Last November the BBC launched their 100 Women season, showcasing inspirational stories of women who defy stereotypes around the world. Amongst these women was Fatou Bensouda, a lawyer from The Gambia, who has risen through the ranks to become the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Reading Fatou Bensouda’s story got me thinking about inspirational women who I have met or had heard about in The Gambia and a number of people immediately sprang to mind but one group in particular shone out for me.
When people around the world celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women and raise awareness on a wide range of issues impacting on the lives of women and girls around the globe. So I’d like to share the story on some inspiring women in The Gambia.
Women mechanics? Unheard of!
What springs to mind when you think of the work of car mechanics? Dirty work, heavy lifting, not the sort of work many young ladies would want to do. Think again!
I’ve certainly never met a female mechanic, although I’m sure there are some and I’d be more than happy for them to look after my car. At Riders for Health in the Gambia, however, a group of inspiring women have dispelled the notion that this is a male only job.
Riders for Health maintain motorcycles, ambulances and other vehicles used in the delivery of health care in seven countries across Africa. Back in 2009 they launched a historic partnership with The Ministry of Health in The Gambia purchasing a national fleet of 140 vehicles, managed by Riders and leased back to the Ministry at a non-profit rate. This has enabled The Gambia to become the first country in Africa to offer health care access to its entire population, even in the most remote rural communities. Furthermore, as it is financially self-sustaining, these life-saving health services will be around for many years to come; a very impressive achievement in itself.
As you can imagine, maintaining these vehicles so that they are in the best possible condition is vital to this work. In the latter stages of 2014, Riders launched a scheme that sought to provide training for seven female apprentices for three years, with the ultimate aim that all seven women will gain a professional qualification as a ‘class one’ mechanic. They hope that all the women will join Riders’ national fleet management at the end of their three years of training, serving rural communities and ensuring that health care continues to be mobilised effectively. Through this scheme, Riders is able to provide women with an opportunity to succeed and embark on a career without the restriction of gender.
Every health worker, male or female, is also trained in basic vehicle maintenance and road safety. The impact is huge when you give a female health worker a motorbike and train her in basic maintenance. Not only does it enable her to reach six times as many people than she could before, her status within her community rises highly once she starts delivering health care via a Yamaha AG100.
It’s no surprise that the female mechanics and health workers have been an inspiration to the women and girls not just within their own community but throughout the country. They clearly demonstrate how the potential of women, when nurtured, can bring about much needed change.