Groundbreaking project showcases women’s achievements in a male-dominated industry.
The ruins of Kabul’s once grand Darulaman Palace, devastated by decades of war, have long been an iconic sight in the capital. An ambitious Afghan-led 16 million US dollar reconstruction project agreed in May 2016 aims to both restore the palace built by King Amanullah Khan in the 1920s and turn it into a symbol of regeneration rather than conflict.
But for the 27 female engineers working on the restoration, the Palace project is also a statement of just what women can achieve in their male-dominated field.
“On one hand, working at this palace boosts our self-confidence and on the other, it’s a good example for other women too,” said engineering graduate Masooma Dilijan, who has been employed at the Darulaman project for the last year.
“It’s been the best experience of my life to work on such a historic site,” she continued, adding, “All the facilities we need have been taken into consideration; for example, our working atmosphere, our security, the proper behaviour of male workers towards their female colleagues and more.”
“I am so happy to work in this project,” agreed Wazhma Khoram, another civil engineer. “The role of women in this project may seem merely symbolic to people, but it’s not true. In fact, women are playing a vital role in the reconstruction of this historic palace.”
This wasn’t about seeking financial gain, she continued.
“We don’t get any special bonuses for working on this project: the benefits we receive are similar to those of an ordinary worker at the urban development and housing ministry.”
According to the ministry of urban development and housing, 1,047 engineers were currently working on ten urban development projects implemented across in Afghanistan.
Of these, 105 engineers were women, engaged mostly in engineering, architecture and management.
“The number of female engineers now working in the field has increased compared to past years,” ministry spokeswoman Nelofar Langar said, explaining that the women working at the Darulaman palace mostly focused on design rather than implementation.
Zakia Wardak, who heads the Engineering Society of Afghan Women, said that the government needed to actively promote and support female engineers.
“We had a meeting with the first lady Lora Ghani last year and we asked her to consider allocating a special budget for businesswomen,” Wardak said.
The society was established to help newly-qualified female engineers find work, and Wardak said that she had also managed to send some young graduates for further study at foreign institutions for further training between 2014 and 2016.
Nonetheless, membership had fallen, she continued. From 90 members in 2013, there were now only 35, which Zakia attributed to their difficulty finding work for their members.
She said that payment was so low that it was very hard to find a worthwhile project.
“I don’t have any problems getting a business license, but it is difficult to get projects nowadays,” she said. “Even some projects that are allocated for women by some ministries are given at very low cost.”