Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1402, (19 - 25 July 2018)
Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Issue 1402, (19 - 25 July 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Welding misconceptions

Mai Samih talks to one young woman who surmounted formidable obstacles to achieve success in a male-dominated working environment

photos: Mohamed Hassanein

Working in petroleum in the desert and welding pipes underwater can be difficult and risky jobs for men to take up. However, one young woman decided that women should also have a go, helping to change gender stereotypes.

Bassant Al-Bestawi, 26, works as a petroleum and mining engineer and underwater welding and commercial diving instructor and is the first woman to work in these fields in the Middle East. She is also the first and only female International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA) Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) pilot in the region.

photos: Mohamed Hassanein

“I graduated from the Faculty of Engineering, petroleum and mining department, in Cairo, specialising in metals and materials. Petroleum is extracted from the sea or the desert, so welding the pipes of the petroleum and natural gas installations and maintenance at extraction stations is originally my field,” Al-Bestawi explained.

“However, as a petroleum engineer I could not work underwater unless I had some background about diving. So, after graduating I started to look about in that field. I took courses in it for three years,” she added, explaining that among them was an Emirati-Egyptian scholarship at the Arab Academy for Science and Technology and Maritime Transport as a first step. 

“Then I worked for a commercial diving school as an assistant trainer. I took many courses until I became an internationally recognised underwater welding trainer as well as a commercial and touristic diving trainer. Then I started working in the field of ROVs, robots that dive to depths of the sea that humans cannot reach to conduct surveys or monitor the area before the digging equipment is sent in.” 

She is currently working as an engineer in a marine business company. “I am in charge of quality assurance and safety matters related to marine projects like installing pipelines. In addition, I am in charge of the geometric monitoring of the equipment. This includes underwater welding, the monitoring of petroleum pipelines and protecting them from being eroded by sea water. I also prepare reports about the sea bed before the company begins digging for petroleum,” she said. Every step of her work is carried out according to IMCA standards since this is a very dangerous area to work in. 

photos: Mohamed Hassanein

She is now starting her fourth year working in the field of underwater welding. “My work is partly in the office related to the projects and another part is off-shore or at the site in the sea. My office hours are like any other job. Off-shore work depends on the projects of the company at hand, whether in Egypt or abroad. It is about half off-shore work and half office work,” she said. 

She lists the fields she trains people in. “I am a certified trainer by the Professional Association of Diver Instructors, an international organisation in training for scuba diving, as well as by the World Confederation of Underwater Activities, an organisation for scuba-diving training. I am also an internationally certified trainer in commercial diving and underwater welding from the IMCA. I have trained people in the field of geometric monitoring,” she said.

As for the safety measures observed by Al-Bestawi, these can be summarised in three areas. First comes the equipment used in the diving, this being subjected to periodical examination and in some cases surprise examination. Then there is the safety of the diver himself. He must be qualified and physically fit. He should abide by a dive length, a plan for him to dive to a certain depth which includes what he will do and how long he will take. There are also safety rules on using tools in the water, and there are rules of communication between the diver underwater and the supervisor of the diving operation via voice and camera. Third, there is the safety of the process in general. This depends on the project and the method of carrying it out, Al-Bestawi said. 

She believes that gender does not determine a person’s ability to do a job. “It depends on the person and his or her capabilities. Can he do this job or not? Is he up to it or not? It has nothing to do with gender,” she said, adding that if a person is not qualified he will not be able to do the job. 

photos: Mohamed Hassanein

“Another thing is that I am an engineer in the field. So, the job needs thought more than effort, unlike what some people may think. For example, I am responsible for the safety and the quality assurance of the projects themselves, the lives of the divers that go into the water, and the quality of the procedures in general, all of which need thought rather than physical effort,” she explained.

“I could carry out a dive with the aim of monitoring a project or training people. I have trained many people who were mostly men, not women, and they respected the fact that there was a woman training them who understood her field and was strong in it. They even looked at me with more respect than they would a man. The idea is that a person with ambition has taken up a field and has a goal to achieve — this has nothing to do with social formalities. It does not make any difference what gender a person is,” she said.  

However, Al-Bestawi had to face some barriers on her path. “They included the backward thinking present in some segments of society. This is the thing I suffered from the most and fought against the most to be able to achieve my goals. Another thing was finding the right chance. In my field of work I did not find many opportunities easily, and it took me three years of training and training others until an opportunity came in a company.” 

She said that this had not been because there was no demand in the labour market. “A man can easily be appointed in this field, but when I as a woman came to be appointed, it was very difficult, or nearly impossible,” she said.

Thankfully, not everybody Al-Bestawi met shared the same backward thoughts. “There were many people who supported me, like my trainers who wanted me to reach my goals. They gave me the knowledge I needed, as well as the courses, and they made many things easier for me,” she said.

“I overcame the barriers thanks to three things. The first was diligence and my belief in my goals. The second was persistence. The third was ignoring everything that got in my way.” She added that “my dream today is to find stability in the field and to achieve more success in it. I would also like to become a business-woman in my field in the future.”

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