Meet Mandy: A Palestinian Engineer in Gaza
In light of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, engineer Mandy Abu Kombouz talks to us about her life as a female engineer in Gaza.
Standing before the school in a white hard hat and orange safety vest, Mandy Abu Kombouz is 27 years old, veiled, proud, and the only female Palestinian engineer on one of USAID and Anera’s project sites in Gaza.
Mandy’s current project is the Rosary Sisters’ School in Gaza, a private school that was established in 1994. Mandy, who serves as the safety/ office engineer, says this may be one of the most important projects she has ever worked on. “I am setting an example for these young female students.”
Mandy always challenged preconceived, stereotypical gender roles. “When I first entered the workforce, my male counterparts would not take me seriously or would not come to me for work related issues.
“Now, five years [of engineering experience] down the line, I proved myself and I have a voice at my project sites.” She says making it to the top was “arduous,” but “staying there is the challenge.”
Stopping in midsentence, Mandy reflects on the “old days.” Getting a degree in civil engineering was one thing, however, breaking through the barriers and the frowns were another. Some members of Gaza’s society frown upon what they consider to be a ‘woman trying to do a man’s job.’
“When I first announced I wanted to take up a career in civil engineering after studying medicine for one-year, my family supported me, but my friends and neighbors all told me this isn’t a profession for a woman.
“‘Be a doctor’, they would say, like the rest of your siblings. ‘How can you work with all male colleagues? And on project sites?’”
When they saw she wouldn’t let go of engineering, Mandy tells us, friends, relatives, and even store clerks advised her to become an architect ‘because it’s an office job and more suitable for a woman.’ Her polite response would be to smile and nod. She didn’t listen to them because she knew it was now or never.
“It was my time to break down the barriers and the bias and do what women should always do. I was determined to show everyone that they are wrong and women are equal, just as capable, and can be just as good or even better,” Abu Kombouz says.
Even though we are moving in the right direction in Gaza and have made significant impact in male-dominated industries, Mandy explains, we still have a long way to go. Although we are seeing more and more women challenging the segregation of professions, some fields are still considered male professions, like IT, technology and engineering. We need to always remind ourselves that our gender does not define us or what we can do. We need to support each other and continue to challenge this notion by digging our way through society.
For Mandy Abu Kombouz, one of seven siblings of doctors, this project is ‘special and rewarding’ and is not just a new assignment. She’s on a mission with a purpose: to inspire the young female students at the school.
“When they see me, they stop and ask me about what I am doing because they usually don’t see female engineers,” she says beaming. She considers these young students her “driving force to reach my goals.”
She has a message for these female students, and women and girls in general: “Remember that a woman’s role in society is important, because let’s face it – there will be no society without women. You will never realize your full potential if you fall victim to the traditional roles our society forces upon us. Don’t listen to what anyone has to say, you listen to you because only you know what you want and what you can do, and only you can be the genuine change you want to see in the society.”
Currently, the Rosary School only receives fourth year students who want to pursue the science track in school. Due to the lack of space, seniors wishing to pursue the humanities track are forced to register at other schools. Anera, with funding from USAID, will construct an additional floor at the Rosary Sister’s School. The new floor will provide five new classrooms (25 students for each). Additionally, it will include administration and teacher’s rooms. And new restroom facilities will serve 125 female and male students each year and allow the students to continue their education at the school.
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