MEA launches survey on women in architecture in the Middle East
This month, Middle East Architect’s interview feature is with award-winning Palestinian architect, author and community leader Suad Amiry, who recently won Tamayouz Excellence Award’s Woman of Outstanding Achievement Award for women in architecture and construction in the MENA region.
Founder of Riwaq Centre for Architectural Conservation, Amiry, who since retired from the practice’s directorship and appointed Shatha Safi and Khaldun Bshara to jointly take her place, discussed the role of women in the company.
“When I stepped down, I made two requests,” she said. “The first was that there would always be two directors of Riwaq so that no one has the upper hand in the organisation. The second was that it would either be two women or a man and a woman, but never two men.
“The role of women in Riwaq is very important. I taught architecture in Jordan and at Birzeit University in Palestine and I would say 60 to 70 percent were women, but when we go into the real world and begin to work, all of a sudden, we disappear… So for me, it is important that we hire women to prove that even this – one of the toughest jobs – can be done by women.”
Amiry’s notions of the diminishing presence of female architects once they enter the workplace is part of a much larger conversation. Last year, during a roundtable with architects from regional architecture and engineering firm La Casa, Hiba Jaber, lead structural engineer, shared her experience, noting that sexism towards women on construction sites is prevalent in the region, and discourages or prevents female architects from taking active roles in projects.
“I had been invited to participate in an event for women in engineering, although I had generally been against events specifically for women,” she said. “But when I started working, I realised women face a lot of sexism in the office and on sites, and when I discussed my experiences at the event, I found a lot of women in the audience nodding along. Many also sent me emails afterwards expressing similar stories.”
According to Jaber, male counterparts are welcomed to work on site immediately upon entering their role, while women face a number of difficulties that actively hold them back.
“As a woman, you end up working in the office and it can be months before you even step foot on site,” she said. “Something else I find is that companies don’t put their female staff in the spotlight. This can happen when they are contacted by a publication, for example.”
While there is little statistical data about women architects in the Middle East and their experiences facing gender discrimination, the Architectural Review conducted a 77-question online survey in 2017, which was completed by 1,277 women and 340 men. Providing insights relating to in-work experiences and out-of-work responsibilities from architects in the UK, North America, Australia and New Zealand, and Europe, the survey found that roughly one in seven women who participated experience unwanted conduct relating to their gender that “causes a distressing, humiliating or offensive environment”.
The survey also found that while only three percent of the men polled experienced sexual discrimination in the previous year, women numbered at 32 percent.
“Among women reporting sexual discrimination and bullying, it is overwhelmingly perpetrated by a man or men (83%),” the survey concluded. “While men are also largely cited as the source of bullying (58%), it is notable that four in 10 of those who experienced bullying in the last year say they were bullied by women. The most likely perpetrator is the boss or bosses, named in roughly half of incidents, while peers are named by a third of victims. Clients are also named by more than a third of victims of sexual discrimination, and several women describe being ignored by them.”
Middle East Architect has launched its own survey, which can be found here. Please take it if you're a female architect working within the Middle East. The results will be completely anonymous.
We're also interested in hearing from you about sexism in the workplace in the Middle East and we would love to receive your first-hand accounts. Please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.