Deeply entrenched cultural norms have restricted women’s roles in Nigeria. Slowly, their roles are expanding. Sandra Aguebor-Ekpeuoh is one of the reasons for this shift. She is working to get women out of the kitchen and under the hoods of cars.
Like many others around the world Nigerian women endure domestic violence, rape and harmful traditional practices like female genital mutilation (FGM). There is gross inequality in the educational system and consequently in the workplace. Obviously, it follows that women comprise 70% of the country’s poor. Despite efforts toward equality, women and girls are still expected to accept their subordination as part of the natural order.
Into this challenging environment Aguebor-Ekpeuoh brought her big idea – Nigeria’s Lady Mechanic Initiative. Ignoring pervasive cultural feelings that women couldn’t or shouldn’t be mechanics, Aguebor-Ekpeuoh encouraged them to embrace the possibilities that came with grimy nails and overalls.
The Lady Mechanic Initiative is a three year program with a co-ed training staff. It has seen more than 300 women learn automobile repair skills since 2004. As they fix cars, they are also breaking glass ceilings. Most every garage in Nigeria has a Lady Mechanic on staff these days despite early resistance. The Lady Mechanic Initiative also provides job placement.
Aguebor-Ekpeuoh, a mother of six including a two year old opened her first garage in 1995. Her goal in sharing her repair skills with other women is to help them have more life options. Trainees begin enjoying some of those options right away. The program is a paid apprenticeship and access to cash is probably one of the most accessible routes to choices. Aguebor-Ekpeuoh also provides housing for many of the trainees.
Her success has not been without setbacks. The program has stalled recently with government seizure of the land on which the program operates. Their actions won’t stop Aguebor-Ekpeuoh permanently. She plans to expand the program beyond Nigeria and even establish an Academy. She is proof that you can’t beat a woman.