By Joanne Wanjala
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
An auto mechanics training program for 30 Kenyan women isn't large, but it reflects the way women around the country--from parliamentarians to bus touts--are edging into traditionally male occupations.
Lindy Wafula is director and founder of Project Africa. She says she started the program to equip women with practical skills--regardless of their education level¬--so they could close the gender gap by venturing into a field that men traditionally dominated.
"I did not go beyond primary school level academically due to lack of fees," says one trainee, Everlyne Wairimu, 27, who sneaks to the training course because her husband disapproves.
Edna Muli, 26, is the only female mechanic employed at the garage. Dressed in greasy dark blue overalls and her gloved hands filled with spanners, or wrenches, she says one of the greatest challenges that she faces is when clients--particularly female customers--doubt her ability to fix their cars.
"Most clients, especially women, prefer male mechanics against me because they think I do not have the ability and capacity to work on their cars," she says as she bends down to fix a vehicle. "It is indeed true that women are their own enemies from what I have experienced so far."
Muli, who has one child, says she has worked at this garage for two years. She says her decision to take up a career in mechanics was partly to challenge this notion that women are "weaklings."
"At first, my husband, who is a cab driver, could not approve of it," she says. "He wanted me to sit at home and 'be a woman.'"
Jonathan Karanja, Muli's coworker and mentor, says she has challenged this notion indeed. He praises her professionalism and discipline at work.
"She is committed to her work and has so far yielded good results," he says. "The only setback is that some clients find it as a joke to imagine a woman fixing their vehicles. But it is something that Muli is determined to undo."
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Joanne Wanjala reports for Global Press Institute's Kenya News Desk. Wanjala, who is from Nairobi, aims to use her writing to speak for the voiceless and marginalized in her community.