The New Frontier: Women and Carpentry

By in News on March 12, 2012

Margot Bethel

It may traditionally have been a field for men, but an increasing number of women in the Caribbean region are literally building foundations that place them on entirely new ground — all in the world of carpentry.

The latest move is taking shape in The Bahamas with adult classes popping up around town on Woodworking for Women.

The curriculum includes all the basics that provide women with the know-how to take on projects like building and installing shelves to reorganizing designs for maximum space.

“I have an aunt who always wants something done and trying to find a professional to do it is very difficult for her,” said Katrina Cartwright, one of the organizers of the program being offered at the Popopstudios in Nasssau.  “She is not the only woman I heard complaining, so being able to offer a class where women can learn skills I think is needed.

“As modern day women with careers, who has the time to wait for a man to show you [how to build] or [risk] them not even showing up sometimes?”

The creation of programs promoting more women with carpentry skills applies largely to women throughout the Caribbean, who are waiting until later in life to get married — a time when male presence in their homes taking on such household responsibilities is expected.

At the same time, women in the region are beginning to forge ahead with homeownership, buying real estate and purchasing homes at an increasing rate in the region.

It means that many women increasingly have need for the kind of do-it-yourself skills that can get make them truly independent.

Traditionally in the Caribbean, carpentry has been a trade designated for men, with women often used in the design phase of projects.  In such an environment, acquiring those skills has been difficult for women.

“If a woman wants to apprentice, she has to find someone who is not a chauvinist and believes that a woman’s place is not in the woodworking studio,” said Cartwright.  “Then you have to prove yourself to other men you’re working around and for someone who wants to do this as a hobby it may be [a bit much].”

Building for Other Women

In North America, the concept of women in carpentry is less a taboo topic.  In organizations like Habitat for Humanity, there are Women’s Build programs that see a group of women with like interests band together to construct homes that will be inhabited by other women in need of housing.

“Women’s Build is truly a grassroots effort of girlfriends getting together with tennis clubs or best friends and building for other women,” Alexandra Balzer, chairman of the Atlanta Women’s Build, told Caribbean journalists recently on a trip to Georgia.

The project – that sometimes has as much as 200 female volunteers ranging in age – is designed to empower more women in the homeownership.

One group of women builders will traditionally construct one home a year, where they assist with the fundraising of the project as well as the building stages.  During the construction phase, experts show the Women’s Build volunteers the skills of construction, which they follow to construct homes for families, usually led by single parent homes.

Here in the Caribbean region, it remains to be seen how successful classes like carpentry will be in The Bahamas and if the movement there will be carried throughout other neighboring countries.

“I wouldn’t say there’s been a huge demand…we had six women register” said Cartwright.  “But I think it’s incredibly important [and] there is a sense of accomplishment because at the end of the day, you can look at someone and say ‘I did that’.”

In any event, she says the classes are a good outlet for those with an inner artist wanting to burst out.

By Inderia Saunders
eWoman Magazine

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