Rabat – In what is often still seen as a man’s world, two young Moroccan women, sisters, have decided to take matters into their own hands, literally.
Delicately manicured hands busily removing parts from a car’s engine, faces are getting covered in grease and blouses dirtied by hard work, but Najlae’s and Rajae’s smiles couldn’t be any wider.
It is in Tetouan, nestled in the north of the kingdom, that Najlae Lachqar, 23, and her little sister Rajae, 22, want to make their lifelong dream come true of opening their own, 100% feminine, car shop. It’s a dream that has been with them as long as they can remember.
In a society riddled with unemployment, women can face many challenges finding worthwhile employment. These two sisters, fascinated by car engines and mechanics since they were little girls, are showing us “how women can break down the barriers in a man’s world,” they confided to the cameras of TV2Africa.
“In Morocco — and especially here in the north, in Tetouan, the jobs that women tend to do are hairdressing, cooking, patisserie…,” explains Najlae.
Thanks to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in collaboration with the Forsaty program, the two young women are completing their second year of studies in the field. They were both nursing students when they learned that USAID offered training and assistance to help young people enter the labour market.
The two-year program consists of classroom study and an internship. Students learn mechanical theory that they then apply to practical training during the week.
Finding help to achieve their dream is one thing. Social acceptance is turning out to be something else. The sisters are raising more than a few eyebrows in pursuit of their dream. Najlae and Rajae often experience judgement from their friends and neighbors for choosing to work in a male-dominated field.
“Changing a tire in Morocco is easy, but changing minds about a woman’s place in society not so much.” Said Najlae to TV2Africa. But they remain unphased.
Behind the beautiful hills of Tetouan and its picturest scenery, lay the scourge of high unemployment and infrequent opportunities, forcing young Moroccans to look for better prospects elsewhere.
With more than 10 million young people in Morocco, youth makes up nearly 80% of the unemployed population. It is no surprise that Morocco’s unemployment crisis has hit youth the hardest. The fruitless job market has led to migration, increased crime and social marginalization. Tragically, the tempting promise of money and financial help for their families has lured too many young people into the arms of waiting jihadist recruiters.
Najlae disclosed in the interview that this has made many people a soft target for extremist groups. “Many of the youth choose illegal immigration to Europe, some have gone to Syria to join ISIS because of lack of opportunities.”
For Najlae and Rajae, however, there are dreams of opening their own workshop one day, becoming Morocco’s first qualified female mechanics. They even have a name picked out for their shop, “Princess Auto.”
Najlae wants to inspire other women to shift their dreams into high gear. “Men can choose jobs traditionally done by women, so why can’t women chose jobs traditionally done by men?” she asks. “You have to be aggressive and stick to your dream until people eventually accept it.”
Najlae’s moving message to every woman out there, still struggling with the stigma and discrimination of a patriarchal society is this; “Don’t let people tell you that you can’t do something you can. Overcome challenges and push back from inside your family and your community. It should not break you. Be persistent and work hard and lead by example.”