Student, Chemical Engineering, Women Advocate, Manama, Bahrain
It was so inspiring to meet Aimen in Bahrain. This bright engineering student, who is so curious, open to engaging with you and happy to share her thoughts on the topics she is familiar with (like student life in University of Bahrain and her favourite books) while admitting that some things she is completely unsure about, willing to learn about and also willing to accept about herself. I am so hopeful to meet young people who are genuine and have integrity about them. I felt it about Aimen and I am so delighted to get to know her more through her WOW Woman answers.
Aimen and I met at a special event in Bahrain. She was one of the WOW Women volunteers sacrificing their weekends to receive training in supporting victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Women’s Crisis Care International is a one of a kind program for survivors of violence in the Middle East (the founder of this program is an American WOW Woman Mary Justine Todd). The program operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week with over 130 active volunteer advocates. Aimen is hoping to finish the 40 hour training and make herself available to the most vulnerable via phone and in person in the emergency rooms of Bahrain’s hospitals.
I am very much hopeful for the future of Bahrain with women like Aimen coming up the ranks in companies, organizations and one day government. Although she is yet unaware of her strength and might, with such intellectual writing and perception of the world around her (in all its potential and limitations), I hope and have full faith that her wisdom and sharp-sightedness will be channeled to its full potential. I can’t wait to see what the future brings for this young lady!
2. Where is your hometown?
I was born in Karachi but I've lived in Bahrain for 17 years now.
3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?
I'm a student studying chemical engineering.
4. What was the journey like to get where you are (in life and career-wise)? What are some accomplishments you’re most proud of, and what was the turning point to set you on a current path in life?
It was pretty charmed and sheltered, if I'm honest. I'm proud of all the things I've done where I took a first step into something with zero expectations of gaining anything and no ideas of how it might go, but simply with the assurance that it was something new . If nothing else, I could probably learn something from it. And if there was really nothing to learn, at least, I'd talk to someone I wouldn't have talked to otherwise.
This includes stuff like getting my stories published in a collection of short stories called 'Under the Bahraini Sky', a collaboration between the University of Bahrain and the College of Charleston, South Carolina; playing Dungeons and Dragons with a group of boys, an uncommon hobby around these parts; volunteering for WCCI, the first and only crisis response center in the GCC for victims of domestic violence.
My turning point was when I switched majors from physics to chemical engineering. I did it because I realized that I would go an entire day without speaking to anyone, that I had zero enthusiasm for my classes, that I was just becoming more entrenched in the person I already was rather than trying to extend myself.
5. What did you study in school?
I studied the usual stuff - chemistry, physics, mathematics plus language and Pakistan studies.
6. Why did you choose this major? Is it difficult to be a woman in this major and studying engineering? Do you have hopes for future in your field?
I chose this major because I was becoming too much of the sort of person I knew myself to be. Nothing about myself surprised me. I'm introverted by nature but being in a major I was unhappy with, I was bringing myself to an extreme of introversion and seclusion I didn't like.
I don't speak Arabic and the physics department of my university was heavily Arabic-centered. Curriculum, students, faculty. It was torture trying to engage with people who, most of the time, didn't go out of their way to make it any easier. I didn't attempt to make it any easier for myself either. So I just decided to start fresh and a year into chemical engineering, I'm happy with my grades, my engagement with professors and students alike and just the way I spend my days. Nothing will change the essential nature of my introversion but it's nicer to go through my days feeling like I'm making the day happen, rather than feeling like the day is happening to me.
So far, being a woman hasn't made engineering any more difficult than it is. The chemical engineering subset of the engineering department of University of Bahrain is split pretty evenly, male to female. I expect a lot more difficulty once I graduate, not just because oil and gas companies in Bahrain give hiring preference to Bahrainis but also because any young unmarried woman is generally treated with the assumption that she will be married and pregnant soon and so employers tend to see investing time and money into training her as a wasted pursuit.
7. Was there a time when life knocked you down or out and how did you get back up on your feet?
Not so long ago, I realized that there are some things about myself that I cannot change. No matter how hard I try, they will remain with me until the day I die probably. The trick, I suppose, is just to understand that there is no point in hating an entire part of me. It's there and I might as well make friends with it. It'll make honesty hard sometimes. Other times, it'll just plain make life hard.
But for now, I'm working on it with the assumption that it'll be worth it to make the effort of integrating it into me as far as possible.
8. Advice for other women?
Do what you have to do to be the best version of yourself, minimize harm wherever you go and collect good people along the way. End of the day, the only friend you have in your darkest times is you, so be nice to yourself.
9. Knowing what we know now in current political climate, can women be "all that we can be" in today's world? What is the way forward, as you see it, for "feminist values"?
No, I don't think women can be all that we can be in today's world. The way forward is to see how much of the old we are comfortable cutting off and then truly making a commitment to setting it aside. Not just lip service to what makes us comfortable, but also to what truly makes us uncomfortable. Not just accepting diversity in some abstract sense, but in the communities closest to us and in our own homes.
10. Where in the world do you feel “tallest” (i.e. where is your happy place)?
I feel tallest with the people who know me best - who know the short temper, the impatience, the reservation, the pessimism and also the level-headedness, the kindness, the open-mindedness and the integrity I hold within me.
11. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why?
Writing and Dungeons & Dragons, because doing these two things requires me to be kinder and more engaged than I normally am.
12. What do you want to be when you grow up? Future goals?
I don't think about the future too much, because I get too caught up in the fear. The only goal I have is to be financially self-sufficient and comfortable. Anything else that happens will be a pleasant surprise.
13. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?
The fear of the future. The fear of being the most pessimistic and bitter version of myself.
14. Anything you'd do differently, if you had another go at life?
I'd probably spend less of my teenage years worrying about people who didn't want to be friends with me.
15. What inspires you?
I'm inspired by what a person can be when they learn to overcome their own worst impulses.
16. What are you hopeful about?
I'm hopeful about the change that can be enacted by living your life trying to minimize the harm you do. I'm hopeful that the future is better than the past.
17. What are some ingredients to a good life?
Self-awareness, kindness and a commitment to doing better.
18. What advice would you give your 14-year-old self?
You can be painfully introverted but that doesn't mean you have to shut people out. Try talking to someone. People are much nicer than you'd expect, and if they aren't, you're smart enough to know when someone isn't worth it.
19. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)
I just finished reading 'Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights' by Katha Politt. It's a great overview of the state of abortion laws in America and the ideologies committed to dismantling it.
I like a lot of books but if I had to mention the two which had the most significant effect on me, it would be 'Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain' by David Eagleman, 'Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family' by Anne-Marie Slaughter and 'The Algebra of Infinite Justice' by Arundhati Roy.
Each of these books, in their own ways, entirely reframed how I thought about things I had always taken for granted.
20. Who is a WOW Woman in your world who inspires you and why? Can you nominate three (or more) women you know who perfectly fit WOW WOMAN description? What would you tell them if you had an opportunity, of why you admire them?
I'd nominate my three sisters and my best friend. In each of their own ways, they embody perseverance and commitment. Just the will to stick to something, whether it's for the sole purpose of survival or to be better and more complete as human beings. Things haven't been easy for any of them, but they do things their own way and on their own terms. They accept the consequences (sometimes awful ones) and they carry on.
21. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?
My Instagram is mufti_hazel_amin and should only be viewed with the strict understanding that nothing on it is to be taken seriously. It's genuinely annoying.