USAID Helping Young Palestinian Women Make Inroads into Male Dominated Fields
Submitted by David Kahrman, USAID Mission to the West Bank and Gaza

Like other students in the West Bank, Heba (23) and Nagham (17) saw the courses supported by USAID’s Technical and Vocational Education and Training Program as excellent opportunities to prepare for careers in their chosen fields. What makes Heba and Nagham unique are the fields they decided to pursue: Heba chose cellular phone servicing, while Nagham chose auto repair. Two professions which see precious few female faces the world over—even less so in traditional Palestinian culture.

Nagham pulls the plug on gender stereotypes. Photo: Save the Children

Heba, from a small and underdeveloped village northwest of Ramallah, finished her courses at  the Lutheran World Federation School in Jerusalem, a partner institution of  USAID’s Program and went on to become the West Bank’s first female cellular phone technician. After working for a few smaller companies, Heba was quickly recruited by Vodaphone where she is now the Head of the Department of Maintenance and Sales at the company’s local headquarters in Ramallah.

Meanwhile, Nagham is pursuing her studies in auto repair at another USAID supported school, the Hisham Hijjawi College of Technology in the West Bank city of Nablus.  At only 17 years of age, Nagham became the first woman to enroll in the “Autotronics” course where she is learning how to service and repair the complicated wiring that keeps cars running smoothly. Thanks to USAID support, Nagham is getting plenty of hands-on experience that she’ll be able to apply in the real world of auto repair.

As pioneers in their fields, both are confident that even though they are testing new waters, they will succeed.  At first, customers were wary, says Heba, “condescending looks and judgments continued for some time, but eventually, once people discovered my abilities, they would return and refer even more clients to me.” Heba says that her female customers hold her in especially high esteem—as they are proud to see a young woman like themselves working in a traditionally male-dominated field. With the same drive and entrepreneurial spirit that saw her pursuing a career in a field usually dominated by men, Heba has set her sights on becoming her own boss by opening a cellular phone repair center in her home town.

As for Nagham, she is still studying but is convinced that with the growing number of women drivers in the West Bank, she will have plenty of future customers. Nagham is pretty sure that many women will feel more comfortable going to a woman when their cars are in need of service.

So, if you happen to be in the West Bank and your phone stops working or your car breaks down, get in touch with USAID—we can point you to two women who should be able to help you out!

The Technical and Vocational Education and Training Program is being implemented in partnership with Save the Children.