In Pakistan there is an involuntary division of labour that is controlled by the strong traditional ethos of the country. Female segment of population is not encouraged to work professionally despite placing equal emphasis on getting females educated. Despite female segment proving its worth by excelling in academic pursuits it is usually denied field jobs in fields of engineering and technology. Female engineers usually teach in colleges and universities and not found working in the technical arenas of public and private sector enterprises.
The situation is even bad in areas that require technical expertise on lower levels such as mechanics engaged in technical repairs. This area is totally out of bounds for female workforce though it is proven time and again that the urge to engage in technical activities is equally strong in women as it is in men. The first reported instance of breaking this barrier pertains to Uzma Nawaz of Multan who picked up the wrench to become pioneer of female motor mechanics in Pakistan.
Uzma Nawaz immediately faced the reactions of surprise and shock from all around her that were much keeping in with the prevalent perceptions about such matters. It was ,however, noted with satisfaction that she commanded great deal of respect within her colleagues. She had earlier broken the hold of deep engendered gender stereotypes when she decided to utilise her mechanical degree to work in an auto repairs garage in Multan. The 24-year-old took up the challenge as she was constrained by the financial hardships encountered by her family.
Hailing from a small, impoverished town of Dunyapur near Multan, Uzma Nawaz has relied on scholarships to pursue her mechanical education. She was looked at with clear disapproval in the ultra-conservative socio-professional milieu of Pakistan but she soldiered on. No physical or social restraint could break her spirit and she carried through with her intense motivation. She was given a career break by Toyota dealership in Multan after she qualified her degree.
After a year in the job she moved up the ladder and started performing general repairs jobs and moved with tremendous ease to difficult technical areas. She worked with ease while removing tyres or inspecting engines and repairing major faults. Her maneuvers surprised the clientele coming to her workshop but were equally impressed with her professionalism and devotion to the work.
Her biggest achievement is that she has convinced her co-workers that mechanical work is not the exclusive preserve of men-folk and the current advancement in power tools has taken out the need for applying force to technical chores that women were supposed to lack. Application of technical aspect to work was also synonymous with strength but power tools now have taken over the hard bit of the toil and most hard tasks are now carried out through remote-based power application.
Side by side with Uzma Nawaz are many female technical workers who are coming forward to do technical jobs. A professional body known as Women in Logistics and Transport (WILAT) is encouraging them to come into this field of activity. WILAT holds regular training programmes in SZABIST that are attended by girls. The South Asia Pacific Terminal (SAPT) based at Karachi Port has already hired female professional degree holders from NED Engineering University to operate heavy-duty lifting machines used to pick up large containers from the ships.
SAPT has designed a facility inside their operational area from where these female mechanical workers operate through remote controls. This female workforce though is very conversant with the entire mechanical aspects of their operation and knows the process upside down. The working environment is very congenial and the girls are treated equally by their male colleagues.
Pakistan needs huge number of people having technical skills as CPEC requires tremendous application of technical skills when the projects are operational. Pakistanis will be required to take over these projects in the longer run as these projects are long-term ventures. It will be a very good development if the burdens of running these projects are equally shared by men and women of Pakistan. WILAT operates with this point in view and is providing technical skills to female workforce in anticipation of the prospects on the anvil.
Muhammad Rafiq is associated with trade and industry