It doesn’t matter what part of the world you’re in — the fact of the matter is the auto mechanic industry is very much male-dominated. In Senegal, where women have struggled to achieve the same level of equality as men, that has especially been the case… until recently, that is.
According to AfricaNews.com, there is now at least one auto shop that is actually operated and owned by two women. Fatou Sylla and her cousin, Fatou Kamara, are the owners of the Fatou Fatou Mercedes garage in Senegal’s capital city of Dakar.
In the U.S. there are approximately 701,100 automobile mechanics, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the majority of them are male. The venture has been anything but easy for the two women trying to do their part to redefine accepted gender roles and discrimination in a male-dominated industry.
“Being a woman, especially who runs a garage is not easy,” Sylla said. “This is because men do not quite easily accept seeing a woman who is a boss in a male-dominated environment. But for me, its not a question of being feminine or masculine. The essential thing is to prove and know what we do. It’s not easy, but we must do it.”
Aware of the stigma that would likely be attached to them, the two women prepared themselves accordingly. They each attended three years of technical schooling to learn specifically about car engine problems that are common to West Africa’s vehicles. Afterwards, they worked for a couple of years as regular mechanics at established repair shops.
Since starting their own business, one that employs eight other individuals below them, they take solace in the fact that they’re helping to change the conversation and open up opportunities for future generations.
“In 1995, in Africa, and particularly here in Senegal, people were not used to seeing women take mechanical jobs,” said Camara. “But now we have influenced other women who are mechanics. Women are often in the fields of hairdressing, pedicure, manicure, but I am inviting them to embrace this profession as it is noble.”