Making Waves in Basra: Defying gender norms in development projects

April 13, 2022



“My advice to girls and young women is to believe in yourself and develop your skills.”

As the world calls for more women and girls in technology, science, engineering and other typically male-dominated industries, 35-year-old Zainab Sadiq in Basra, Iraq’s southernmost governorate is already challenging stereotypes.

In Basra, significant improvements to Khor Al-Zubair and Umm Qasr ports are taking place to scale up the capacity of two key facilities in the export, import, and handling of shipping operations. These two important freight transit port facilities are critical to the economic sector of Iraq, especially during post-war recovery efforts.

Zainab is an electrical engineer and member of the Project Management Team of the Port Sector Rehabilitation Project (II), implemented by the General Company for Ports of Iraq under the Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA) Loan Programme, since 2017.

She has been assigned to work on three components under the port projects, and alongside her other on-site duties, she’s been involved in the evaluation of bids and technical documents of the project. “There are several challenges an engineer faces on daily basis, especially when joining a new workplace; it takes time to gain the trust of work colleagues and bring them around to your ideas. This can be overcome by listening and observing before suggesting any changes. You must build a reputation for yourself and set clear and achievable goals.” says Zainab.

 “One of my favorite memories of a project happens during the hand-over, as this is the time to remember all exerted efforts, all spent time, and realize that my thoughts have become reality,” Zainab adds.



As a female electrical engineer in Iraq, Zainab not only succeeded in entering a career field primarily dominated by men, but also in a region where gender norms and roles may discourage such ambitions.

“My advice to girls and young women is to believe in yourself and develop your skills. A job opportunity will not come unless you look for it. If you want to succeed, start from scratch and always be ready.”


UNDP Iraq has been supporting the monitoring of the implementation of the Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA) Loan Programme financed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), in partnership with the Government of Iraq since 2009. This Programme contributes to numerous socio-economic development projects, including the Port Rehabilitation Sector Project (II).