Fatima Adamu turned the country's auto mechanic industry upside down by training women in fixing cars and trucks and helping them enter the male-dominated workforce.
In September 2019, Shamsiyya Bashir, 23, enrolled as an automotive mechanic trainee in Nana Female Auto Mechanic Garage, an all-girl automobile workshop, launched in Nigeria’s northern state of Sokoto — a conservative and violence-ridden region of Nigeria.
She is the first cohort of 16 students enrolled into the programme to undergo training, an apprenticeship and internship opportunities in engineering courses and automobile services. It’s an experience she had long anticipated since her teenage years.
While growing up, she watched her father, an automotive mechanical engineer remove car engines and repair brainboxes and other important components of automobiles at his mechanic workshop in Kara market, Sokoto.
“That was where my interest in automotive mechanical engineering started from. I watched my dad bring down the car engine, fix it back and it started working, it was magical to me, and this made me curious to learn this skill,” Shamsiyya said.
“So, immediately I gained admission into Caliphate College of Health Technology in Mabera, Sokoto to study Health Technology, I knew I had gotten what it takes to get into this male-dominated sector but didn’t know how to go about it until I learnt about this female mechanic garage.”
In her first few months of training, she learnt how to carry out general servicing on automobiles, alternator and cooling fan repair, and is eager to learn the skills that are needed for brainbox repair, crankshaft, and engine repair.
But she has had to deal with a deep-seated patriarchy which pushes women into second-class status in the male-dominated northern society. Bashir was ridiculed by her friends who believe that the work is only for the men.
“They said I was wasting my time, but it didn’t get to me because I like the work and was determined to achieve it,” she told TRT World.
For decades, Nigeria’s northern region has stayed a male stronghold, often making it difficult for women and girls to break into male-dominated spaces. Here, girls’ entry into the workforce is controlled by early marriage and starting a family.
They are faced with a limited choice of occupation, coupled with a lack of education and marginalisation from schools and skills acquisition programmes. It's a reflection of the common cultural beliefs that women and girls are up against.
Creating a safe space for young women
Fatima Adamu, a professor in Sociology at Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, is making an unprecedented push to upturn a system that has so far denied women access to technology-related businesses. She is taking women on a journey to self-discovery in automotive mechanical engineering — a male-dominated industry that is mostly challenged by traditional gender roles and insecurity.
Through her initiative, a private initiative of the NANA Girls and Women Empowerment Initiative which started in 2019, Fatima is smashing the glass ceiling and empowering women and girls from rural poor backgrounds, through economic empowerment and entrepreneurial skills acquisition in automotive mechanics so they can own automobile workshops across the region.
The idea started when she realised that more women are becoming car owners as parents buy cars for their daughters at Usmanu Danfodiyo University in Sokoto where she lectures, to protect them from being harassed.
And being a member of one of the school’s committees, she started taking notes of complaints about men taking advantage of the girls when they helped them fix their broken-down vehicle.
“It was like a lightbulb moment for me, being a part of that committee opened my eyes to the harrowing pains and harassment women experience when the men help them repair their cars,” Adamu told TRT World.
“I did my findings and the answers I got was that the garages aren’t conducive for women, being a masculine space. So, I thought about feminising that space, and that has been my goal. Anywhere there is masculinity, I want to feminise it.”
In Sokoto, where she works, less than 2 percent of girls finish secondary school and the literacy rate for women is just 10 percent compared with 40 percent for men, about 35 percent of 15- to 34-year-olds across Nigeria are unemployed.
Adamu is optimistic, however.
She is creating an ideological shift from the automobile repair business, seen as a forte of men, to populating it with a female workforce.
For her, it's more of an income-generating venture for women and her own way of tackling the controversial task of providing equal gender opportunities in the region. Her goal is to give opportunities to women in every male-dominated sector within Nigeria. Automotive and mechanical engineering is just one field. At Nana Female Mechanic Garage, Adamu oversees the training, apprenticeship and internship programmes for young women and girls.
The first cohort have just completed their apprenticeship and some have stayed on, says Adamu.
“After being trained as mechanics, six out of the graduate trainees are now working in the garage. We are now looking at shortlisting another set this February, but we are very mindful of our limited space.”
Zainab Dayyabu, another trainee, is also a part of this cohort. She learnt how to lift heavy equipment, including vehicles, using a hydraulic car jack within her first six months of training. She also learnt the art of headlight and taillight maintenance, including horn, steering, and key ignition repairs.
“My training here in Nana Female Mechanic Garage is really worth it, I used to see this as something that only the men can do because of their masculinity. But with my training, that has changed. I hope to open my own garage and train other young women like me,” Zainab told TRT World.
Western education forbidden
Nigeria currently has more than 13 million out-of-school children, most of which are victims of Boko Haram’s activities in Northeast Nigeria, which is the highest in the world. The terrorist group is also largely responsible for Nigeria ranking third in the Global Terrorism Index.
When the group started carrying out assassinations and large-scale acts of violence following the death of its founder Muhammed Yusuf in 2009, many saw them as disgruntled men under the influence of religious fanaticism. But soon, the group began to target the Nigerian education system, attacking schools and assaulting students and teachers. They also disrupted access to education and social services for young people, especially girls, in the region.
Adamu says Boko Haram's hatred of women is one of the manifestations of the country's deep-rooted patriarchy. With her organisation, she hopes to support the education of young girls from poor families in hard-to-reach communities, which she says will bring about transformation in northern Nigeria.
“We go to hard-to-reach areas and pick at least one poor girl and send her to school both in Sokoto and Kebbi. We want to set an example for the entire community and motivate other girls to be interested in education,” Adamu said.
“We can’t continue this way, the part to achieve transformation is through the women who are going to be mothers, those who are going to socialise the future of the Nigerian citizens. You can’t have an ignorant mother and expect her to raise a knowledgeable child, that’s why educating women is the survival of the north.”
The initiative is receiving unprecedented support from academic institutions such as Umaru Ali Shinkafi Polytechnic, Sokoto, and Waziri Umaru Federal Polytechnic, Birnin Kebbi, and Usman Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, who are providing theoretical coaching for the trainees. It is also receiving support from technicians who are taking the students on in their garages and training them.
Adamu’s goal for the next 10 years is to establish a Women's Tech Hub and support women in all kinds of technology-related businesses. This, she believes, will help them, especially widows, build a reliable means of livelihood.