Fighting Stereotypes: Woman Engineer Presence in Libya
When people ask me ‘Why did you chose engineering as a profession?’ I recall that period on my life when I was deciding which career path to pursue. My doubt was between engineering and architecture, but then, a man told me ‘Engineering is a profession for men’. I believe that was the exact moment when I decide to become an Engineer. Why a profession had to be more suitable for men than for women?
Since I finished my engineering studies in Spain, I have been working in different countries such as Ghana, Iraq and now in Libya, where there are even fewer women working within the construction industry than in Spain, and that statement come to my mind constantly (‘Engineering is a profession for men’). I have to say that being a female within a field mainly dominated by men has not always been easy and that gender stereotypes have yet to be struggled within the construction field.
However, I also must admit that during my work experience with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) within the Arab region, I have been professionally respected and valued by my male colleagues and supervisees. Personally, I believe that the female engineering presence smoothies the usually rough environment that typifies the sector. Women engineers, we are normally highly skilled in planning, organizing and business oriented. Additionally, the ability of empathize and connect with the emotions of others, provide female engineers with a great advantage when managing teams. All these skills, together with a professional aptitude place female engineers in a very high scale. So, I do not believe Engineering is a profession only for men.
I am currently working as Engineering Specialist for the Strengthening Local Capacities for Resilience and Recovery (SLCRR) programme, funded by the European Union and implemented by UNDP Libya. The project supports the Libyan authorities to provide basic services to the community in order to strengthening their resilience and recovery mechanisms. The programme’s initiatives include the rehabilitation of key infrastructure with the aim of improving access to health, water, sanitation, education and electricity.
Efforts for reconstruction and rehabilitation of those public infrastructures in a post conflict context such as it is Libya, can only be conducted with the involvement of national engineers and contractors. Therefore, my work requires to work closely and to supervise a team of national engineers and to monitor national construction companies.
While working in Libya, I have learned about the construction industry in this country. Since the Italian occupation, in the early 1950s, the construction industry in Libya has tried to adapt to global trends and fast developments within the sector, going through different stages. Initially, the construction was limited and unskilled. Between 1970 and 1986, the government invested more than 10 billion dollars in housing and infrastructure, with the support of foreign companies. It was during this period when the ‘Great Man-Made River Project’ was constructed. A monumental water network which supplies fresh water from the South of Libya to the coast cities.
Currently, local companies, supported by international organizations and foreign companies, seek to strengthen the construction industry. Despite the efforts, the industry is still unable, on its own, to meet the country needs. Lack of technical, financial and managerial capabilities make difficult to meet the infrastructure and housing needs of the country.
Through my work with SLCRR programme and along with my team, we are supporting the development of the country by means of rehabilitation and reconstruction of infrastructure, which is key for increasing access for most vulnerable groups to basic services. However, what makes me feel prouder of is the capacity building effort behind all this construction interventions, as part of my job consists of sharing construction international practices and knowledge with the national engineers. When working with UNDP Libya, national stakeholders, such as contractors and engineers, are acquiring international practices and skills, not only in engineering but also in procurement of civil works and equipment.
My message is that increasing the presence of women engineers within the reconstruction scene, in post-conflict and post-disaster contexts, will positively support such capacity building efforts, as I am currently doing in Libya. In addition to help on fighting the gender stereotype, not only in the region, but also within the development sector.