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In patriarchal Pakistan, a female mechanic works on gender stereotypes as well as cars

Uzma Nawaz has caused a stir among customers and even her own family by entering the male-dominated world of car repairs

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2018, 3:02am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2018, 9:10am

Since picking up a wrench as one of the first female car mechanics in conservative Pakistan, Uzma Nawaz has faced two common reactions: shock and surprise. And then a bit of respect.

Nawaz, 24, spent years overcoming entrenched gender stereotypes and financial hurdles en route to earning a mechanical engineering degree and netting a job with an auto repairs garage in the eastern city of Multan.

“I took it up as a challenge against all odds and the meagre financial resources of my family,” she said.

“When they see me doing this type of work they are really surprised.”

Hailing from the small, impoverished town of Dunyapur in eastern Pakistan’s Punjab province, Nawaz relied on scholarships and often skipped meals when she was broke while pursuing her degree.

Her achievements are rare. Women have long struggled for their rights in patriarchal Pakistan, an Islamic republic, and especially in rural areas are often encouraged to marry young and devote themselves entirely to family over career.

“No hardship could break my will and motivation,” Nawaz said.

The sacrifices cleared the way for steady work at a Toyota showroom in Multan after graduation.

Just a year into the job, and promoted to general repairs, Nawaz moves with the ease of a seasoned pro around the dealership’s garage, removing tyres from raised vehicles, inspecting engines and handling a variety of tools – a sight that initially jolted some customers.

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“I was shocked to see a young girl lifting heavy spare tyres and then putting them back on vehicles after repairs,” said customer Arshad Ahmad.

But Nawaz’s drive and expertise have impressed colleagues, who say she can more than hold her own.

“Whatever task we give her, she does it like a man with hard work and dedication,” said colleague M. Attaullah.

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She has also convinced some of those who doubted her ability to make it in a male-dominated work environment, including members of her own family.

“There is no need in our society for girls to work at workshops, it doesn’t seems nice, but it is her passion,” said her father, Muhammad Nawaz.

“She can now set up the machinery and can work properly. I too am very happy.”