Professional acceptance for Yemeni women
The Department of Civil Engineering is a bastion of masculinity. It produces engineers - nearly all of them men - who are expected to work long hours and late nights. They are required to stay at their workplace, and must continually interact with the workers and contractors who supervise and are employed with their projects.
While a woman may enroll in engineering, there are other departments that are usually seen as more suitable for women - for instance, electrical or architectural engineering. Ayman Abdul Hakeem, a senior student of civil engineering, says women do not usually enroll in the course, “because civil engineering is not socially acceptable, as students are required to travel to work sites, directly interact with workers, and make more of an effort.”
«However, a woman can enroll in this department because there are two kinds of work. One mostly requires office work, figuring out amounts of iron and concrete, and dealing with numbers, spaces, and schemes. The other requires going to worksites and communicating with the workers at the sites,» he added.
A woman studying civil engineering must face great challenges and deal with large amounts of criticism from a variety of people. Knowing the challenges ahead of time does not necessarily make them any easier to face.
Amani Abdulgader, began her major in the civil engineering in the faculty of engineering. She described studying in this department as “an adventure of standing on high buildings, and eagerly overseeing the birth of buildings from the beginning. It was the ability to change for the better the construction, without addressing details of architecture, but through volumetric details, through the logic of numbers. It was a way of life if I engaged in it.”
She added that she had expected such challenges when she enrolled in this difficult discipline, but that the encouragement of her family was her main motivation to pursue her studies, despite they all being well-versed in the hurdles she may encounter. “I was well-versed in all aspects of this discipline. Indeed, it was these very aspects that inculcated in me a deep desire to enroll in this field. I believed that during my five years of study, society’s acceptance and awareness of women joining this discipline would grow, even though it is considered less socially acceptable for women,” she said.
«The first day in the department of civil engineering was very hard. I was the only woman among 180 students coming from all parts of Yemen. Some of my classmates used to strongly attack me and some of them bothered me by using bad words. Very few tried to help me, while the teachers in the department resented my presence and considered me to be in the wrong place. However, some of them encouraged me and called me ‘the iron lady,” she added.
Amani, who studied for one year in the department, finally realized that she should change departments, after realizing that moving to the architecture department would double her productivity in the future. It was not a surrender to the rejection of others or their condemnation for her presence in the department.
Even medicine in Yemen includes men and women in some disciplines. Women doctors are preferred in gynecology and dentistry in particularly, according to Sami Al-Maqtari, a docotor.
Al-Maqtari said that the customs and traditions of society do not accept men in some medical disciplines, especially for gynecology and childbirth. Women are generally preferred for such disciplines, especially for clinical examinations. In some cases, women walk away from a clinic or hospital if they find that the doctor is a man. He said that there should be an awareness of the doctor’s role, whether they be male or female.
“I think that it is a matter of modesty and shame on the part of female patients, despite the fact that the doctor is there to help and save lives. This is what everybody should understand», said gynecologist and midwife, Majid Radfan. He said that when he started his job at the hospital, female patients did not accept him, however, if they found that they had no other options, they would they would see him. Eventually, women who were ill would seek assistance, no matter the sex of the doctor. Humane treatment by a doctor, whether male or female, is the most important thing in the end.
There are differences between men and women in terms of their capacities and potential, but the desire to be good at their work seems to be what drives creativity and talent in any discipline, not sex. However, it is the potential in a person that finally governs a woman or man’s choice of work.
Amani Abdullah, 27, is a doctor currently seeking a specialty that fits her potential and capacities. She has passed through several medical departments over the course of a year. She said that she initially found the specialty of osteology very interesting. However, when she experienced her the first surgical amputation with a specialist osteologist, she found the operating room more like a carpenter’s workshop. The doctor like a carpenter was working very hard. It is the blessing of God that allows a doctor to break the patient’s bone, but when he required help in making the break, Amani could not assist. “Of course, I might be a good doctor in this area, but I cannot conduct an operation to amputate an arm or a leg. It requires more effort than I can muster. So, I have the mental capacity but my potential in this discipline is limited,” she added.
The department of fashion design is one that is shunned by most men. When the faculty of community opened the department, it initially had no more than ten students. In spite of current admissions being more than thirty students a year, the department has had only three male graduates in the last eight years.
Zaid Ali, teaching assistant at the department of fashion design, was the only male student among seven women. He graduated after receiving high grades throughout his years of study, which qualified him to become a teaching assistant in the department.
«My enrollment in the department from the beginning was not from a desire or tendency towards fashion design. My real problem was that I wasn’t good at mathematics, like many others who suffer from this subject in the other departments of the faculty,” said Ali.
He remembers the reactions of his colleagues, who did not expect to find his name in the list of students for fashion design. They started making comments to him, despite the fact that his family was satisfied with his unusual choice of study.
“I remember the advice of one who said, ‘How can you lose three years to be a tailor at the end? Practice this with any tailor for only three months and you will be learn how to do it, instead of losing three years at your age in such a specialty. When some passed through our sewing labs and I was working on the sewing machine, they would compare me with their mothers, compare our performance in using the sewing machine. And there were comments such as calling me ‘Al-Haj Mutawali’, one of the most dramatic characters in a well known Arabic series who worked with fabrics and most of whose customers are women,” said Ali.
He described that the work in the department of fashion design is not only about sewing clothes. The designer of fashion needs to help in coordination of colors, and to identify what is appropriate on the body to hide flaws and highlight beauty. They also need to be attuned to what is appropriate fashion for the time dependent on what is happening in the fashion world.