AL GHARBIA // A life on oil stations is hardly a traditional career path for an Emirati woman. But four in Al Gharbia hope to be among the first to do exactly that.
In September they, and four others who have since dropped out, became the first women to study engineering in the western region.
The students at the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) are there thanks to another first - sponsorship from Adco, the Abu Dhabi Company For Onshore Oil Operations.
The funding came about thanks to one of the students, Shamsa Al Mazroui, 19, from the settlement town of Ghayathi. She met a manager from the company at a careers fair at the Ruwais HCT colleges last year and explained what they could do to help advance girls in the region. The company liked the idea.
Now the women receive a monthly payment of at least Dh6,500 - and up to three times that if their grades are good. They are also guaranteed jobs with Adco for five years after they graduate.
"The industry needs female engineers in this region," said Ms Al Mazroui. "The boys don't all study engineering either. In this region, about 75 per cent of them don't like maths or science, so they choose subjects like business."
The women will have more family-friendly hours than men, working morning or daytime shifts rather than a 24-hour rotation pattern.
Anood Al Hamadi, 20, from Mirfa, said the sponsorship had been essential for her to take the course.
"Many students decide to work rather than study," she said. "But with the sponsorship, you don't have to sacrifice your studies. One of my friends dropped out of college because she had to support her family.
"Her mother is getting old, her father left and her brothers are younger than her. It's sad she had to give up her education."
Phil Quirke, director of the colleges in Al Gharbia, said it was vital for companies like Adco to show their support for female engineers.
"It's the statement of the importance of bringing women into engineering and that, coming from the Western Region, is a very significant statement," he said. "Once others see these girls and how successful they are, more will follow."
Some in the industry believe there is more HCT could do to attract female students.
Ibtesam Al Hammadi, recruitment co-ordinator for the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi, said finding students in Al Gharbia- male or female - with an interest in science was challenging enough, but the lack of accommodation for women at its campus in the capital meant studying there was all but impossible for young women from remote areas.
"We've been seeing a steady increase in girls at the institute," Ms Al Hammadi said at the Universities Fair in Ghayathi last week. "But there is no hostel for girls so we can only accept girls in Abu Dhabi or those who have a place to stay, with family usually. We'd have more girls if we had accommodation."
The situation is worth addressing, say employers, as it would mean better jobs for Al Gharbia women.
"Because they are closer to home, they can work in technical areas, in operations, which are much better for women," said Ahmed Thani Al Rumaithy, head of recruitment at Adnoc.
Dr Mohammed Ahmed Al Yassi, capability manager at Al Hosn Gas, said his company was well aware of the greater numbers of women in education.
"The oil industry needs their skills and knowledge," he said at a forum at the Ruwais colleges on Tuesday, which focused on how HCT must respond to the needs of industry.