By: Dr. Ghada Amer
In a culture that celebrates male lineage, I did not have any brothers. Though my father was a staunch supporter of his daughters, it is not too hard to imagine social conservatism bearing down on him. It was at one of these times when I, recognizing the helplessness on my father’s face, pledged to carry the family’s name and honor. My career testifies to this long-kept promise.
Born in Bahrain and raised in Kuwait, I became the National Chess Champion in Kuwait for four consecutive years, first at the young age of 14. It was this moment, upon seeing the pride and happiness in my parent’s eyes, that affirmed my conviction in the equal capabilities of women propelling me to dream even bigger.
I pursued my undergraduate education in electrical power engineering, a field usually reserved and dominated by men. During the course of my study, I was at the forefront of volunteering activities – lending her time at the Home for the Elderly. Since then, community service has been an integral aspect of my life.
Graduating at the top of my class, I was appointed as an assistant lecturer at the Benha University. The transition from being a student in to the role of a teacher, in a department dominated by male colleagues, presented its own challenges, including but not limited to, the socially conservative opinions of colleagues, building trust, and establishing myself as an equal participant in the noble enterprise of imparting knowledge to the young.
In 1999, I received my Master’s Degree from the Cairo University, which was followed by a PhD from the same institution in 2002 and returned to the Benha University in Egypt as an assistant professor.
I researched the high voltage power network of Tanta, Egypt, and the effects of the electromagnetic fields around it on the human body. For my socially-conscious research, I was awarded the prize of the ‘Best Researcher’ in the Engineering Conference held at the Philadelphia University in Jordan in 2004.
As a mentor to my students, I focused my energies in guiding the students and excelled in doing so. My efforts on behalf of my students were recognized in the form of ‘Leader of Future Family’ award for three consecutive years.
In 2007, I was appointed as the head of the Electrical Engineering department at the Benha University and with it came the serious challenge of managing a large department. I carried the new responsibilities elegantly and smoothly believing in an inclusive, rather than exclusive, decision-making process. I particularly valued everyone’s contributions as equally important creating a sense of ownership among stakeholders that led to effective implementation.
Towards the end of 2009, the Arab Science and Technology Foundation (ASTF) invited me to join them as the manager for the Women in Science program and I jumped at the opportunity. We introduced the Extract of Innovation program, which focused on supporting and fostering innovation in the Arab world. Some of the activities launched under the umbrella of the Extract of Innovation are the Technology Business Plan Competition (TBPC), Virtual Incubator Project, and Industrial Startup at Arab World Competition (ISAW). Through such programs, Dr. Amer worked towards changing attitudes and perceptions towards scientific knowledge, and found such constructive efforts as useful ways of fostering entrepreneurship.
As a recognition of my work, I was promoted to the position of Deputy CEO in 2011 and later a board member and Vice President of ASTF. I became the first woman in the Foundation to hold this position. Numerous accolades followed including being on the annual Arabian Business ranking of the ‘100 Most Powerful Arab Women’ as well as one of the Emerging Champions on the Muslim-Science.Com’s 20 Most Influential Women in Science in the Islamic World.
My career often overshadows the humble roots whose earliest and strongest conviction arose out of societal barriers. It was the decision to take such social conservatism as a challenge, rather than a condemnation, that spurred me to tread paths often deemed exclusive for men and render them gender-neutral through my successes.
Women role models in science are carved out of extraordinary determination and will and they present an illuminating model for all aspiring women scientists, in and beyond the Muslim world.