Women engineering hope as Mosul rebuilds

Mar 8, 2018

Students in one of Mosul University's College of Engineering lecture halls during a discussion with UNDP staff. Photo: Sam Kimball/UNDP Iraq/2018

By Sam Kimball, Communications Specialist, UNDP Iraq.

During the battle for Mosul with ISIL, much of Mosul’s basic infrastructure and services were destroyed, and almost 1 million Moslawis were displaced. Upon returning to their communities, Iraqis have found burned buildings, collapsed roofs, smashed windows, broken doors, walls pierced with bullet holes. The destruction is not only a practical obstacle; for many Iraqis, it is a reminder of their immense suffering over the past years and makes it difficult to have hope in the future of a post-ISIL Iraq.

UNDP’s Funding Facility for Stabilization (FFS) supports the Government of Iraq to rehabilitate public infrastructure and facilitate returns as quickly as possible, and it employs more than thirty engineers in Mosul alone to oversee and advise reconstruction projects.  

Engineers are key to restoring hope. In a meeting with UNDP’s FFS, students of Mosul University’s College of Engineering, mostly women, spoke about the challenges they face getting the education they need, the prospects of finding work after school, and the struggle women face pursuing a career in engineering. After much of the university’s equipment was stolen by ISIL fighters or destroyed in the fighting, and with facilities in disrepair, the challenges are severe.

But despite the need for engineers in Mosul, many of the women at Mosul University are pessimistic that they’ll find work.

Nour Zuhair, 23, from the department of computer and electronic engineering, pined for the days before the ISIL occupation when the quality of education was better and prospects seemed brighter. She said, “In the year that I studied here before Daesh (an Arabic acronym for ISIL) took over, we learned so many things. The teachers were great. We knew what it meant to be an engineer.”

But those times have changed, and that change falls hardest on women. Asmaa Miz’al, 24, said women take the brunt of the problems faced in Mosul, and it makes it near impossible to pursue meaningful work in engineering-work which can rebuild their country.

“We were in a besieged city: no gas, no fuel, even food was running low. How does the family survive? The woman has to clean the house, get food to her kids, make sure they don’t go out and get hurt.”

“If a job comes for a bridge, would you take it?,” Miz’al asked her classmate. “But the head of the company needs you on the [work] site at 3 o’clock in the morning. Will he give you the job?” she asked, referring to the communal pressures in Mosul for women to remain in the home at night.

UNDP IQ - Students from Mosul University in front of the electrical engineering building.20180308Students from Mosul University in front of the electrical engineering building after speaking with UNDP staff. Photo: Sam Kimball/UNDP Iraq/2018

Hiba Maouloud Suliman, an engineer from Mosul working on an FFS-supported project to rebuild a dormitory and women’s education building on the Mosul University campus, said she believes heads of engineering firms are more likely to employ men because they have fewer restrictions to deal with.

“Officially, in a government job,” she said, “there are no limits on women in the profession. And we have companies that work to 2pm, like most government companies. No problem there. But many work late into the night.”
Suliman explained that there are pressures on women engineers not to stay out after dark and as a result, “Firm owners are benefitting more from employing male employees than women.”

For other women engineers, the prospects of employment are limited not just by social conservativism, but by real danger to women on the streets alone. Dhafar Ghirar, one of the engineering students, said that her family was happy for her to work, but with the unstable security situation in Mosul after liberation, they feared for her safety. “I got work with an organization. My family had no problem with this. The pay was really good. But they said ‘I’m afraid that someone will harm you. You’re going to far away places, to the other side [of the city], there are [IDP] camps. Maybe someone could put you in danger.’ They’re not saying that, ‘You’re a girl, that’s not allowed.’”

Things are getting better overall for women engineers in Mosul. During the nearly three years of ISIL rule over Mosul, women were not allowed to work at all. Yet since liberation, work has poured in and the need is high.

“We have foreign NGOs coming to support us. And I’ve met with businessmen who come to our office to ask about which projects to invest in.”

Because of this, Suliman thinks there will be greater opportunities to help in rebuilding Mosul for the women coming out of Mosul University—like Miz’al, Zuhair and Ghirar-very soon.

“I am optimistic,” she said. “There is life after death. We have to cross out of this period of destruction. We have to continue.” FFS’ broader goal is to help give Iraqis a sense of forward momentum and confidence in the leading role of the Government. FFS is operational in 28 towns and cities across Iraq. To date, more than 19,000 projects valued at over US$600 million are completed or under implementation in a range of sectors, including water, electricity, sewage, education, and health.

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