition, the Col-
lective has refurbished new office space for
itself and the CRDC. Funding sources have

been expanded and the project has
launched its own business in order to
develop an independent source of income.

Looking Ahead
The future of the Collective will cer-
tainly not be easy. Despite all the member's
efforts, the effects of a major decline in the
construction industry are bound to be felt,
especially in terms of direct employment.
The general economic recession has left po-
tential clients with less money in their poc-
kets. This has occasioned a search for new
markets for the skills the women have de-
veloped and for ongoing skills upgrading
opportunities. At the moment, it is still too
early to say whether this approach will be
effective, although it is clear that the experi-
ence gained in the workshop business is
significantly raising the standard of the
members' carpentry skills.
So far response to the maintenance
business has been extremely positive, but
its long-term viability has yet to be estab-
lished and it is unclear how many women it
will be able to absorb. As the business
grows, greater formalization of the Collec-
tive's operations will be necessary. There-
fore, as of March 1986, the organization has
officially become the Kingston Women's
Construction Collective, Ltd.-a legally rec-
ognized Jamaican company.
The Collective, however, is by no
means independent as yet. The project as
a whole continues to be supervised by the
project coordinator and the CRDC con-
tinues to administer major funding, hire staff
as needed through its organizational sys-
tem, and provide office space.
Since its inception, the Collective has
relied on overseas grant assistance. In May
1986, current funding from these grants will
expire. The growth of the business as a sig-
nificant source of income will be a major
determinant of the Collective's self-sustaina-
bility. The membership feels strongly that
the Collective should continue not only for
the benefit of the women involved, but also
because provision of entry-level skills and
upgrading of building skills is still not avail-
able to women on the same basis that it is
for men. As noted above, the Government
has recently opened a central residential

facility for training in building skills, known
as the Port More Heart Academy. This institu-
tion will, in theory, accept women as day
students. However, this in fact limits entry
to women living within the immediate area.
Ironically, six Collective members living out-
side of the immediate area helped to build
this facility. One solution to this problem
being considered by the Collective is to es-
tablish a hostel for women trainees near the
institution. Another is the expansion of the
Collective to include women who have al-
ready been trained in building skills but who
have not been given access to the support
systems that facilitate job placement and
skill upgrading. Either option would require
additional funding.
In facing these critical challenges, it
is hoped that the interlinkages between the
industry and the communities will continue
to provide the flexibility that has been so
central to the Collective's development.


1. A thorough analysis of the industry,
particularly if it is one that does not
traditionally employ women, is cru-
cial. The trainees found employment
because they had been trained for
identified job openings at specific
2. Women must have access to
needed equipment without initial
cost outlay in order to start work. In
the case of this project, there would
be no jobs available for women without
tools. A revolving fund can ensure this
access without requiring collateral.
3. Strong links to feeder communities
through a body such as the Working
Group provide a good basis for
group cohesion. The Tivoli commu-
nity worker and local leadership in
Nannyville and Glengoffe provided on-
going support and motivation for the
women, particularly in the early stages.
The Working Group provided access
to these support systems.
4. It is extremely useful to have access
to individuals or institutions able
and willing to provide "customized"
training. A freestanding training prog-
ram can be exorbitantly expensive and
short-term training does not in itself
justify expensive outlays for machinery

and equipment. The Vocational Train-
ing Development Institute allowed pro-
ject management to have significant
input into training design while offering
well-equipped and well-supervised
5. When working in politically volatile
areas, a project should maintain a
"neutral" political identity. The polit-
ical neutrality of project management
allowed for entry into the violently op-
posed political communities and for
movement across territorial lines. This,
in turn, allowed for cooperation be-
tween women from these various com-
6. Projects often evolve in directions
quite different from those antici-
pated in proposals to funding agen-
cies. A good relationship with the
project officer of the funding agency
will allow for flexibility in both prog-
ram design and use of funds. For
example, after this project began, it
expanded far more rapidly than had
been envisaged. However, soon after
money was mobilized to accommo-
date this rapid growth, the construc-
tion industry went into a slump and the
project had to focus on consolidation
rather than expansion. Dialogue with
the various funding agencies allowed

for the necessary changes to be made
smoothly and according to decisions
made by the Collective.
7. Development cannot be rushed.
Women who have been dependent
most of their lives need time to ad-
just to taking on responsibility. It
took 18 months before any woman
found a construction job as a result of
her own initiative. It took two months
for the Collective members to open
their own bank account once a deci-
sion had been made to do so. If the
project staff take the easy way out and
do things for the group, a welfare men-
tality develops that stifles the growth

of initiative. It is better to allow the
necessary time for participants to work
out a way to do things for themselves.
8. Documentation is worth all the
energy and effort it entails. Detailed
written and photographic documenta-
tion, together with the ten-minute
video, made it easier for the project to
approach funding agencies. It also al-
lowed the project to "travel," both in-
side and outside of Jamaica, and
hence widen its impact. The women's
own energy, enthusiasm, and involve-
ment is captured much more clearly
on video and in photos than is possible
in any written or verbal account.


Training Summary

Training Skills Type of No. of Additional
Program Delivery Women Information

Basic Train-
ing I (VTDI)

Basic Train-
ing (VTDI)

nance I

nance II
Live Project

WCC Carpentry



Introduction to
carpentry, masonry,
electrical, painting
and air
As above



5 days per
week for 5

5 days per
week for 5

1 day, 1
evening per
week for 12

As above

5 days per
week for 6

5 days per
week ongoing


Learned to carry and
lay blocks, build
complete wall and

render it, build simple
formwork and their own
wooden stool.
15 As above, but with the
addition of basic
plumbing and pipe
5 Not entirely satisfactory
as most trainees were
men with previous
experience. Best
compromise in the
absence of sufficient
funding for alternate
4 As above

12 Proved extremely
valuable in placement,
especially for women
who went into painting

2 or 3
at any

Key resource person is
a male carpenter
Workshop pays its own
way so women also
learn some business

WCC Repair

Office Practice
and Project

masonry, steel
work, painting,


drawing, physics,
technology, math
and English

depends on
the job

full time

1 day and 2
evenings per
week for 1

variable Kinds of work varies
2-7 from building entire
wooden housing units
to relatively simple
2 Training delivery by
CRDC staff

2 Allows access to higher
level skills training and
building training


and Secretarial
Theatre Group)
First Aid
(Blue Cross)
On Site

Improving the
Safety of

Blueprint reading
and plan
Driving car

Basic auto
mechanics and
car maintenance

Explaining issues
affecting women
by using drama

General First Aid

Skill upgrading in
trade areas where
women are working


1 evening per
week for 12

afternoons for
8 weeks
2 evenings
per week for
1 year


3 Invaluable

3 Aimed at cutting costs
of vehicle maintenance

3 Saturday

2 evenings
per week
full time,

1 week

Houses (CRDC)

2 Quality very dependent
on individual foremen
and male gang leaders,
but probably the most
effective long-term form
of training
2 This was an introductory
course. Long-term plans
call for using women as
instructors in outreach

Design: Ann Leonard
Typography: Village Type and Graphics
Photos: Ruth Mcleod
Printing: Graphic Impressions, Inc.

We invite your comments and your ideas for projects which might
be included in future editions of SEEDS. If you would like additional
copies of this issue or would like to be included on the SEEDS
mailing list, please write to:
Ann Leonard, Editor
P.O. Box 3923
Grand Central Station
New York, New York 10163 U.S.A.

I ~L \/:L 0:


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