APIA, SAMOA: MONDAY: 07 MARCH 2016: To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, the Australian High Commission asked one of the inspiring Australia Awards scholarships alumni why studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths subjects is a good choice for young women.
Unutoa Auelua-Fonoti needs little introduction to Samoan society. From humble beginnings, she has climbed through the ranks to become one of Samoa’s most sought after leaders. Currently serving as Samoa’s Regulator, Ms Auelua-Fonoti is a woman on a mission to encourage females to pursue careers in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
She believes there are many opportunities for Samoan women in these fields but interest is lacking.
Only a handful of women in Samoa have shown an interest in her field of electronics/telecommunications engineering which she says is one of the highest paying jobs in the country.
“The Bureau of Statistics released a Survey last year which clearly stated that the most paid job in the private sector is engineering and ICT,” she pointed out.
But it isn’t only about the money. It was important for her to instil a passion and desire to study Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics into others from a young age.
To show how serious she is about this she recommended to the former Regulator to initiate a program called ‘Girls in ICT’ which targets female students in Year 12 and Year 13.
The program is implemented through the Office of the Regulator and is aimed at inspiring young women to pursue careers in ICT and engineering.
“There is a view in our society that engineering is a male dominated profession and it may be because in a cultural context women are regarded as feagaiga and tamaitai and they should not perform difficult duties,” she said.
In my view, this is a misconception of our culture because girls are just as capable as men and should be encouraged to pursue fields that are out of their comfort zone.”
For her, engineering is the backbone of any economy and having women driving this can make a huge difference to the country.
She chose engineering because of her interest in science and maths and also because of the encouragement of other strong women in her life.
It is Ms. Auelua-Fonoti’s passion that drives her to keep finding ways to encourage women.
She said women need to ignore the stereotyping and consider these fields because they are very rewarding.
She has the credentials to back what she is saying. She received two Australia Awards scholarships – in 2004 she graduated from RMIT University with a Bachelor of Engineering (Electronics) and in 2013 she received her Masters of Engineering (Engineering Management) from the University of Southern Queensland.
She spoke highly of the opportunity to study in Australia, “I acknowledge with gratitude the Government of Samoa and the Government of Australia for sponsoring my scholarships that enabled me to attain my qualifications,” she said.
Ms. Auelua-Fonoti made history last year when she was appointed to be the first Samoan Regulator.
She said it was an honour to be selected and the job has broadened her horizon and understanding.
“Regulatory area is a specialized area of work because a broad scope of knowledge is required. You are not only an engineer but you are also expected to have knowledge of legal systems, finances and economics in your country.”
One of the best things about her job is the firsthand opportunity to learn about interesting changes in the field of technology.
But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Ms. Auelua-Fonoti admits that there have been challenging times.
“There are every day challenges to any working person especially us females.” She faces stereotyping from male counterparts and even other women on a regular basis. She has also had to juggle her family life with her demanding work schedule but says she has an understanding husband and family behind her.
She believes a solid support system is essential to success.
“My job as a mother and as a Regulator is much easier because of the support of my dearest mother and my loving husband, my siblings, my close friends and families who stand by me every step of my journey.”
Ms. Auelua-Fonoti was educated at Lepa Primary School, Saleapaga Primary School, Leifiifi Intermediate School, Samoa College, National University of Samoa and Samoa Polytechnic before she received her scholarships to study in Australia.