Teach women to repair cars and encourage their husbands to practice safe driving. That’s the goal of a training course for young women in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. The initiative is welcome in this east African country, which has one of the highest road accident rates in the world.
By Ruud Elmendorp, Nairobi
“I will teach my husband safe driving”, says Donna Mulingi with a smile. With a spanner in hand and wearing a uniform with a Lady Mekanika logo, Donna (25) is one of 25 women taking part in the car mechanics training course of the same name, organised by the NGO Project Africa.
The classes are held in a garage, in Nairobi’s suburb. On a plot the size of a football field, small improvised garages have been set up, some in wooden shacks. The place is teeming with men in worn uniforms working on car engines.
Aligning, balancing, adjusting
The women of the Lady Mekanika project are crouched around a Volkswagen, practising brakess adjustment. The instructor, Anthon Wainana, explains that the ladies are learning all aspects of car inspection: “Adjusting headlights, aligning wheels, engine balancing and of course adjusting brakes”. The women also take classes for a driving theory test.
In Kenya, there are 3,000 road casualties on average every year, mostly pedestrians. Ill-maintained roads and rickety cars are among the chief causes. Efforts by the government to improve conditions have failed because of the complexity of the situation. Women are tired of the waiting and the accidents, something that sparked off Lady Mekanika project.
“No more deaths in road accidents”, says Donna, with a firm tone. “I want people to be serious about road safety and wear their seatbelts.” Seatbelts were made compulsory a few years ago, but only a few drivers bothe to use them. “Men drive irresponsibly and expose us, as well as our children, to all kinds of dangers”, Donna explains, pointing to a minibus that was involved in a head-on collision.
A group of men observe the women from a distance. They don’t really appreciate women invading their territory. Most of the men refrain from commenting, but one of them praises the female mechanics: “Our culture teaches us that women are not able to handle cars, but they seem to be better at it than men”. The instructor confirms: “Women concentrate better than men. Men are very distracted.”
Better than men
“My dream is to recruit more women and open my own spare parts business,” says Donna. She is not the only one who cherishes a dream. For Linda Wafula, the founder of Lady Mekanika, the goal is to see women contributing to road safety.
“They are aware of the dangers on the roads. I am convinced that they will take the message home, to their husbands and communities,” she says.
It’s lunch time for the ladies. The men are watching as they proudly proceed to the canteen. At the end of their six months' training, these women may be recruited to work in the garage on a permanent basis. “Women are better than men”, says Donna, laughing.