Portrait of a Nation: The teenager flying flag for women in male industry

Emirati Leila Al Bashr is the only female quay crane operator at Khalifa Port and took the job determined not to be put off by men’s domination of the industry.

Emirati Leila Al Bashr is delighted to be working as a crane operator at Khalifa Port in Abu Dhabi. Christopher Pike / The National
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ABU DHABI // Bubbly teenager Leila Al Bashr is something of a trailblazer – the 19-year-old Emirati is the only female quay crane operator at Khalifa Port container terminal.

When the high school graduate told her family she wanted to embark on a career in the predominantly male industry, they were apprehensive.

“Initially they were surprised and resisted my decision to join Abu Dhabi Terminals as a crane operator,” Leila said.

“No one from the family, not even friends, had done this job.

“It was something that was unimaginable but, luckily, within days I was able to convince them and today they are very proud of me.”

Leila, the only female crane operator after the first woman left, said her decision proved that women can do anything.

“Just because you are a woman does not mean you can do only specific jobs,” she said.

“I want to show the world that, if there is commitment, then the sky is the limit. If I can do this, all women can do this.”

Before taking the crane driver’s seat, Leila went through more than eight months of training at Abu Dhabi Terminals and said that other staff gave her loads of encouragement.

“My presence has changed the perception [of a crane operator],” she said.

“The other crane operators have been so supportive. They always encourage me and appreciate my hard work.

“I must say I am really pampered by my co-workers in the field.”

Her crane is a heavy-duty piece of equipment; it is 126.5 metres tall and has a reach of 65m.

“As a crane operator, I load and discharge containers from those large container vessels docked at Khalifa Port and place them on the assigned places at the terminal,” she said.

Despite the scale of the equipment she operates, Leila said it was not a physical job but a technical one.

“It is wrong to think that I need physical strength to pick up these 1,000-tonne boxes,” she said.

“I am a technical operator who uses a machine to do the required job.

“For that, the operator has to have excellent reflexes and the right training.”

While there is a lot of repetition in the work she does, Leila said it was “exciting”. “We have to take so many factors into consideration,” she said.

“For example, the weather – heat, wind, fog – and the placement of the containers on a vessel. Every day, every shift brings new challenges. It is not a monotonous job. My job is pretty exciting.”

After more than a year at the port, she sees crane operation as a career rather than a job.

“I am very happy with what I am doing,” she said.

“I want to complete my higher studies to enhance my skills. I want to pursue career growth.”

Despite being proud to be the only female Emirati crane operator, Leila does not want to retain that title and hopes other women will join her.

“I love my job and will, Inshallah, pursue my career,” she said.

“I want to be an inspiration to all young women, in the country and across the world.

“I really hope that it will inspire more Emirati women to take up roles that are unique for ladies.”