Meet Maseray and Lucinda who have defied gender norms in Sierra Leone to venture into what many people in the country believe to be “male careers “. Indeed, most jobs in Sierra Leone that involve heavy machinery are occupied by men. Vehicle technicians, mechanics, and jobs in agricultural mechanization, road construction, and mining sectors are largely male-dominated professions.
26-year old Maseray King from Hanga Village, Bo, is passionate about learning technical skills and supporting other young women in her small community.
“My dream is to become a certified tractor operator and engineer who will empower other young people on skills in tractor operation, and how to use other agricultural machinery,” says Maseray. “With these skills, I believe I can support agriculture and help boost food security,” she adds.
Thanks to the Tractor Training Programme, Maseray is on her way to realizing her potential. The Tractor operation and basic maintenance training is a part of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) larger-scale youth empowerment project in Sierra Leone, targeting 2,000 young people in five of the country’s 16 districts.
The project's initiative is born out of IOM’s desire to empower and equip young people in Sierra Leone with technical and vocational, entrepreneurial skills to dissuade them from embarking on ‘Temple Run’, which is Sierra Leonean slang for irregular migration.
60% of the youth in the country are unemployed. Coupled with the issue of rural-urban migration, transnational migration has become an outlet for Sierra Leonean youth and young women to escape lacking opportunities at home. Like Maseray, many of these young people are looking for jobs but some don’t have the skills that will make them employable. The lack of technical skills is one of the many reasons for the high youth unemployment rate in Sierra Leone. And to a large extent, unemployment is among the reasons driving the urge of young people to seek work abroad, usually via irregular migration.
To boost youth employment and combat irregular migration, IOM started a youth empowerment project in 2019. With support from the Government of Japan, the project is now contributing to youth and women’s empowerment through technical, vocational skills, and entrepreneurship training.
Back to Maseray. When she sat for her final High School exam, she did not meet the full requirements to be admitted to a university course in the country. She decided to look for a technical training course instead. When IOM and the Ministry of Youth Affairs presented young people with the opportunity to learn new skills, she seized it.
Maseray is now among 200 young people who have received three months of intensive training on basic tractor operation and maintenance. She was one of the best students in the training, and was recently offered an internship at Sierra Tropical Limited, one of Sierra Leone’s largest agribusiness companies.
“At first when I opted to go for the training, some of my friends laughed at me. Some said ‘tractor operation is a man’s job and I should look for other programmes,’” Maseray says. "Even some male trainees thought they could do better than the females,” she adds.
22-year-old Lucinda Sam was the only female applicant and participant of the first batch of the Grader Operation and Maintenance Training Programme. Despite pursuing political science at Njala University, Lucinda still believes in acquiring new technical skills that will make her employable.
Lucinda has expressed joy for being part of the IOM Grader training. “I feel very proud and excited to participate in this training. I am learning a lot as I aspire to become a Senior Grader Operator to compete with men for technical jobs in road construction, maintenance and agriculture.”
It is difficult for many women to thrive in a society of gender stereotypes. In their bid to achieve their dreams, women like Lucinda and Maseray are taking the bold step to break the barriers of societal norms.
“To some extent, even family members want to stop you from exploring opportunities in a male-dominated field. When I started taking classes in the grader training, my uncle was among those who discouraged me not to continue the training because he believed the training was for men only,” Lucinda explained. With all this, she felt like she had to proceed with the training programme.
Initially, when the tractor and grader training started, only few women applied. IOM and the Ministry of Youth Affairs encouraged more women to enroll in the programme through community information sessions and media engagement in Bo, Kailahun, Kono, and Freetown. After these engagements, the number of female participants increased. So far, a total of 62 young women have been trained on tractor and grader operation and basic maintenance.
“At IOM Sierra Leone, women’s empowerment is at the heart of our community stabilization programmes. Within the framework of the IOM Technical Vocational Educational Training (TVET)/Entrepreneurship project, women are being empowered with skills to respond to labour market demand, and also providing opportunities for women through entrepreneurship training, mentorship and start-up kits to begin their businesses” says Dr James Bagonza, Head of Office at IOM Sierra Leone.
In partnership with the International Labour Organization, National Youth Commission and Ministry of Youth Affairs, IOM has trained 240 youths including 143 young women on entrepreneurship who have started their businesses. Also, 78 women received training for jobs in fisheries and 100 for skills in the hospitality sector. Within the same project, 33 female youths who are members of Waste collection groups in Freetown received training on entrepreneurship and sustainable waste management.
All these capacity-building initiatives and youth empowerment schemes are efforts to provide young people including vulnerable women with employment, whilst also providing alternatives to irregular migration.
Like Maseray and Lucinda, other female beneficiaries of the project are also committed to seeing that they succeed despite gender stereotypes.
“I aim to expand my business into a company. And this is achievable with dedication and hard work,” says Sarah Blessing Kargbo, CEO of Success Waste Cleaning Services. Through IOM’s Youth empowerment programme, Sarah was trained and provided with a motorized tricycle, which she uses to create income for herself, whilst contributing to sustainable waste management in Freetown.
This story was written by Alfred Fornah, Communications and Public Relations Assistant, IOM Sierra Leone, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone: +23277908976