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Breaking gender barriers the Kotokwa way

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KAMTUKULE—We need to profile these women

By Lewis Msasa:

Magret Kotokwa is not one to coil under challenges such as gender stereotypes.

As such, when she sets her eyes on something, she gets it come rain or sunshine.

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So, when an opportunity to pursue a course in motor vehicle mechanics arose way back in 2007, she grabbed it with both hands.

Not that there were no challenges, mainly bordering on misconceptions that there was a fixed place for women in society— a place where space is not reserved for women who opt for male-dominated fields such as motor vehicle mechanics.

“There were those who thought that I was out of my mind.

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“However, I was determined to become a motor vehicle mechanic,” she says, marks of resolve registering on the features of her face.

In so doing, she accepted to endure insinuations from peers who felt that this was not the right choice for a woman. Many, including fellow students at Nasawa Technical College in Chiradzulu District, wondered aloud why a woman like her would want to study motor vehicle mechanics which has always been considered as a trade that should be pursued by men.

Efforts at the implementation level to improve women’s access and participation in Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training (Tevet) appear to move at a slow pace. This is despite that the campaign has been gaining a considerable amount of attention locally and internationally, aided by policies instituted to improve enrolment rates for girls and women in Tevet.

Misconceptions are still widespread that, because of their gender, girls or women cannot pursue courses in the Tevet sector, particularly trades such as motor vehicle mechanics, electrical installation, plumbing, bricklaying and the like.

Sugzika Mvalo, Southern and Central Africa Regional Administrative Representative for the Association of Technical Universities and Polytechnics in Africa (Atupa) is aware of these challenges and has since called for collaborative efforts in order to address this.

“These challenges are not only in Malawi but across Africa and beyond. We, as Atupa, have put in place deliberate policies to enhance gender inclusion as a way of balancing the participation of women and men. For instance, we have formed the Women in Technical Education (WITED), a special wing within Atupa that is there to ensure that more women are participating in technical education,” Mvalo says.

According to experts in Tevet, there is a strong human rights argument and a strong developmental case for achieving gender equality in education as well as attracting girls and women to Tevet.

Kotokwa, 38, serves as living testimony that equipping women with skills would enable them to become self-reliant, thereby enhancing their civic responsibility in a society.

She has defied the odds and managed to make a living and excel in the field of motor vehicle mechanics, a trade that was hitherto considered to be a preserve for males.

Fifteen years down the line, Kotokwa, who comes from Juma Village, Traditional Authority Bvumbwe in Thyolo District, is full of smiles. She is not regretting the decision to pursue a career of her choice.

“I had to enroll for a Tevet course just to demonstrate that women can also excel in these male-dominated trades,” says Kotokwa, a 2007 cohort graduate of Nasawa Technical College.

“I had to contend with negative perceptions from the society, especially peers as well as classmates. During practical lessons, whenever it was my turn, I could hear my male colleagues making fun of me. Some could not bear the sight of me in a work suit. But all this did not discourage me,” she recalls.

During her training, Kotokwa did her industrial attachments at Henred Fruehauf, a company which specialized in trailer manufacturing and repairs in Blantyre.

She says, despite specialising in motor vehicle mechanics, her attachment at the company exposed her to the other dimension of motor vehicle mechanics – trailer manufacturing and repairs.

Because of her hardworking spirit, the company employed her on full-time basis in 2010. Years later, while in search of greener pastures, she found herself working at Trailer Manufacturing Group (TMG), which is around Makata Industrial Area in Blantyre, where she is working as mechanic.

“I am quite happy because I am now able to fend for myself and my family. I am able to pay school fees for my daughter, who is in secondary school,” says Kotokwa, a single mother of two girls and a boy.

Her job entails assembling axles, working on braking systems and wheel alignment, among others, tasks which she says require a lot of precision and concentration. She works with a team of male colleagues who specialise in various fields.

Her colleague, Christopher Tembo, who specialises in fabrication, describes Kotokwa as a determined woman who should not be underrated.

“Trailer manufacturing and assembling is a multitasked job which requires working as a team. I work with her and I can assure you that she is a team worker. she is always supportive,” Tembo says.

No wonder, TMG Managing Director, Matias Juwack, is full of praise for her.

“Magret is a woman who doesn’t complain even when she is given an assignment at short notice.

“Anytime there is an assignment, she doesn’t hesitate, even when it is outside Blantyre or at odd hour. She is one of our reliable mechanics,” Juwack says.

This is why Labour Minister Vera Kamtukule is of the view that profiling success stories of women like Kotokwa could help demystify negative perceptions that women are good at some fields and not others.

“Let us make use of the services of these women to mobilise and motivate other women to take up Tevet-related courses,” Kamtukule says.

She made the remarks recently after visiting Farming and Engineering Services (FES) and TMG in Blantyre to encourage and inspire women who are working in hard skills areas, especially Tevet related jobs.

Apart from interacting with Kotokwa during her visit, she also interacted with Beatrice Chiumia, who works at FES as technician specialised in cummins , UD95, Perkins, Sisu and Deutz engines.

Summing up her impression of the visit, Kamtukule says she had an opportunity to see Tevet in action.

On his part, Tevet Authority Executive Director, Elwin Sichiola, says his organisation will intensify awareness campaigns in order to encourage more women to participate in Tevet courses.

“We, as an organisation that is mandated to regulate skills development in Malawi, are committed to supporting women in Tevet. We will utilise women like Kotokwa and Chiumia as role models during career talks and other platforms as we mobilise women to participate in Tevet courses,” Sichiola says.

Sichiola says Tevet Authority has a policy that ensures provision of bursaries/scholarship to female trainees and applies affirmative action during apprenticeship recruitment as some of the strategies of encouraging women to pursue courses in the Tevet sector, especially those which are considered to be male-dominated.

Through such policies, women such as Kotokwa find that the road to their dream careers is paved.

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