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More Korean women working abroad for construction companies

More Korean women working abroad for construction companies

Posted May. 07, 2012 21:46,   


Jubail is an industrial city in Saudi Arabia`s eastern province on the Persian Gulf coast. Massive sand winds cover the area two to three times a month, with the temperature rising to 50 degrees or higher for seven months out of the year.

Kwon Hye-ryong, an employee of Hyundai Engineering and Construction, stayed at a construction site in the Arab country for 22 months to manage material purchases for gas treatment facilities and business schedules. She was the lone woman among 6,000 Hyundai workers at this site.

After returning to Korea, she said, "I feel like I returned from two years of military service. I had a tough time there, but I really worked hard to avoid arousing anti-sentiment against female workers."

Kwon will be heading for another construction site in Saudi Arabia in October and struggle with more sand storms and heat waves.

Korean builders are enjoying another overseas construction boom, and more female staff are going to the Middle East to work. Construction sites abroad had previously been the domain of men given that they were mostly in the Mideast and offered tough working conditions and demanding thousands of multi-nationals.

More recently, however, Korean builders are receiving orders from diverse regions and the projects have been diversified from civil engineering and general construction to design, materials procurement and project management. Industry sources say this has boosted demand for female workers, who are known for detailed management capability.

According to the International Contractors Association of Korea, about 50 women were working at overseas construction sites last month. Among them were Hyundai`s Kwon (Saudi Arabi), Kang Che-ri of Samsung Engineering and Construction (Singapore), Shin Geun-hye of GS Engineering and Construction (United Arab Emirates), and Kang Hey-won of Posco E&C (Peru).

The women said overcoming sex discrimination was the most difficult part of working in construction abroad. Shin, who has been working at an oil production facility in the UAE city of Ruwais since June 2010, said, "When I first arrived there, workers looked at me like a monkey in a zoo. I also had to endure discrimination over visa issuance for a business trip."

Kang, who has been working at a coastal highway in Singapore for six months, said, "I`m always careful how I behave because a trivial action could lead to prejudice against female workers overall," adding "I have to be extra prudent to raise my work performance."

Loneliness is something such women face at overseas construction sites. There are few fellow female workers there and relatives and friends are too far away to consult with.

Posco E&C`s Kang, who has been working at a steam turbine site at a thermal power plant in Chilca Uno, Peru, said, "I try to comfort myself by talking with my parents and friends via smartphone and social networking services."