Having become friends after enrolling on a four-year bachelor’s degree programme in marine engineering they are also blazing a new trail for women’s education in Oman, and the Middle East.
“Even in western countries there are not so many women engineers, so I feel privileged to have this opportunity. I enjoy the freedom it gives me and I want other women to follow in my footsteps,” says Mir, who like Hajar, is one of a hundreds of women to have graduated from the college earlier this year.
Having been ranked second in a poll on women’s rights in the Middle East in 2013, Oman is certainly no stranger to promoting the rights of its female population. It ratified the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Treaty in 2006, though there are some remaining issues surrounding the adoption of the treaty and conformity with Islamic Law. However, while 29 percent of the Gulf state’s 1.3 million women are employed, securing a career in engineering is still far from straightforward.
According to an article published in the Times of Oman, there are no discriminatory provisions in the Oman Labour Law as pertaining to the employment of women. Nevertheless, there are restrictions in place to avoid ‘problems’ and ‘complications’ when it comes to hiring women in certain industries and locations. In the case of female engineers, it remains the responsibility of the prospective employer to convince the Ministry of Manpower of the necessity of appointing a female engineer. Only when the ministry is convinced, will it issue clearances, and even then there is no guarantee of appointment.
Despite these obstacles, Mir and Hajar have already secured placements in the industry – a testament to their fine standing within their cohorts and the strong networks that the college has built over nine highly successful years. With students able to choose from courses in Marine Engineering, Process Operational Technology, Port Shipment and Transport Management, and Maritime Studies, they are also part of a generation of women who are slowly turning the tables in terms of tertiary education in the Gulf.
The same can be said of Oman, where female literacy rates are in line with the global average, and where school life expectancy for women is at least 11 years. Yet, while 28 percent enrolment in tertiary education is respectable for the Middle East, Mir and Hajar are still in the minority, although this is something Head of Maritime Department at IMCO, Patrick Wells, said is definitely changing.
“We have around 1,700 students at the moment and we fully expect that to grow to 2,000 when our new students join us in September. An increasing number of them will be young women who aspire to become leaders, and just like in other countries they are often among our best achievers,” he explains.
“Unlike Mir and Hajar, most of these women will choose to study process operational technology, port, shipping and transport management, or maritime studies. Regardless of what they study, our aim will be to nurture them and ensure they get the support they need to survive in a highly demanding industry.
“It can be quite a culture shock for some of our students, but our drop-out rate is very low,” he adds. As the only education and training institute in the GCC region to offer diplomas, degree programmes, and short courses to both male and female students seeking to gain entry into maritime, shipping, port, transport, and petrochemical industries, IMCO receives fee paying and government sponsored students.
However, while both Mir and Hajar received government scholarships to study at the school, their lives before could not have been more different. Sitting side by side, Mir describes her longheld passion for horse riding in the nation’s capital and home to 1.2 million people, Muscat. Hajar on the other hand, says she likes spending time in her garden in the small village where her family raise their livestock.
“I am from a small village and enjoy relaxing in my garden. It was definitely hard to make the adjustment when I moved to the city and I feel like I only survived because of the support I received from my father. He believes in me and that makes me want to be successful,” says Hajar, who comes from Al Rustaq.
IMCO Head Mr Wells says Hajar’s experience is not unique and puts it down to the change in education culture, from the national set-up to a more European style that benefits from the strong Dutch influence present in the region since Port of Rotterdam embarked on a joint venture with the adjacent SOHAR Port and Freezone in 2002. But, he says, this change is vital if graduates are to compete globally.