There have been strides for gender equality in all spheres of the Gambian society since independence, but women remain underrepresented in a long list of professional fields. The gender gap in especially technical professions remains wide because they were traditionally considered no-go area for women.
But today, the gender lines are blurring and more and women are women are rocking those so-called male fields and are feeling fulfilled.
Among them is Cany Jobe, a gas and oil engineer rocking it big time in the energy sector. And if you’re wondering why she’s in the energy sector, here’s your answer: The Gambia forms part of a geological basin called the MSGBC that has been proven to have a working petroleum system and has been to a large extent de-risked with world class discoveries in neighboring Senegal less than 12 miles away from its territorial waters.
Cany, a 33-year-old mother of two and married for 9 years, has never been the one who’s put off by anything stereotypical and her story and career trajectory confirm Jim Goodwin’s quote, ‘The impossible is often the untried’.
It has been my life goal to resist stereotypes, pigeonholing, and defy geographical and socio-cultural barriers.
In my journey of unconventionality, I’ve studied Chinese and French for many years, trekked the Yushan mountain range in Taipei, Taiwan for geology class at 19, trained in isolated oil rigs deep in the Maracaibo forest of Venezuela while pumping breast milk to keep up milk supply for my first (who I had not yet weaned) and with the encouragement of good friends, hiked a picturesque mountain range while heavily pregnant with my second.”
As an oil and gas engineer, Cany has “a deep passion for national development and the environment, renewable energy technologies, corporate governance, sustainable development policies and almost all of the humanities.”
Her rise to engineering stardom followed years of tough and laborious academic journey, criss-crossing all the world’s continents in search of knowledge. Cany acquired Bachelor’s degree in Materials and Mineral Resources Engineering from National Taipei University of Technology in Taiwan, a Master’s in Oil and Gas from University of Western Australia and she’s currently pursuing Master’s degree in International Project Management (Energy, Construction Management and Oil & Gas) in Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland. She’s a member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers and the Africa National Resources Institute.
Prior to the degrees, Cany graduated high school in 2003 with results in the top 10 nationwide and got offered a Gambia government scholarship. The condition of the scholarship was that she’s be trained in whatever STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics) program the government deemed fit for developmental purpose. Around the same era, she sat for the SAT (American College Entrance Scholastic Aptitude Test) and scored the 96th percentile for Verbal Reasoning and 70th for Math which made her get an immediate offer of partial scholarship to study Biochemistry (a major she had initially chosen) at St Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. She decided to go for the Gambia government scholarship for the reason that it was a full scholarship, though without knowing where or what she would be studying, but confident that whatever it would be, she’d embrace the opportunity and give it her all.
“It turned out to be a B.Sc. degree in Materials and Mineral Resources Engineering (Petroleum Program) at the National Taipei University of Technology in Taipei, with a peculiar bond of 10 years for me and my colleagues. In any case, I looked up the country, the school and the program and decided I liked it. Because I am a Philomath at heart, I could find joy in many majors and I loved the challenge of being an industry pioneer and majoring in something I had never thought of. Furthermore, I was always intrigued by the concept of travel to far flung places. In retrospect, I should probably have thought harder about the offers on my table and researched how fit for purpose the program truly was (chuckles).”
Upon her return home from studies, Cany reported to work at the Gambia National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) where she faced difficulties.
The first two years were very difficult to adjust to as I came to find out that our level of oil and exploration was at such an infancy and under such a level of secrecy and bureaucracy that we couldn’t participate as fully as we wanted or expected to
We were also miles away from even drilling exploratory oil wells for various compounding reasons and needed more differentiated streams of specialization for the exploratory stage; in geology, in geophysics, in reservoir studies amongst other things.”
Two years on, having already developed a passion for the field, being in a ten year bond and realizing she was in it for the long haul as the oil and gas exploration and production cycle typically spans several years (sometimes decades), Cany secured an Australia Development Award that enabled her to study and qualify for a M.Eng in Oil and Gas, making sure her courses focused more on Reservoir Studies which forms the basis for all technical and economic decisions in oil and gas activities from exploration stage right through to development and production.
Over the past ten years she had served, sometimes concomitantly in various technical and managerial roles as a Reservoir Engineer, Member of the Senior Management Team, Secretary to the Board of Directors, Manager for Upstream Marketing and Acting Head of Administration and Human Resources.
Cany’s day to day activities include updating and advising management on activities she’s involved in relating to the execution of technical work programs which include geological and geophysical activities and planned drilling of exploratory wells and negotiations spanning upstream oil and gas activities when they occur.
And for any young woman who may want to follow Cany’s footsteps, her advice is: “I encourage every girl considering a career in any STEM field to go for it! You will be in the minority but believe yourself to be inimitable, unconquerable, of inestimable worth and value, limited only by your imagination. It’s not as difficult as it’s made out to be and you can make the best out of every situation in life by always striving for excellence and going the extra mile.”
The Spanner Princess
Another young woman making her mark in a ‘male-dominated’ field is Sohna Huja Jeng, one of the few women mechanics in the country. She started working as a junior mechanic in May 2009 at Bokal Automotive Company in Jeshwang before starting a technician diploma at the GTTI four months later.
She later received a bachelor’s degree from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana, prior to which she held a technician diploma in Motor Vehicle Systems from the Gambia Technical Training Institute.
“I am very passionate about cars, and also have special interest in renewable energy.”
Upon completion of her BSc, she returned to The Gambia in 2016 and took a job at Ibramag Autos at Jeshwang as a technician before moving to Guinea to work for Group Delta Log as Technical Manager. The company has a fleet of over 100 vehicles rented out mostly to the mines, with an automobile workshop that repairs its vehicles and also for private customers.”
“I use diagnostic tools or machines, for troubleshooting and solving problems. I also get my hands dirty if need be.
Sohna is now back in The Gambia and is hoping to start her own company.
She faced challenges including the struggle to get people to trust her work just because she’s a woman. “It’s difficult for most people to trust women with fixing their cars, electronic gadgets, electrical wiring etc.
There is also not much encouragement for women in the technical industry as employers prefer employing men than women. Sometimes basic needs such as separate toilets and changing rooms for women at work places are not catered for
Sohna calls on Gambian women to keep breaking barriers and end the culture of men dominating one field or the other.
Welding Away Stereotypes
Another woman making strides in a ‘male-dominated’ field is Awa Dibba, a welder currently working at a local welding workshop in Tabokoto. She’s been doing welding for at least four years, working towards becoming more experienced and independent with the hope of establishing her own business.
Awa Dibba Welder
Awa’s decision to go into welding started after she completed a six-month course at GTTI, sponsored by the Social Development Fund (SDF).
Today, her job includes cutting, framing and measuring, welding and grinding metal.
She might not have a fancy resume, but her long term goal is to set up her own welding company and employ women and break the glass ceiling.