Friday, July 15, 2011

South Sudan's first female car mechanics

The culture of Sudan makes women subject to men in many ways. Women even have to kneel at the feet of their husbands when then they bring water to them.

Three young women are trying to break through the barriers of their culture by training to become mechanics. Once they graduate they will be the first women to work in this trade in Sudan's history.

From the Guardian, writer Laura Powell introduces us to the barrier breakers.

Nura Koleji rubs her toe in the ochre dust, hugs her knees to her stomach, and keeps her eyes firmly downcast – until we hit on the one topic she is bubbling to talk about. It is not how she fled her village of Lanya when AK47-wielding soldiers arrived from the north during the Sudanese civil war. Nor how they kidnapped her brother to train him as a child soldier; how she watched as they picked out victims and shot them; or how her two uncles were among those butchered in front of her.

It is not even the topic I am here to speak to her about – why she decided to train as a mechanic. What really riles Nura is men's dominance in the workplace. Last week South Sudan, became an independent country following a 22-year war that ended in 2005. And in this brand new country, women such as Nura are keen to see changes.

"We have a saying that one hand is not enough to clap. It's true," she tells me. "We need both sexes, not just one. There's an hereditary attitude in my village that women are weaker. I ignore those words and despise the people who say them because I have louder words in my heart telling me I am strong."

Nura is not an activist; she has never heard the word "feminist". She is a 20-year-old, softly spoken Sudanese girl, wearing oil-slicked blue mechanic's overalls. When she graduates next year she, along with three other female classmates, will have defied the odds to become the first women mechanics in South Sudan.

By the time we meet at 9am, I've dressed, had breakfast and negotiated the potholed roads of Juba, Southern Sudan's de facto capital, to reach the technical college, a secondary school where the 470 students (85% of whom are boys) train to become electricians, bricklayers, carpenters or mechanics. Nura, meanwhile, has collected water from a borehole, swept her family's compound, poured tea for her six younger siblings, revised, and picked mangoes before her two-hour walk to school. After classes finish at 3pm, she will sell the fruit at Juba market and put the earnings towards her £41-a-year school fees.

As her 16-year-old classmate Pamela Daniel says: "If you live here, everything is a struggle. But if you don't struggle, you may as well spend your life asleep because nothing will come to you."

Nura chose this profession partly because she loves cars, partly because she would love to drive (but has neither the money nor facilities to learn), and partly because she wanted technical skills and a trade, rather than a traditional academic education. One motive, however, supersedes the rest; Nura believes there are no female role models in Southern Sudan and her ambition is to become the first.

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