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Nigerian Women Seek Empowerment as Car Mechanics

Educated women in Nigeria are playing a more prominent role in professions long-dominated by men. As for illiterate and poorly educated women, there are few work options beyond petty trading, food preparation, or prostitution. But an initiative for disadvantaged women offers training as car mechanics and start-up tools so the women can set up their own street-side garages. Sarah Simpson reports for VOA from Lagos.

In an open-air garage in Nigeria's commercial capital, Lagos, young women in canary yellow overalls are tuning cars and overturning convention, as they train to become mechanics.

They are part of the Lady Mechanic Initiative, a charity set up by Nigeria's first female mechanic, Sandra Aguebor, who wants to use her trade to empower underprivileged women, across Africa.

"The Lady Mechanic Initiative works with the less privileged, the vulnerable and those orphans," explains Sandra. " And, also, the lady mechanics work with the ex-commercial sex workers, the school certificate holders who could not finish their education for any reason, the married women who also want to acquire mechanical skills - those are the people we are working with, the girl-child."

In Nigeria, as in most African countries, work opportunities are more restricted for women than men. But that is changing.

Women from oil-rich Nigeria's elite classes are increasingly taking prominent roles in politics since the end of military dictatorship in 1999.

According to the United Nations, Nigerian women are more likely to earn a wage in the non-agricultural sector than they were eight years ago.

Since its launch in 2000, the Lady Mechanic Initiative has trained seven women, with limited resources. But substantial financial backing from diplomatic missions, businesses and aid groups has enabled the initiative to swell to 70 female trainees, based in 12 garages across Lagos State.

One of those, 23-year-old Amario Nwosu, explains how to service a car.

"Since it is servicing, first of all you gauge the two tires with - you chock it. Then you bring your lying board and you lie under. Then you take your spanners along with you and…." she explains.

Nwosu has studied at the Lady Mechanic Initiative since 2005 and is scheduled to graduate as a fully trained car mechanic in May. As part of the scheme, she will be given her own set of tools.

As a trained mechanic, Nwosu can expect to earn around $250 a month, giving her a higher income than most other Nigerians. Long-term, her ambition is to maximize her earnings further by opening her own garage. She is confident in her recently acquired skills.

"To drop a gear box is easy for me, to service a car, move the shock absorber, the shaft is easy for me," Nwosu says. "But to drop an engine - ha! It is very hard and heavy, very complicated and so on. But still I have to try to assist so I can learn more about it."

Doctor Jadesola Idowu is a care coordinator with Hygeia Nigeria Limited. Her organization is offering support to the Lady Mechanic Initiative by providing the girls with heavily subsidized health care.

She would like to see more projects like the one set up by Sandra Aguebor, so more women can be empowered.

"If you educate the girl-child you actually educate the nation. We hope more Sandra's pop up over the nation and get girls empowered," she says.

Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation, with an estimated population of about 140 million people. Although Nigeria exports more oil than any other African nation, 70 percent of the population live on less than $2 a day, according to the United Nations.