I was 13 when I asked my father for the first time if I could leave Lebanon and go to France to pursue my education. At the time, I was at a disadvantage for the mere fact of being a woman. Growing up, I was bullied for being too smart for a girl or too strong for a girl. I felt like I was a stranger in my own country. People around me have already lost hope that Lebanon can ever be an incubator of the youth's ambitions. A feeling many did not hesitate to share with me when I applied to study Architecture. I wanted to leave the country at any cost and so do many young women in Lebanon.
At 23, I am still in Lebanon and my ambitions have only grown bigger. In fact, I am a founding member of Architects for Change, a non-profit organization focused on nurturing the next generation of architects and harnessing their talent.
In Lebanon,females make up 54 per cent of all university students but only 26 per cent end up joining the labour force upon graduation. Career opportunities are rather limited especially when you add gender to the mix. Therefore, securing a job in fields historically dominated by males is a complex task. According to a study conducted by Saint Joseph University in 2013, women comprise 42 per cent of total Lebanese migrants with the highest rate of migration coming from engineering graduates and professionals (37 per cent).
Why do female engineers migrate and leave their country behind?
It is true that women in engineering share the same prejudices across the world. However, the MENA region is very distinct given the legal, socio-economic challenges it sets up women for.
For instance, the International Society for Optics and Photonics 2013 global salary report states that on average Lebanese men are paid 36 per cent higher than women for doing the same job. This is by far the widest salary gap between genders in the Middle East. To put it simply, women in Lebanon migrate in the pursuit of equal job opportunities and benefits.
The biggest pushbacks female engineers receive come from the environments they work in. Their ability to do the job often comes into question by their male colleagues and society. For girls with big dreams, the answer is looking outward for better career prospects and seamless inclusion in the labour force.
But what Middle Eastern women do not know is that women in engineering globally suffer the same stereotypes and glass ceiling policies. However, we should not fall into the trap of running away from the real problem. We define who we are and what we want to become.
I believe that every woman has the right to equal opportunities in her home country. Small steps can effect change in the lives of people around us and others who will walk similar paths.
In an interview that I did with Anastasia Elrouss, Co-Founder of Beirut- based architects YTAA, I told her how I felt it was unfair that women have to work twice as hard as men to achieve the same goal. I share her words that inspired me deeply, with you: "We work twice as much, we discover twice as much, we venture more and evolve faster."
By Ramona Abdallah, G(irls)20 Delegate, MENA
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