She chose a battle against the constraints of traditions, suspicions and mockery to pursue her dream career in one of many fields still labeled as “a men-only zone” in Egyptian culture.
This year, Ingy Abdekarim, 24, became the first woman marine engineer to graduate from the Arab Academy of Science and Technology (AAST) in Egypt.
“The idea of a girl in this field freaked many people out and they started doubting my abilities,” Abdelkarim tells Egyptian Streets, as she recalls how she worked her way into what has been a male dominated industry for quite some time.
Abdelkarim has faced a multitude of obstacles from the moment she articulated her decision.
“The common remark was that I was wasting my time and meant to fail,” she said. Even her father, a captain himself and aware of the challenge, was not very welcoming of the idea and advised her to go to business school instead.
“My dad, today, introduces me to the people with a great sparkle in his eye and tells them ‘this is my daughter, the first [woman] marine engineer,’” she says proudly. Abdelkarim’s first step into the marine engineering field was met with an unexplained rejection, “for the mere fact that I am an Egyptian girl.”
She was denied the right to apply to the school of marine engineering simply because “no Egyptian girl has entered this field before and, therefore, no girl can.”
The antagonism turned her from a girl who simply wants to pursue something she loves to one who aspires to become a pioneer.
“I felt that I was fighting and standing alone and I knew I had to deal with the consequences,” she says.
After a two-year struggle, and with the help of the section head at AAST, she was finally given the green light to start pursuing her dream career.
However, Abdelkarim’s college life was no less of a challenge. While many of her professors would look at her with great pride and happiness, there were still many others who used to mock her and even ignore her presence.
The same went for her colleagues; even though she was able to gain the respect of most of them and to prove she was not the “delicate” girl who was meant to fail, there were always doubts in her capacities and chances to succeed.
“I heard it with my own ears: ‘You are a burden and we want to get rid of you,’” Abdelkarim recalls.
In addition to coping with her male colleagues, Abdelkarim held herself responsible for paving the way for other girls to follow her lead, if they wish.
She was determined not to let down those whom she had challenged, by “putting limits for everyone and not causing any problems” that could by any means fall back on the presence of a woman among 30 male classmates.
According to Abdelkarim, she did manage to leave behind an honorable image and to gain the respect of her colleagues who granted her the title of “Engineer Ingy” when addressing her early on.
Rising up to yet another challenge, Abdelkarim entered the white cage one semester before her graduation. And hereafter, her challenging career in a male dominated industry and her family life as a married woman kicked off all at once, on a mission to prove that an Egyptian woman can indeed do it all.
Luckily, Abdelkarim’s career kick-off was less tiresome than the onset of her path.
“It was very easy because simply I was able to enter a field that no girl has entered before me and I was able to cope,” she says, establishing that she was welcomed at any job.
Abdelkarim says she was bluntly told to “go peel potatoes in the kitchen, as any girl should do” and now manages to balance her household duties with the pursuit of her career – “nothing at the expense of the other.”
According to Egypt’s first woman marine engineer, her job is not something impossible for women to do, because “the most important in the field is the personality, and not the muscles.”
“I will continue my masters and I will enter this field and develop it in the country,” Abdelkarim pledges, determined to start her own business one day and to keep going despite the obstacles.
“As long as I entered a war determined to prove something, I will prove it, whether they accept me or not,” she says, maintaining, “Any girl in the world has the right to do what she loves.”
Abdelkarim urges every Egyptian girl to arm herself with “an unbelievable amount of patience and will” in order to pursue her dreams and career choices.
“Don’t give anyone the opportunity to determine your future just because you are a girl … and do not let anyone break you,” says Egypt’s first marine engineer, encouraging every girl to become her own source of support and strength and not to wait for advocacy from anyone.
“Raise your girls right … Teach them that they are not a shame and that they are not weak … And empower yourselves,” Abdelkarim urges.