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Featuring Selu Kauvaka – Woman in ICT Tonga

My name is Seluvaia Kauvaka, at 33 years of age, I am a woman in ICT in Tonga and this is my story I am currently the Senior System Analyst at the Ministry of Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change and Communications and CERT. (MEIDECC) under the Information Department of Tonga.  I started my career working for Digicel Tonga in 2009 straight after graduating from Japan (scholar) as the IT Support Engineer. New from school, I entered the workforce eager to learn as much as possible: fixing and reformatting PCs and laptops, fixing printing issues, printers, troubleshooting internet access on PCs and terminating a cable to connect to the internet. There were only 2 other guys senior to me and our IT Manager in an all-male department. This is where it all began for me, I was learning so much and I was falling in love with ICT and being an IT Engineer.

The guys in our team taught me well and I was promoted to IT Engineer/Junior IP Engineer. I was more interested in networking so wanted to focus more on this. The IT Manager at the time took a lead role in training me to be the IP Engineer for Digicel Tonga. My work started getting more technical: configuring servers, switches, routers, monitoring network performance. I was even installing servers on my own. I took on the satellite workload as we were still working on satellite at that time; LINKIPs, checkpoint firewalls were my toys then. Years later, I was still the only girl in a team of men and the team grew more in numbers. It was a challenge for me working late night shifts, weekends, odd hours. Later I was further promoted to being IP Engineer and ISP Team leader. I was given a team of boys to work under my supervision and finally another female joined our team. It was my greatest achievement and pleasure having first introduced the fiber into our networks, we tested the speed and it was awesome.

I would like to acknowledge my boss CTO at Digicel Tonga for all the trainings and hard struggles I had encountered as a young engineer – he continues to support and mentor me. After 5 years in Digicel Tonga, I moved to Digicel Samoa and worked there as the IP Engineer for another 2 years. I was heavily involved with the installation of O3B satellite and working with firewalls and on our network. In Samoa, I gained the experience of knowing what it was like to work in a region outside of my home country Tonga. The Digicel Samoa Chief Technology Officer (CTO), also helped encourage us girls to improve daily as engineers. The Digicel Samoa technical team was bigger as we had 3 girls in the team, interestingly all of us were Tongans working in Samoa.  Coming back home after my contract in Digicel Samoa ended I wanted to experience working in the Government, so I began applying for jobs in the government, this was a big challenge. With experience gained from my past jobs, I pushed myself to apply for a senior post and it was so hard as I had to provide a lot of transcripts to prove educational background and work experience. In one of the interviews, the interviewer (female) asked if I could actually conduct the work required as I was a girl? “Could you terminate cables?” “How can you run cables in a skirt and kiekie(traditional attire)”. Another question was “How will you behave in a men dominated field?” “Would you cause relationship problems in the workplace?” I was able to answer from my experience as I never had issues and trouble working in ICT field with men. But to get such questions was a big shock. Finally, I got a post in Government and I have been working here for the past 2 years. At this job I get to help and support establishing eGovernment in Tonga, establish policies with ICT in Tonga and help other line ministries technically.  Today, there are more females coming up in this field but have yet to reach senior posts. Automatically most administration posts are given to females, technical roles are for males. This trend must change – we need to change the mindset in our cultural and Pacific context that girls can do anything. We just need one chance. 

At the end of April last year, I thought to call a group of females I know in ICT for coffee, for us to discuss establishing a Women in ICT group. At this coffee session 6 of us girls from telecoms, government, teachers came together to discuss such a group being established. This group is run informally as an NGO supporting students and youth in ICT, providing hackathons of ideas, awareness, talk in schools in ICT and cybercrimes and cyber security. As an incentive to promote women and ICT, I cooked and baked to encourage fellow women and girls to join the NGO. I am currently the President of the Tongan Women in ICT group and we meet monthly to discuss and update on the challenges we face and what we can do about it. I’ve had the opportunity to talk on behalf of Women in ICT on Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) – ICT – Robust Communication System for Growers. I attended International Centre for Democratic Partnerships (ICDP) – Pacific Connect: pacific Women in Business and Digital Delivery and I also spoke at a Women in ICT conference at APNIC46 in Noumea, New Caledonia. I’m also exploring opportunities in the area of Internet Governance (IG) and have been engaged in discussions to highlight Tonga’s role in IG. I’ve had opportunities to talk on behalf of women in ICT and I love to encourage young women to take up ICT; it is challenging but exciting, you learn and to pave a path that will make it easier for your technicians today to come through rather then what I went through. I try to empower and encourage them to aim for senior roles and that engineering can be done by females.
It is with the help and support of great role models (my male mentors and colleagues) that I am where I am today as an engineer because of their support and their training and trusting me. It is also because I wanted to be an engineer like my late father. My father was a great inspiration. The worrying factor is that we don’t have enough women supporting other women in the ICT industry – we hope this will change. There’s so much potential in working with other women and together we can build a community of amazing and talented network of women. I believe We can make this change. In the new future, I’m working extensively to raise awareness in the work I’m doing.

I am also looking out for opportunities to seek funding to support and train more female engineers to have them more confident in this area. I wish to meet more wonderful women in the Pacific who are doing ICT – it’s always a great learning curve and I want to be able to share my wisdom on promoting more women in ICT. I am passionate about making a difference. I am keen to work with key people in the region to combat cybercrime – this is a growing concern. I am passionate and I want to continue this great journey in ICT. Special thanks to PICISOC for sharing my story!

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