Breaking the ceiling in male dominated trades
As Malawi strives to attain Malawi 2063 vision goals, technical skills development has become one of the tools for achieving that.
However, girls are still lagging behind, in terms of technical skills acquisition, especially in trades that are dominated by men. These include fabrication and welding, plumbing, bricklaying and automobile mechanics.
Fortunately, people like Jacqueline Nkhoma, 20, are holding the bull by the horn.
“I am studying plumbing at Thumbwe Community Technical College in Chiradzulu District, where I am a second-year student,” she says.
She says she developed interest in plumbing after getting inspired by a female plumber in Machinjiri Township, Blantyre.
“This woman [in Machinjiri Township] has inspired many girls to develop interest in trades such as plumbing. I decided to become a plumber after realising that women, too, can do plumbing and become financially independent,” Jacqueline points out.
She, however, concedes that it requires hard work for one to attain goals.
“At first, I found it hard because, sometimes, the job requires physical strength. As such, many women shun trades such as plumbing.
“To the contrary, I enjoy plumbing,” Jacqueline emphasises.
Jacqueline is not the only one challenging stereotypes in male-dominated fields.
Bertha Banda, 22, is beating the odds in another trade that is dominated by men.
“I am studying automobile mechanics at Nasawa Technical College in Zomba.
“I was inspired by a female neighbour who is a mechanic. We call her Aunt Sarah. She is financially independent and can provide for herself, something that inspired me. She works in a nearby garage within my community and can fix cars, just as male mechanics. This really pushed me to dispel perceptions that such work is only for men,” Bertha explains.
Bertha, who stays in Blantyre, is determined to realise her dream as her parents struggle to pay tuition fees for her and provide her with resources such as tools and books, which, she admits, are costly.
“If many women can join trades that are male dominated, it is easy for them to become self-reliant and contribute to the development of the economy,” she added.
Just like Jacqueline, Bertha has had her fair share of incidents.
She cites cases where people look down on her.
“One major challenge I have faced is that, sometimes, car owners look down on me when I want to fix their cars. They demand to know if someone like me can change a tyre, let alone fix their cars. It happens to me a lot,” Bertha laments.
Her dream is to open a garage.
Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training Authority (Teveta) says it is implementing initiatives to encourage the girl child to acquire more challenging artisan skills.
Teveta Executive Director Elwin Sichiola says the authority is ensuring that girls are participating in so-called ‘hard trades’, as Malawi’s population comprises more girls than boys.
“As such, leaving behind girls would, by and by, leave a gap in the skilled labour force. That is why we are promoting mindset change in communities,” Sichiola says.
“At the moment, we are providing 100 percent scholarships to girls pursuing hard skills. The scholarship covers school fees for girls who opt to study hard skills but, soon, using funds from the World Bank, we will be providing special scholarships that will also support the girls with transport and their livelihoods,” Sichiola points out.
He said creating a 50:50 workshop is possible where equal number of boys and girls can acquire such skills.
Nancy Chitera, who is Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences Vice Chancellor, concurs with Sichiola.
“If Malawi has to develop a skilled labour force that contributes to the attainment of Malawi 2063 goals, women have to be included,” Chitera says.
Who knows, maybe girls have been the missing piece of the puzzle.