09 March 2021
Two Iraqi women are working as engineers in Iraq's oil industry to help develop their country's economy.
Zainab Amjad is a 24-year-old engineer who works on an oil rig for six weeks at a time. The rig is where companies drill deep into the ground to look for oil.
Amjad said she is often asked what she is doing in the oil fields.
"They tell me the field environment only men can withstand," said Amjad. "If I gave up, I'd prove them right."
Ayat Rawthan is a 24-year-old engineer working in another oil rig in Basra. She supervises a team that prepares large drill pipes used to collect information about rock formations.
Most women who are petroleum engineers in Iraq work in an office. Instead, Amjad and Rawthan chose to work in the oil fields. These are not usual jobs for women from conservative communities.
Petrochemical programs in the country's engineering schools are for students with the best grades. Both women were in the top 5 percent of their graduating class at Basra University in 2018. They are part of a new generation of Iraqi women who are going against tribal traditions.
"Many times my professors laughed, ‘Sure, we'll see you out there,' telling me I wouldn't be able to make it," said Rawthan. "But this only pushed me harder."
Rawthan's parents supported and understood her interests. She hopes to help establish a labor rights group for Iraqi female engineers in the future.
The oil industry is an important source of income for the government in Iraq. It supports the country's development after years of conflict.
Amjad is the daughter of two doctors. She knew she had to work for an international oil company because state-owned companies would only permit her to work in an office.
"In my free time, on my vacations, days off I was booking trainings, signing up for any program I could," said Amjad.
Amjad first worked for China Petroleum Engineering & Construction Corporation and later for the U.S.-based Schlumberger company as an engineer. She passed one difficult test after another. Asked if she was sure she could do the job, she said: "Hire me, watch."
Rawthan, too, knew she would have to work extra hard to succeed. Once, when her team had to perform a difficult task, she stayed awake all night.
"I didn't sleep for 24 hours, I wanted to understand the whole process, all the tools, from beginning to end," she said.
Rawthan now works for Schlumberger where she collects information from oil wells. She wants to learn drilling and the company is a worldwide leader in the service.
Not only have Amjad and Rawthan faced inequality within the industry, they also face ongoing protests by local tribes and violence toward oil workers. But the two women are willing to take on difficulties, such as state corruption, poor services and high unemployment.
Amjad said she has little time to even consider these difficulties, for even at night she is often working.
The "drilling never stops," she said.
I'm Armen Kassabian.
Samya Kullab from the Associated Press reported this story. Armen Kassabian adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
Words in This Story
rig – n. equipment or machinery that is used for a particular purpose
drill – n. a tool used for making holes in hard substances
withstand – v. to not be harmed or affected by something
petroleum – n. kind of oil that comes from below the ground and that is the source of gasoline and other products
graduate –v. to earn a degree or diploma from a school, college or university
source –n. a place where something comes from
book –v. to make plans so that you will be able to use or have something in the future
hire – v. to give work or a job to someone