VALENTIN ALSINA, Argentina : Female bricklayers work in the construction of a house in Valentin Alsina, Lanus, Buenos Aires province, Argentina. – AFP

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina: Dressed in blue overalls, Barbara Burruchaga pulls a rope lifting buckets of sand up to the roof. Alongside other Argentine women, she breaks stone, mixes concrete and builds walls-they’re not just constructing houses, they’re breaking down barriers. “Being a builder makes me happy, we women were told ‘no’ for a long time,” Burruchaga told AFP. “I love telling my dad, who’s the person who is the most surprised and had the least faith,” added the 21-year-old as she hauled materials to renovate an old cultural center on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Change is coming fast to the sector.

According to Argentina’s construction workers union, the number of women in the industry increased by 131 percent from 2003 to 2010 and they now make up five percent of the workforce. That may sound like little, but compared to other Latin American countries like Mexico (0.4 percent) it’s significant. Burruchaga is one of the eight members of ‘Dissident Deconstruction’, a collective of women and minority genders dedicated to construction work.

One knocks down a wall as others mix concrete while they listen to music and drink the traditional local mate infusion. The patriarchal system “says we don’t have the strength for these tasks,” said Eva Iglesias, 36. But “not all builders are big and muscular, there are many shorties with bellies,” added the petite Iglesias. Most of them suffer from back pain but “they don’t say so because they’re not allowed to look weak.”

‘Go and wash dishes’
There is an increasing number of women construction groups operating in Argentina. ‘We Fix It’ is a feminist collective that publishes construction workshops on Instagram and functions as a professional network. ‘Dissident Deconstruction Network’ is a WhatsApp group with 90 members working in architecture, construction, plumbing, electricity and carpentry. Some groups, though, are designed for women that need help with their DIY. Hairdresser Valeria Salguero, 34, could not afford to hire a builder to build an extra bedroom for her daughter.

She created a Facebook group called ‘Building, a woman’s thing’, to ask for advice. The result was “crazy.” In just one month she had garnered 6,000 followers-mostly single mothers-including from Uruguay and Costa Rica, all eager to repair their own homes. While some comments were negative-“go and wash the dishes” or “feminazi”-she was recently contacted by an international construction company that offered to train and employ an “all woman” crew.

Government support
Carolina Gutierrez, an architect and builder, says women-only construction sites are necessary. “When there are men and women, (the women) are automatically given cleaning jobs,” she said. They also suffer from harassment and wage inequality. “We’re a long way” from equality in mixed sites, she said. But even the government is involved in encouraging women to take up the building profession.

In April, President Alberto Fernandez inaugurated 48 homes for vulnerable people that were built by mixed crews in the Avellaneda suburb to the south of the capital Buenos Aires. Fernandez created a furore by specifically thanking the women builders. Twenty women aged between 29 and 59 were trained by the government and employed in the building of the homes, on equal salaries to their male colleagues.

“The most important thing is that they access economic independence,” said Magdalena Sierra, the Avellaneda cabinet chief who created the project. Andrea Figueras managed the female members of the crew who were “more perfectionist,” kept the site and materials “cleaner,” and never lost any tools. However, she says there is still much work to be done. “We go home and there are the kids, the food, the dishes. They (men) go home and are served food. We need to create equal rights in the home,” said Figueras. – AFP