Saudi women proud of blue-collar jobs

A number of Saudi women have taken maintenance jobs at Princess Noura University in Riyadh

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A number of Saudi women have taken maintenance jobs at Princess Noura University in Riyadh. They are working as electricians, plumbers and other jobs and they are happy about what they are doing, Makkah daily reported on Sunday.

“We are working with love, passion and pride,” one of them told the newspaper.

Male workers are not allowed on the university campus during the day time and this gave Saudi women an opportunity to do these jobs.

“The maintenance work cannot wait for the men to come in the evening so we will be doing their work during the day hours,” said a Saudi female electrician.

She said they have become used to getting strange looks from some students and are taking this positively. “We are working in a good environment with good salaries and are providing a service to our society,” she said.

Haifa al-Fakeer, who studied sewing at the Vocational Institute, has swapped the threads and needles for screwdrivers and pliers to become a maintenance technician at the university.

“I did not heed society’s disapproving look or the sarcastic words from some students. I do my job with passion and love,” she said.

Al-Fakeer said her family supported her, especially as her job is not against norms or traditions and it provides her with a Halal (allowed) source of income.

“We need to do this work because male technicians cannot enter the university when the classes are going on and that there are some emergency matters that cannot wait for them until they come in the evening,” she said.

She said when she started work as an electrician she used to be scared of the electricity but with time she got used to it and is now dealing with it with no fear at all.

Al-Fakeer recalled that the chief engineer who supervised their training told them that any mistake at the main power transformers would turn their bodies into fragments and pieces.

“It was obvious that he wanted us to be more careful and vigilant. However, with time we have become used to dealing with the transformers without any fear,” she said.

She said her work was also reflected at home where she is now fixing any electric fault. “My husband was laughing at my job in the beginning but he is now looking at it with respect and is fully supporting me,” she said.

Al-Fakeer said some of her women colleagues are not equally proud of their work and they are hiding the nature of their jobs even from those who are very close to them. “Some of my colleagues gave up their work at the university because of the disapproving comments from members of society,” she said.

Ilham al-Sofayan said her father, who is an electrical engineer, taught her everything about his trade and she is now working as an electrician at the university. “On many occasions, a girl or two would get stuck in the lift. I had to fix the elevators to pull them out,” she said. “I cannot wait for the Civil Defense to come and do this work,” she added.

Al-Sofayyan admitted that her work does involve some risks but they are not very fearful. “Regardless of any hazards, I am now very comfortable with my job,” she said.

Hadeel Mohammed, a maintenance technician, is still worried about how society looks at her job. “Many people believe that maintenance work is only for men, not women,” she said.

She said she feels very embarrassed, especially when she does maintenance work in the toilets.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on March 10, 2014.