What is your first reaction to seeing a young woman who is an electrician, welder, automotive technician, or a heavy equipment operator?
Or, what is the first image that comes to mind when you book an appointment for car repairs, electrical installation, etc? If we are being honest, a woman is probably not who you are picturing. For many of us, what comes to mind is a picture of a “man at work.”
With the many challenges women in non-traditional Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) careers are confronted with, it’s not surprising to see a low number of women in the profession.
Belinda Akos Akaba is one of a few women excelling in the male-dominated TVET trades. She is a mechanical engineer with Solar Taxi Limited, an e-mobility company in Ghana that deals in the assembly and sales of electric cars and bikes. And guess what? She is only 22-years old!
"Having to work as a mechanical engineer feels natural to me. I view it as a challenge because engineering is overwhelmingly dominated by men," Belinda tells me. “When I was younger, I'd see a bird fly and my creativity would run wild.
Beside being creative, Belinda had the opportunity to be enrolled into a technical school by Network of Women for Growth (NEWIG). The opportunity opened her eyes to new possibilities. At the time, she was 19 and had just graduated from high school.
“My father was not thrilled with the prospect of me studying engineering. He believed that technical occupations should be reserved for men,” she says.
But that didn’t stop Belinda.
"I had the impression that this is where I wanted to be. I felt different, and I excelled in my classes," Belinda shares. According to her, her class had a sum of 47 students. Of these, seven were women. However, she never felt intimidated by the men in her class.
"After graduating, we did some house-wiring work for someone, which solidified my decision to pursue this career," she says. “My former boss at the Electricity Company of Ghana was also very encouraging.”
Women supporting women
Other women have also supported Belinda's in her decision to stick to the trades.
In September of 2021, Belinda received the Best Hardware Engineer of the Year award by Ghana Ladies in Tech.
"Women should work together to pave the way for other women to climb the success ladder in non-traditional TVET trades," Belinda advises. "We can do it, even if society says we can't."
"I am never ashamed of what I do, and because I want to encourage other women, I constantly post about my work on social media, and I have received a lot of feedback from women who tell me how much I inspire them," she says.
Belinda’s experience isn’t uncommon. There are huge opportunities for women in the non-traditional TVET sector, however, because of the incessant intimidations from their male counterparts, misconceptions, name-calling and their family’s unsupportiveness, a lot of young women would rather venture into more so-called “feminine occupations.”
Radio programs are changing opinions
Radio programs are making a difference in changing perceptions about women in the trades.
The Innovation in Non-traditional Vocational Education and Skills Training (INVEST) project is a five- year collaborative campaign implemented by WUSC with funding from Global Affairs Canada that will build sustainable pathways to enhance economic empowerment, well-being, and inclusive growth for 5,000 urban young women in Accra, Kumasi and Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana.
As part of efforts to debunk societal myths and change perceptions about women in male-dominated TVET areas, and to advocate for more women in these fields, Farm Radio International is working with three radio stations in the target project areas: Kasapa FM in Accra, Angel FM in Kumasi and Connect FM in Takoradi on how to produce and deliver quality and interactive radio programming using a radio drama series.
The radio program is a 60 minute radio drama series and contains diverse segments to make it intriguing and captivating for listeners to stay glued to their radio sets.
Passing it forward
Belinda herself has been featured on the radio program as a role model for the “Star of the Week” segment on Connect and Kasapa FM. She was also very involved in the recent school community outreach event at Tema Technical Institute where she engaged with students from the school and shared her experience.
“It is a good initiative you’ve started and it will create more awareness and encourage more women in other fields who meet the requirements to also pursue jobs in male-dominated TVET trades,” Belinda says. “Being involved in the radio program and the school community outreach has given me so much exposure. I have met new people and interacted with a lot of the students.”
We hope that many of them will be inspired by Belinda's story.
Professions are not gendered. If you can think it, you can be it. Way to go, Belinda!
About the author
Sefakor Humade holds a Bachelor of Communications degree with a major in journalism from the Ghana Institute of Journalism. Fascinated about fictional stories, Sefakor began writing at the age of ten. She was born and raised in Ghana's capital, Accra. Sefakor enjoys cooking and exploring new places, and she hopes to work with a major news organization in the future to share credible and inspiring news stories.
About the project
Innovation in Non-traditional Vocational Education and Skills Training (INVEST) for women in Ghana is a 5-year collaborative initiative (2020-2025) that will advance sustainable pathways to enhanced economic empowerment and well-being for 5,000 urban poor young women in Ghana, operating in its three largest cities - Accra, Kumasi, and Sekondi-Takoradi - representing a total population of approximately 6.5 million people. The project is led by WUSC, thanks to funding from Global Affairs Canada