Women defying odds in male-dominated mechanic industry
Automotive engineering practice has for many decades been considered a preserve of the male gender, with women being left out purely on the basis of pseudo-stereotypes based on societal and cultural viewpoints.
This stereotyping has made the female gender lag behind in some professions, which are now male-dominated, sparking a narrative that they are a preserve of the male gender.
The narratives are based on socialisation and the physical anatomy of the female gender, which is perceived to be weak and cannot survive in some careers that require a lot of physical energy. But these labels are just that; stereotypes to keep the other gender down!
In fact, there are careers that society has made to appear more female-oriented than others. Sadly, this labelling is pumped in through cultural socialization until it gets embedded in the minds of the female gender.
Sample this; a motor vehicle driver, whether male or female, when they find out their vehicle needs fixing, drives into a motor garage, but the mindset is to find a male mechanic.
When this driver finds that the mechanic to attend to him or her is female, he or she becomes a bit hesitant, and the female mechanic or the chief mechanic has to do some bit of convincing for the female mechanic to be allowed to touch that vehicle, but there will still be some doubts lingering in the mind of this driver!
Changing the narrative
However, this narrative is slowly changing as more and more women are immersing themselves in so-called “male careers or jobs,” such as motor vehicle mechanics, an industry that provides employment to hundreds of thousands of people in this country.
Naomi Thuo, 29, is one of the women who has defied the odds to become one of the most sought-after mechanics in Naivasha town, due to her expertise in motor vehicle repair.
We meet her at her work garage and watch her, as she meticulously works on a motor vehicle engine.
Thuo tells us she did not manage to continue with her secondary education and dropped out of school in Class Eight after she got pregnant. She explains that her passion for the mechanic's job pushed her into the trade in order to fend for herself and her young one.
Born in Kinangop, Nyandarua County, the brave mechanic explains that after leaving her maternal home in 2009, she joined her sister, who was living in Naivasha at the time.
Naomi first joined the hospitality industry, but her desire to work in a garage kept urging her on.
She was lucky to join Wambari Technical College in Naivasha, where she took a course in motor vehicle repair and mechanics, specializing in general engine servicing.
Naomi at first received a lot of resistance from her mother when she first expressed her desire to pursue mechanics, and she says the journey has not been easy due to the fact that some clients prefer male mechanics, compared to their female counterparts.
Despite having not completed her course at the vocational college due to fee challenges, this has not stopped her from delivering the best services for her clients, and as Naomi says, she hopes to enrol back and finish her studies to get the required certifications, in order to advance in her career. But she has been able to learn a lot of skills on the job.
She explains that her 11 years in the industry have enabled her to grow immensely and acquire a lot of skills that have helped her execute her duties even better than her male counterparts in the garage she operates in.
Her motivation, she says, is drawn from the desire to give the best to her customers, earn enough to be able to give her child a good life, and also rise through her career and be able to encourage other young women to get into the so-called male-dominated careers.
Thuo says her expertise and mastery in motor vehicle mechanics was not an overnight happening, noting that it took her one and a half years in order to be trusted to work on a car by herself. Currently, she is proudly able to dismantle a car engine by herself and reassemble it without much trouble.
One of the major challenges faced by women who want to venture into mechanics is, in most cases is the belief that they will be looked down upon by their male peers, discriminated against, and even used sexually and dumped, leaving them in limbo in their career.
The myth has, however, been debunked, as Thuo says focus and commitment are the keys to success in her workplace, urging other women to stay committed to their course.
Another lady who has chosen a career in a male–dominated field is Nikita Luchinga. Born 21 years ago in Khwisero, Kakamega County, but currently residing in Naivasha, her entry into the industry was not by design, as she at first had not envisaged being in a career in the male–dominated field.
She explains that while working in the hospitality industry, a garage owner based in the town approached her, and in January this year, things took a different turn when Luchinga decided to visit the garage, and things have never been the same since then.
She is currently training in bodywork and painting and expects to have mastered the art by the end of this year.
The past five months have been nothing but pure learning experiences, and she has already created a good rapport with some clients who prefer her services.
However, nothing good comes without a challenge. As a beginner in the industry, Luchinga says some men look down upon her in the workplace, and feel threatened by her quick learning skills, but remain upbeat that, with time, they will get used to her presence and appreciate her input. Her commitment to learning has impressed her tutor, Jack Rapudo, one of the lead mechanics in the garage, who explains that Nikita has been cooperative and always willing to learn since the time she started. Rapudo urges more women to try out mechanical work, adding that it’s not a male job, as it is commonly thought by many people.