Ramona Abdallah is a 25-year-old architecture graduate and a strong feminist. After participating in the G(irls)20 Global Summit in 2017 in Germany, she committed to implement a project back home to empower women. With the help of the Architects for Change collective, of which she is a also founding member, it gave birth to the SheBuilds initiative, officially launched this Saturday.
How was born the SheBuilds project?
At the end the G(irls) 20 Global Summit [a special program by the Clinton Global Initiative to train young women from across the world in leadership, mentorship and social enterprise development, ed], we commit to giving back to our communities by launching an initiative in our home country. The idea of my project came up when my mentor asked me if I could think of a Lebanese female role-model. This was when it really stroke me: I couldn’t think of anyone ! The SheBuilds initiative came from here. I want to understand why we don’t hear more about women in architecture.
Is there available data proving that female architects are underrepresented in Lebanon?
No, there hasn’t been any study on this specific issue. What we know is that more women are actually studying architecture than men. A teacher from the Lebanese American University (LAU), told me once that around 80% of their architecture students are girls. But the problem, as in many other fields, is that women disappear later on. Indeed, in Lebanon, women make up 54% of university students, but only 26% of the labor force (United Nations Statistics Division).
Where do Lebanese female architects go after university?
Answering that question is part of the objectives of SheBuilds. I am currently trying to convey some surveys, to do some statistics. We also held our first discussion this Saturday, with architecture students and professional architects. It is going to develop in a series of other discussions, focus groups and conferences. It’s an individual project but I have the support of the Architects for Change youth collective.
What are your personal assumptions?
I have intuitions but I don’t want them to influence the results of my researches. What I can say is that even if some of them do keep up with this career, it isn’t enough. Some do work for architecture cabinets, great, but how many female lead architects and partners do you know? One woman working for AAA (Atelier des Architectes Associés), an architecture cabinet in Beirut, once answered me: “ but our cabinet does have a lot of women architects, 80% of our employees are women !”. Ok, but none of AAA’s five partners is a woman.
What is preventing women from getting leadership positions?
I think that there is a huge gap between the university and the job market. And this gap prevents women from getting the same opportunities as men. Employers think that if they hire a man, they won’t have to worry about him. That he is good, that “he already knows”. On the contrary, a woman will be a burden.
During my internship I asked one architect from my cabinet to take me on the construction site, because I thought going out on the field was important. But he said no, “you won’t need that”. Because in his conception of the female architect, I was to spend my whole career behind a desk. In the end he did take me because I insisted. But all his talk and body-language meant he was trying to protect me: “stay behind me, go this way, don’t go into this room…”. But I was doing totally fine !
How could women get some representativeness back in the workplace?
That is what I hope my researches will also help me to know. But one thing is clear: when women are doing great work but they don’t promote themselves. We don’t hear about them. I think there is a big responsibility on the shoulders of accomplished female architects. They have to go out there and speak out. Because someone out there, a student or a fresh graduate, might just be looking for that small push to move forward.