In recent years, Algerian women have broken men’s monopoly in engineering studies, a new international report says, but their reasons for challenging male domination in the sector are varied.
The proportion of female engineers in Algeria jumped from 35 percent in 2005 to 47.1 percent in 2017.
Algeria topped the list of female engineering graduates in the Arab countries that year, with 48.5 percent. Egypt was second highest, with 45.5 percent, followed by Tunisia (44.2 percent), Syria (43.9 percent), Oman (43.2 percent) and Morocco (42.2 percent), according to an excerpt from the forthcoming Unesco Science Report. The full report will be issued in April under the title “The Race Against Time for Smarter Development.”
A Leader in Women’s Education
“Given that the work environment consists mostly of male workers, it was not easy for women to work in this sector,” Karima Belsaihi, a professor of social sciences at the University of Constantine, said. “However, Algerian women have succeeded in that.”
Algeria is an Arab leader in terms of the percentage of women enrolled in universities overall. More than 60 percent of all students in the country are females, according to a recent study titled “The Empowerment of Arab Women” issued by the Arab Monetary Fund. (See a related article, “Behind the Numbers: Arab Women in Research.”)
Algeria has a total of 20 universities and institutes specialized in teaching engineering, with nearly 21,000 students. The most prestigious is the National Polytechnic School in El Harrach, a district of the capital, where more than 30 percent of the students are women.
It takes five years to study engineering in all its majors.
“I do not think the progress made by Algerian women in this field is surprising. Since the 1954 Liberation Revolution, women have had a large presence in public affairs. Like men, they work in engineering, public works and other fields.”Issa Zakrini
A member of the National Council of Architects in Algeria
“I do not think the progress made by Algerian women in this field is surprising,” said Issa Zakrini, a member of the National Council of Architects in Algeria.
“Since the 1954 Liberation Revolution, women have had a large presence in public affairs,” he added. “Like men, they work in engineering, public works, and other fields.”
Encouraging Financial Returns
Engineering students need to purchase expensive equipment, which can be a burden on lower- or middle-income families. Nevertheless, many women are encouraged by their relatives to join this discipline because of the high income professional engineers can earn.
“It is commonly believed that engineering can help you earn a lot of money, as you deal with mega projects and real estate institutions, both local and foreign,” said Zakrini.
He explained that Algeria witnessed a real estate boom more than ten years ago, when engineering offices were commissioned with big contracts, which changed the lives of many engineers. “That was the same period in which universities saw the influx of large numbers of students, men and women, to study the major,” he added.
Free Choice or Family Pressure?
Many female students say they enrolled in engineering studies under the influence of their parents.
Saliha Ben Touati, a third-year student at the Institute of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Batna 1, in eastern Algeria, is the daughter of an architect.
“My father encouraged me to enroll in the engineering college,” she said. “Of course, my exposure to his library of rich books in this field encouraged me a lot.”
Kenza Bara, a second-year architecture student at Ferhat Abbas University–Setif 1, admits that she did not enter the institute out of passion. Her father and other relatives instructed her to choose this major, she says, and she was forced to adapt in response to the family’s wishes.
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Still, Fahima Louati, who also studied engineering under her father’s guidance, thinks this major is very suitable for women. “Engineering depends on a lot of plastic arts, which need a feminine touch, and women find their passion in it,” she said.
Challenges in the Workplace
Moufida Boutouka, an engineering graduate, noted that in addition to the high tuition fees, joining the labor market is not easy.
“Running a private business in this field is very expensive,” she said. “Despite society’s acceptance of women’s work in this profession, many people are not suitable to bear the burdens of large projects, and some refuse to work under women’s supervision.”
But Sherif Daoudi, a construction worker for 25 years, rejected that idea and said he did not refuse to work under a woman.
“Five years ago, I did not encounter a woman engineer at work who supervised projects and workers,” he said. “Today, there are more than three female engineers who daily work on the residential projects I work in at the Tiner region of Setif, in eastern Algeria.”