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On being a Muslim woman and a motorsport fanatic

26 March 2015

Yassmin Abdel-Magied

At two years of age Yassmin Abdel-Magied (pictured above at right with former Westpac CEO Gail Kelly and Felicity Briody at the 2012 Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence awards) moved from Sudan to Australia with her parents. Her mother is an architect and her father an electrical engineer.

Yassmin, now 24, identifies both as Muslim and of colour but finds they’re not what constitute a problem for her in her work: being a woman does.

Yassmin has a mechanical engineering degree. She is stationed in Western Australia as a FIFO engineer on oil and gas rigs, where “you don’t get a lot of women in the position”.

Yassmin at work

A motorsport fanatic, with a long-held desire to own her own V8 – a Corvette Stingray – she has been saving to buy one for a while. Living in Perth when she’s not on the rig, she is also without a car at the moment, which has been “a bit of a shock. I’ve started cycling, which I’m getting addicted to, along with sailing.”

At 16, Yassmin Abdel-Magied founded Youth Without Borders, an organisation focused on enabling young people to work for positive change in their communities. Youth Without Borders continues to this day with chapters along the East Coast of Australia and a view to further expansion.

A long-time Ruby member, Yassmin was an inaugural Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence winner in the Young Leader category and this year was chosen as Queensland’s Young Australian of the Year.

When she was 21, Yassmin spent the first half of the year in Sudan living with her grandmother. While there she studied Arabic at the local University. She discovered, later, it was an Islamic based – very traditional – institution for students from all over Africa.

“Classes for men and women were separate. Because we were in an all-women class, all the ladies would remove any niqabs they wore and many would have their hair out. I’d actually forgotten they all wore niqabs until I saw photographs on a former colleague’s Facebook page of a mechanical engineering training session.”

The photos, Yassmin goes on to explain, are of women, in this case from Uganda and Nigeria, dressed in their niqabs because they are being trained as mechanical engineers and technicians by male instructors: “Not only do these women have to brave the standard perceptions around ‘women in engineering,’ they have to do so in an extremely hostile and patriarchal culture. They’re smart and driven, but also feminine and devout. These are examples of women who do almost everything they want to, and what they wear in no way oppresses them.”

Coming in April to Sydney is the chance to meet this young woman at a lunch hosted by Westpac Women’s Markets. Here, we have a quick look at what she has been up to, lately, including her work for the Y20 in 2014, her travels for Formula 1 racing and a new book deal.

“I was in a role for the Y20 I would not have thought of myself doing: media, marketing, communications. We had 20 countries to coordinate and get together all their thoughts and concerns and then present them to the G20. I looked after all the traditional media and marketing as well as new media. It was a big year from August 2013 through to the G20 in November 2014.”

Yassmin’s motorsport addiction has put her in touch with RichardsF1, the Australian-based motorsport website that focuses on a range of international motorsport championships, including Formula 1, IndyCar Series, V8 Supercars, and the FIA World Touring Car Championship.

Now a journalist for the site, Yassmin has been to Monaco, Malaysia and Barcelona; hung out with the press there and done driver interviews and race pieces. She also recently fulfilled a long-held dream “to walk the track at a Formula 1 meet”.

She recently signed to do a book with Random House, following her life so far.

“I’ve just turned 24,” she says a little wistfully.

“I wish my birthday was later in the year to get more out of being 23.”

The book will focus on equality, race, perceptions around Muslim women and strong females, and is more difficult than she first thought: “I thought it was going to be like writing a long essay.”

To book for lunch with Yassmin Abdel-Magied go to: