Defying Social Stigma and Gender Bias, Female Engineers Embrace Opportunities in Mogadishu
In the vibrant capital city of Mogadishu, Somalia, a construction boom has taken hold, spurred by improved security conditions. Amid this development surge, civil engineer Faduma Mohamed Ali is tirelessly breaking barriers as she supervises male laborers twice her age, challenging societal norms in this conservative Muslim nation located in the Horn of Africa.
Faduma Mohamed Ali, a determined 22-year-old, has faced social stigmatization, opposition from her family, and workplace harassment, yet she remains steadfast in her chosen career path. Her fascination with buildings and structural observation, particularly mosques, led her to pursue civil engineering, where she found herself as the lone female student in her class. Friends and family, bewildered by her choice, questioned her decision, dismissing civil engineering as a “man’s job.”
Even after graduating and securing a job in Mogadishu, Faduma continued to face criticism. People questioned her sanity, asking, “Are you crazy?” In a country where women comprise less than a third of the working population, as per the World Bank, many parents disapprove of their daughters working alongside men. However, societal attitudes are gradually changing.
Fathi Mohamed Abdi, 23, who has been working as an engineer in Mogadishu for three years, credits her parents for their unwavering support. They are “very happy” that she has become the first woman in her family to pursue this career. “No one had ever tried it,” she shares. Her parents began encouraging her during her studies, and that support has continued into her professional life. Fathi was one of only two women studying civil engineering at university, and her decision has proved rewarding.
Mogadishu’s construction sector is experiencing a boom, driven by increased investment and improved security resulting from a government-led military offensive against radical Shebab Islamists in the country’s central region. Fathi Mohamed Abdi emphasizes that this growth has opened up numerous job opportunities. However, challenges persist for women engineers, as they frequently encounter sexism in the workplace.
The women engineers interviewed by AFP reveal that they face disparaging attitudes and negative perceptions. They are constantly reminded that this profession is not suitable for women. Iftin Mohamed, a 26-year-old engineer, laments the rhetoric and biased opinions held against women engineers, expressing disappointment at such attitudes. She adds that workers become insubordinate when supervised by female engineers, as they perceive them as weaker compared to their male counterparts.
Furthermore, the issue of unequal pay exacerbates the challenges faced by women engineers. Iftin highlights the prevalent gender pay gap, stating that women are paid less than men in most cases, especially within private companies. Abukar Hussein Ibrahim, a bricklayer working under Fathi Mohamed Abdi and other female engineers, appreciates the opportunity to work with women. However, he acknowledges that many of his colleagues struggle to accept women in supervisory roles. They often express disbelief at the idea of a woman engineer overseeing their work, questioning why a woman was chosen over a man.
Nevertheless, Faduma Mohamed Ali sends a powerful message to those who doubt the presence and capabilities of women in engineering. She recently participated in a training course and was pleasantly surprised to find more than 100 girls in attendance. Such a sight was once rare, but she affirms that things are changing, and people must acclimate themselves to the growing number of women excelling in the field.
Somalia’s construction industry thrives in Mogadishu, women engineers like Faduma Mohamed Ali, Fathi Mohamed Abdi, and Iftin Mohamed continue to defy stereotypes, paving the way for more female representation in this male-dominated field. While societal challenges persist, progress is being made, with a growing acceptance of women engineers and a recognition of their invaluable contributions to Somalia’s development.