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Women mechanics at Senegal garage put brakes on gender bias

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 14 Feb 2012 17:59 GMT
Author: George Fominyen
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DAKAR (TrustLaw) - There was a time when Ndeye Coumba Mbengue’s family and friends used to ridicule her for being a mechanic. Her family felt such a “dirty job” wasn’t meant for a woman and she would be better off working as a tailor, a hairdresser or a secretary.

“I used to feel hurt and I would cry,” recalled Mbengue, who lives in Dakar, Senegal’s capital. “But I told myself that it was a job that I liked so I had to stay the course to the end.”

She went on to work for 16 years as a mechanic in several garages and then resolved to set up her own garage – Garage Femme Auto –in 2006 with her savings of 5 million FCFA ($10,000).

Garage Femme Auto is one of only two garages in the West African nation that are owned by a woman. But it is unique in that it is the only garage in the country that has a policy of hiring women as well as men.

Mbengue had noticed that garages were not giving car-mechanic positions to qualified young women graduating from technical schools, because it was widely viewed as a man’s job. So she started employing female mechanics.

“I wanted to show the world that it was a job that could be done by women,” Mbengue told TrustLaw, sitting in her office at her the garage.

Among the 20 mechanics at the garage, where workers glide underneath cars to inspect and change parts, and get their hands dirty in black engine oil, there are presently eight women on the team.

Over the years, the professionalism of Garage Femme Auto’s female mechanics has broken down initial reticence of some men who found it difficult to hand over their keys for women to repair their cars, Mbengue said. 

“The people who bring their cars here want them to be repaired by women. That’s why they come,” said Marieme Seck, one of the female mechanics at Garage Femme Auto.

When men, especially officials of the companies that make up the clientele, tell Mbengue that they prefer women to handle their cars because they are more focused and diligent, it plays like music to her ears.

But a sad look appears on her face when she acknowledges that there has been little or no replication of her example in Senegal. She hopes the government could promote such entrepreneurship among other women.

“I would be glad to see more women getting involved in this sector. It is my hope and it is my wish,” she said.

She admits that the battle against gender inequality is still far from being won, as many women leave the profession once they become wives and mothers, and since the job of a mechanic does not pay well or because some husbands are not very supportive.

But Anna Gueye Bangoura, one of the mechanics at Femme Auto, is married, a mother of a four-year-old boy, and continues to work.

“I don’t think it affects one’s household,” Bangoura, who has been a mechanic since 1997, said of working as a mechanic.

“My Husband even paid for my training.”

Garage Femme Auto is like most garages in Senegal, small with workers having to use rudimentary equipment that could discourage most people from dreaming of a career as a mechanic.

But that has not dented the passion of the young women there. They see themselves as trailblazers encouraging others to dare.

“To those women who think being a mechanic is not a woman’s job, I say it is a job for women,” Bangoura said.

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