“Why are you wasting your time and money on engineering? All you’ll ever be is a housewife,” said one discouraging voice. Another spoke softly, “You poor soul, engineering isn’t for women.” A professor in my first year of engineering studies said on multiple occasions that she didn’t want to ‘waste’ a lot of time trying to explain complex engineering concepts to us on the grounds that they were far too ‘technical’ for girls.
In my experience as a female engineering student in Pakistan, I have found that the gender bias still exists in the discouraging attitudes towards girls in engineering.
In a country where a little over 50% of the population is female, it’s crucial for women to shape our country’s future in the engineering industry alongside men. Sure, there are working women with a background in engineering in Pakistan; but the male-to-female ratio in this field is unsatisfactory. It hurts our nation socially and economically to have such a large portion of our population not contribute to its development.
The government, and NGOs such as Women Engineers Pakistan, are working to help women in engineering and encourage young girls to pursue their dreams of being STEM students. In addition, Girls in ICT Day events have been taking place in many schools and colleges around Pakistan to help girls get involved in careers in ICTs.
Most notable is the work of Anusha Rehman Khan, our Minister of State for IT and Telecommunications. As a result of her efforts, the IT Ministry partnered with Microsoft Corporation to introduce a programme called ‘ICTs for Girls’ which launched 50 ICT labs all over the country for the education and empowerment of women. Minister Khan was recognized as the GEM-TECH Award Global Achiever 2015 award by ITU and UN Women last November, and has just joined the UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development.
Likewise, the organization ‘Women Engineers in Pakistan’ has been focusing on career counselling for young girls, as well as a forum of support, working to provide job prospects to women in the field of engineering.
Lastly, we are seeing more Girls in ICT Day events in Islamabad, such as the Computer Logic Competition held at Al Farabi School and College which gave prizes to winning projects in coding and knowledge platforms.
The Pakistani government is constantly working on providing more chances to girls in engineering, while women’s empowerment organizations are working to change the mindset of the people and are helping young girls pursue engineering careers. The way I see it, both movements are equally important for the economic and social development of our country. I truly hope that our generation of female engineers will pave the way for a Pakistan where women stand shoulder to shoulder with men in STEM fields.
NOTE FROM ITU: The GEM-TECH Awards, a joint ITU/UN Women prize, recognize outstanding efforts in using the power of information and communication technology (ICT) to empower women and girls. Nominations for the 2016 GEM-TECH Awards are now open until August 15, 2016.
Erum Irfan is a third year engineering student from Pakistan. She’s majoring in Telecommunications and is currently Editor-in-Chief of her department’s official magazine.