Pipe Dreams: Female Plumbers in the Middle East
Women across the Middle East are becoming plumbers and even conservative governments are supporting them.
February 14, 2017When Umm Bassem told her son about her new job, he was so ashamed he threatened to change his name. But the trailblazing 61-year-old divorcee persisted, and has become famous as Egypt’s first female plumber.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, women are following Umm Bassem’s lead and bursting into the male-dominated profession. In Jordan, 30 female graduates of a plumbing program were surprised by the success of their independent plumbing services and so decided to join together to form a collective enterprise, moving to Amman where there is more business.
Recognizing the program’s success, the Jordanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation announced plans to found a government center that will train female plumbers. Even in Saudi Arabia, 33 graduates from the country’s first electrical and plumbing skills course for women at the Princess Noura University will be employed in various ministries, schools, and hospitals across the country.
Beyond the economic benefits of having more women at work, there are more subtle benefits to having female service providers in conservative societies. When women are at home alone, many feel it would be inappropriate to have a male visitor, but a female plumber raises no eyebrows. And in countries that are seeking to educate on the importance of conserving water, women can effectively teach other women how to save water as they do chores, and to monitor valves for leaks.
Most female plumbers talk about something more mundane: their work allows them to provide for their families. That isn’t a cause for shame at all.
This piece is a part of Mezze, a monthly short article series spotlighting societal trends across the region. It originally appeared in the Middle East Program's monthly newsletter, Middle East Notes and Comment. For more information and to receive our mailings, please contact the Middle East Program.