A female-run auto workshop is showing Senegal that there’s no work women can’t do. Worldette writer and Dakar resident Emily Schauer tells us about the unique Femme Auto.
Nearly everywhere you go in Dakar, Senegal, you can spot a car that looks like it was at the end of its life ten years ago.
You will also regularly spot on-the-fly mechanics next to major roads and intersections, and in every neighborhood is a small mechanic shop – known locally as the ‘garage’ – where almost anything can be fixed with some combination of twine, a hammer, and mysterious liquids stored in unlabeled containers.
Garage Femme Auto (women’s car garage) opened its doors in 2006, under the direction of Coumba Mboup, an authoritative woman who is also eager to laugh.
Throughout her life, Coumba, who grew up in Dakar, was interested in car mechanics. She was fortunate to have been one of the few women accepted into the local vocational school for mechanics, and thus began her career in the auto industry.
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She started Garage Femme Auto – which currently employs ten women – after spending several years working as a contractor for Renault, a French car company with a branch in Dakar.
Coumba says that she saw many women who were interested in being mechanics, but who had no outlet to pursue that interest.
She wanted to show them that there was no work that women can’t do; that the ability to do a job lies in your head, not in your muscles.
Eventually Coumba was able to open her own garage – financed fully with her personal savings – through which she could give other women the same opportunity she was fortunate enough to enjoy.
Now, six years later, she remains the sole proprietor and her garage has seen a continuous uptick in customers and employment applications.
When asked what makes her garage so successful, she says ‘we are a good organization; we take care of our clients and their cars and make sure everyone is happy’. When pressed further, she also elaborated that ‘clients trust women more. They’re more serious about their jobs than men‘.
Coumba, who is currently pregnant but still completely in charge, says that her goal for the coming years is to increase the size of her garage, in order to accommodate more clients.
Her biggest challenge from the inception of the garage to now is a government full of slow-moving officials who often make promises on which they don’t deliver. This, above all, has been the barrier to unbridled success, even more than men who are sceptical or critical of womens’ roles in the business.
‘People are hesitant at first, but when they see the quality of the [female] mechanics’ work, they are satisfied, and they come back’.
This extremely capable woman has found a unique way to straddle the traditional values and new-age influence that play tug-of-war throughout Senegal.
She appears to be very comfortable in this role, yet doggedly determined to show that women can work the same jobs as men, without sacrificing the important role of femininity and motherhood held in high regard in her culture.
When asked whether her husband was supportive of her entrepreneurial instincts and ambitions she said, ‘of course he is. If he wasn’t, I’d hit him!’
She truly is making great strides for the women of Senegal.
What do you think about Femme Auto? Do you know any other female-run businesses that are breaking new ground in their communities? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!