Marwa Elselehdar has become the first female sea captain of Egypt. An iconic feat in the male-dominated maritime industry that is even more crucial coming from an Arab country like Egypt. Now, Marwa has opened up how she made it big in this male-dominated industry.
She loved the sea and enjoyed swimming, says Marwa and this prompted her to enrol in the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport in Egypt. Initially, she joined the International Transport and Logistics Department but soon got interested in the curriculum of the Department of Maritime Transport and Technology. Her brother was studying at that department then and she got insights into the maritime world through that.
However, getting into the department wasn’t easy for her as the department only took men. Nevertheless, Marwa submitted an application and after much turmoil it was accepted, making her the first Egyptian woman in the department.
She got her family’s support in her pursuit of the high seas. Though reluctant at first, her father didn’t object to her study. Her application request was received by the Presidency of the Academy who sought to verify the country’s maritime law to allow Marwa into the Academy.
The law didn’t abate her candidature and she sat for the examination which included physical and medical tests along with personal interviews. She came out in flying colours in all of them making it possible to induct her into the department.
“I started my journey in the department as the only woman among 1,200 students. I faced difficulties in adapting, especially during the first year, but the encouragement from those around me — and my own ability to believe in my dream — helped me overcome these challenges, and I graduated in 2013,” said Marwa Elselehdar.
After completing her course she joined the crew of the AIDA IV ship as a second officer.
She had applied to be part of the AIDA IV crew when the opening ceremony of the new Suez canal happened. The authorities granted the request and made her part of the ceremony. So, at the opening ceremony, Marwa led AIDA IV through the new route across the Suez Canal. She was the youngest and the first Egyptian female captain to do so.
A seasoned sea woman, Marwa Elselehdar has been working in the maritime sector for 10years and feels honoured to be the first Egyptian woman in the field. She urged young girls to follow her example and join the maritime workforce.
“Women in similar maritime positions don’t exceed 2% worldwide”, said Marwa.
Back in 2017, Marwa was honoured by the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on Women’s Day. Marwa appreciated this effort to empower and honour Egyptian women. She lauded the government on its effort to place Egyptian women at the top, of leadership positions. Egyptian women are now breaking barriers and entering male-oriented professions.
The Encyclopedia of Arab-African Economic Integration placed Marwa Elselehdar in the league of top 20 Arab women in terms of achievement.
At present she is working onboard a cruise ship owned by the Egyptian Authority for Maritime Safety. It’s affiliated with the Egyptian government and managed by the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport.
“Unlike fast flights, cruises can be long and arduous and can take up to a month or more. Of course, on these trips, I am the only woman among my fellow men”, said Marwa.
“In the beginning, it was somewhat difficult, but we later became one team, and we split tasks equally. And because of the length of these trips, we all become like siblings,” she added further.
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At 30, Marwa is aiming big to achieve her master’s degree and then go for a doctorate degree. She believes being married and having a family doesn’t hinder a woman’s career rather it will support her.