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The young women of Burkina Faso who fix stereotypes by repairing cars

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Being a young woman in an African Muslim country usually means staying at home and raising children.

But in the hot and dusty outskirts of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, girls and women from often disadvantaged backgrounds are being trained to become something quite different: car mechanics.

At the CFIAM centre, students are laying the groundwork for their futures in professions ranging from mechanics to electronics, while also daring to shake up the country’s entrenched traditions.

Working on cars has, until now, been considered exclusively suitable for men in Burkina Faso. But this is also a country with high levels of youth unemployment, particularly among young women, and where a surge of extremist Islamic beliefs and terrorism has put the brakes on much significant positive change. So, the classes help the women to point, with greasy hands, towards the chance of a career – a shot at independence and security for them and their families.

If someone wants to love me, he must accept that I am an emancipated girl

The school hosts nearly 200 students, who study eight hours a day, six days a week in a series of demanding classes, from mathematics to French language. Intensive practical courses include car electrics and coachbuilding.

“People don’t believe it when I diagnose a problem with their car, dismissing it as ‘girl talk’,” says Rookia, 27, who first attended car mechanic classes at the centre in 2016. “But when it comes to men and marriage, if someone wants to love me, he must accept that I am an emancipated girl.”

Main image: Girls with the teacher during a class for auto mechanic at the CFIAM all-female school in Ouagadougou. Credit: Valentina Piccinni

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