ESTHER, 27: Steering the way for marginalised youth in northern Nigeria

By: Kabir Yusuf

Photo by Celeste Hibbert

Esther is not your average 27-year-old woman. She is one of just two women out of more than 36,000 people working in the automobile trade in Kano — northern Nigeria’s commercial hub and second largest city. Esther is an auto mechanic, a role model, an inspiration. She is tackling socio-cultural norms and leading the way for thousands of marginalised youth living in northern Nigeria.

MAFITA

Having achieved her dream of becoming an auto mechanic, a role predominantly associated with men, she aspires to see many more young females enter her profession. Esther will now work as a trainer for MAFITA, a six-year youth skills development programme funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). MAFITA will enhance economic opportunities for more than 68,000 marginalised young people in Nigeria’s northern states including Almajirai, IQE girls, orphans and vulnerable children, people with disabilities, early school leavers and prison inmates.

Photo by Celeste

Female auto mechanics

Esther hopes during her time with MAFITA to encourage more females to become auto mechanics. Many young girls and women have no access to skills training, modern education or opportunities for development in northern Nigeria. Early, sometimes forced marriage, household duties and socio-cultural norms dictate the lives of many. The patriarchal culture of the region questions the exposure of women to men who are master craftspersons (MCPs) in various skills and trades.

Esther’s story

So where did Esther’s story start? Her passion of becoming an auto mechanic developed at a young age but her family disapproved since it was unprecedented and challenged existing patterns. How did she succeed and become the role model she is today? Esther was determined to pursue her dream, ensure a sustainable income for herself and make an impact on the wider community. She applied, and was accepted, to study at the local polytechnic. But her struggle continued while attending lectures in mostly all-male classes. Fellow students excluded her from assignments and excursions, leaving her feeling like an intruder. She said: “I had to deal with the impression from my colleagues that I was being favoured because of my gender whenever I got better grades.”

Photo by Celeste

After qualifying, Esther’s first internship was an administrative post at a local government secretariat. But true to her type, she said she wanted her hands coated with grease amidst cranks and wheels. Esther’s perseverance paid off, and she was placed in the auto mechanic workshop where she gained the experience she uses in her career today.

The auto mechanic sector is only one of the trades MAFITA’s MCPs are training marginalised youth in. Skills training will be available in various trades, from fashion design and hospitality to masonry and plumbing. MAFITA, Esther and its team of MCPs are paving the way for a better future for northern Nigeria’s youth helping them gain both life and technical skills.

Future

The MAFITA programme has a total of 83 auto mechanic master craftspeople (MCPs), including Kano’s only two female auto mechanics. Together they will train hundreds of marginalised youth into auto mechanic apprenticeships by the end of 2017.

Esther feels it is a remarkable achievement to be part of MAFITA and agrees with the words of her sole other female colleague, Muhibbat, who said: “It is impressive that MAFITA emphasizes gender equality. I have always hoped to see more women in the auto mechanic trade and MAFITA is giving me the opportunity to train them.”

MAFITA, Kano, September 2016.