Women and engineering | Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan

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With increasing involvement of technology in the running of a nation, the role of an engineer has become more important and pronounced. Science and technology have become bywords for the progress of nations, but women have very little participation in this field. However, for scientific progress to be meaningful, opportunities should be open to all those with talent, without any discrimination of class, colour, creed or gender.

The number of women among our scientists and engineers is abysmally low. This is because we live in a country where the general rate of literacy is around 30-35 percent and where the rate of female literacy is even lower. Gender inequality exists worldwide but the situation is far worse in our society.

There are several factors that affect the participation of females in any profession. These include: social acceptance (or lack thereof) of that particular profession, family pressure at the time of career selection, discrimination during studies and at places of work, fewer job opportunities and encouragement by women already in the field. All these issues are of critical nature and merit our urgent attention.

There is also the feeling that investing in women’s education or jobs is wasteful as most of them leave the field to take care of their families and that funds would be better utilised in providing opportunities to men who would stay in the field for a longer duration. Let me state my firm belief that being a woman in no way serves as a barricade in the field of engineering. In the modern world, engineering is not solely about getting in the field and getting your hands dirty. With time, technology and advancements made, it is now possible to sit at home and communicate with the world. Modern means of communication have created the concept of a global village. As a result, there has been a restructuring, in recent times, in the nature of jobs available to women. A job environment that will allow a woman to comfortably blend her professional and personal life can now be chosen. This can be done without impairing the growth of the organisation she works for.

Pakistan is a developing nation and it is no longer possible to leave half our population out of our development process. It is no longer a matter of choice. Economic realities make this an imperative issue – one to be dealt with immediately. Women’s contributions in scientific fields do not correspond to their capabilities and potential. The engineering field in particular lacks women’s participation. There is no reason why they should not prove their talent in the engineering sciences, especially when they are as intelligent and innovative as their male counterparts. We have to raise awareness through mass media campaigns about the importance of women’s contributions in the field of engineering sciences and technology.

The enrolment of girls in educational institutions should be increased by giving them incentives such as scholarships to defray the costs incurred to their parents. Women have all the potential to outperform men. All they have to do is be more assertive in demanding recognition of their efforts. Women have played a remarkable role in shaping the destiny of nations. Our religion and culture also encourage women to participate in all fields of life.

The role of science and technology in the progress of mankind cannot be over-emphasised. In fact, history has just been another name for the scientific evolution human society has gone through. It transformed society from a prehistoric, matriarchal one to an agrarian one which when hit by the industrial revolution gave way to present-day modernism. Now we have reached the doorstep of the information revolution that has taken over the world. Throughout these stages there is little gainsaying the fact that only science and technology proved to be the two agents of change and harbingers of modification. Unfortunately, we are not fully utilising the talents of our female population in this process.

All this clearly demonstrates that no strategy for progress and prosperity can be thought of unless it is envisioned, tailored and then executed by employing science and technology. However, it is ironic to see that, throughout the Muslim world, science and technology have never hit the priority list of our policymakers. Although many leaders in the Muslim world find it attractive to mention their commitment to science and technology, it has, by and large, remained mere lip service for the sake of political expediency. The spirit and commitment to actually achieving that has always been missing.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that, despite possessing an immense pool of resources (including qualified women), the Ummah by and large is still waiting for the fruits of technological revolution. An efficient education system, dearth of research and lack of infrastructure have all joined hands to block our march towards progress. Disappointing literacy rates, lack of employment opportunities and economic catastrophes are, unfortunately, all too familiar to us, which, in turn, have affected the participation of women scientists in our national development.

Industries can play a vital role in solving the crucial issue of women’s participation. If they can change their way of thinking and be a little more accommodating in hiring and retaining women engineers, the rate of female employment in this sector will surely increase. If industries make a conscious effort to look into and solve the problems faced by women in this profession, they will assist in taking our nation one step further on the road to success and development.

There is no reason why women, possessing all the required attributes and intelligence, should not come forward and play their role in the field of engineering. What we need to do is to make women more aware of the benefits of acquiring an engineering education and highlight the role they can play in the development of mankind in general and our nation in particular. While in charge of Kahuta, I had specifically employed and encouraged many young female professionals to contribute to our important work.