Think car mechanic, and you think of men with dirty hands talking jargon that is intimidating to many people, especially women. Speckled with engine oil and coated with a layer of dust, Leqaa elKholy is challenging stereotypes in traditional Egyptian workplaces and pursuing a career as a car mechanic in a vast, male-dominated industry.
Ten years ago, Leqaa’s zeal for fixing cars was let loose after accompanying her father to the repair workshop everyday after school. Despite living in Luxor, a highly conservative city in Upper Egypt, Leqaa decided to turn her passion into a career and shatter the falsehood of that there must be female-only or male-only kind of jobs.
“I was always fascinated by cars.I love everything about them from the engine to the body,” the 21-year-old said from her auto repair shop in Esna, Luxor. “The only daring part was [ignoring] what people thought of me, but I didn’t care. If I had listened to people’s perceptions of me I wouldn’t be doing something I love, and be strong and successful like I am now,”Leqaa added.
Leqaa’s “outrageous” decision raised many eyebrows in Luxor’s conventional society. She was attacked, criticized, and called a man for her choice to do what she loves.
“They kept telling me: you’re a girl, how can you slide under cars with your body in front male strangers? This job needs physical strenghth, you won’t be able to perform it. How can a girl’s hands be so dirty? But as long as I had my parents supporting me, [I didn't allow myself to think too hard about] all those haunting criticisms,” she said.
Gaining customers’ trust is another obstacle Leqaa faced since she started working on her own at the autoshop. From customers belittling her knoweldge and underestimating her capabailties, to others asking her not to touch the car unless a male mechanic is around, Leqaa stood strong for nearly seven years working and fixing cars. “Everyone in Esna city knows me now, no one is surprised anymore.”
“People’s perception of me was very sexist at first. They had never seen a female mechanic before and they made jokes about me. Even female customers thought I weren’t fit for the job … I don’t expect everyone to accept it all the time, but that doesn’t mean it will stop me from working,” she added, saying it only motivates her to keep moving forward.
Eager to further develop her theortical knoweldge, Leqaa constantly researches online and reads articles to make sure she is up-to-date with the latest technocolgical advancements in the field. She received various ceritficates from automobile companies after she took their mechanical courses. She also attended a training course organized by the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
“I met people who actually studied mechanics at those courses I attended. At first I was intimdated because I didn’t study the field. But later on,I realised there was no knowledge gap between us. Practical expercience from a younger age made up for my lack of a higher education certificate,” she explained.
Leqaa said the sky is the limit to the countless dreams she still wants to achieve.
“I want to open up a training centre in Luxor for young girls and women to learn about mechanics — even if they don’t want to pursue it as a career — I think it is important for girls to understand the basics, like changing a tire and checking their oil. It can keep them safe, and will also save them money.”
Even more, Leqaa wants to create a fully equipped car maintainance center, and hire women to work alongside her. “I want the job to be easy for anyone who’s passionate about performing it, while not listening to what [negative] people think. If sliding under cars is a problem for them — even though it shouldn’t be — then I want to have car lifts, so they won’t need to slide.”
Being a car mechanic isn't a threat to how "feminine" she feels about herself. It's a matter of confidence, she says.
“I may be greasy and all dusty in the workshop, but that doesn’t faze me one bit because I’m confident — I’ll go home, shower and smell of perfume at night,” Leqaa said.
From now on, Leqaa believes and advocates for no job being monopolized by one gender. “No girl should stop dreaming to please others. I’m happy because I’m doing what I love and everyone should do so too,” she said.