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Qatar tribune

Lani Rose R Dizon

Qatar Women Engineers Association (QWEA), a non-profit organisation under Qatar Society of Engineers (QSE), seeks to empower, inspire, and encourage women in the field, the group’s Founder and Vice Chairperson Abeer Buhelaiqa told Qatar Tribune in an interview.

To date, women in the Middle East are breaking through the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) ceiling, but the growing number of female STEM graduates is yet to be translated in the actual workplace with various industries such as the engineering sector remaining to be inundated with gender gap issues both regionally and globally.

A New York Times article pointed out that women in the Middle East earn more science and math degrees per capita than their counterparts in the United States and Europe; with women making up about 57 percent of all STEM graduates in Arab countries.

In fact, women also account for 51.6 percent of all undergraduate engineers at Texas A&M University at Qatar, which is more than double the US national average of 23.4 percent.

However, not all female STEM graduates pursue careers in STEM fields. Across OECD countries, 71 percent of male STEM graduates work as professionals in STEM fields, compared with only 43 percent of female graduates, according to a study.

Buhelaiqa said, “In Qatar, you can see the progression of women. There is usually a good number of women at the entry level, but the number decreases as they move on to higher positions”.

At a time when she was still pursuing her master’s degree in Women, Society, and Development, Buhelaiqa went deeper into the study of Qatari women leadership in engineering as part of her thesis.

“One of the recommendations from my thesis was to found a group of women engineers based in Qatar to highlight those women and empower the professional engineers in this industry,” she said.

Since its inception in 2020, the QWEA has now grown into a group of around 300 women engineers from different nationalities and disciplines.

Buhelaiqa said, “For the past 12 years, I learned that one drop wouldn’t break that wall. But strength actually comes with the other drops that follow. This is also one of the reasons why we wanted to have this association, because some people in the community are still not aware about what the women engineers are doing here in Qatar and what achievements they have.

“So we wanted to show the community that we have a lot of women engineers. The majority come from oil and gas, but we have many from telecom and construction sectors as well. We have also seen a growing number in aviation, and it is promising to see a lot of members going in that area. We also have Qatari women engineers who participated in the design and construction of FIFA World Cup stadiums. We didn’t know about all this information before until we started the association, and they showed up,” she added.

How do ladies from the group encourage and inspire one another? Buhelaiqa remarked, “When one of the members posts her picture and shares her achievement, other ladies will also be encouraged to share their achievements in different industries. That’s how we hear about each other’s stories, encourage one another and support each other. It’s really important to keep this going, not only to encourage the young ones, but also to empower ourselves”.

Buhelaiqa noted that the group is fortunate to have the support of male figures from the industry and have allies such as the QSE and the Qatar Scientific Club in bringing engineering closer to the students, particularly young girls during the group’s school visitations.

She said, “Even parents were asking us how it’s like to be a woman engineer. Some of them told us ‘My daughter wants to be an engineer, but I’m still afraid for her to go into the site, to participate in a male dominated job’. Because most of us board members have experience working in the field, we share that knowledge, that here, Qatar provides the best environment for ladies.

“The main target is to serve the community as well as encourage women engineers through trainings and meetings with the experts, where they also learn to improve their communication skills, and learn team work and other soft skills which may not be really technical but many of those women are still struggling with. Two years ago, we started holding our woman achievement awards where we recognize the achievements of women engineers in Qatar and we’re planning to do this again this year,” Buhelaiqa added.

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