Since picking up a wrench as one of the first female car mechanics in conservative Pakistan, Uzma Nawaz has faced two common reactions: shock and surprise. And then a bit of respect.
The 24-year-old spent years overcoming entrenched gender stereotypes and financial hurdles en route to earning a mechanical engineering degree and netting a job with an auto repairs garage in the eastern city of Multan.
“I took it up as a challenge against all odds and the meager financial resources of my family,” Nawaz told AFP.
“When they see me doing this type of work they are really surprised.”
Hailing from the small, impoverished town of Dunyapur in eastern Pakistan’s Punjab province, Nawaz relied on scholarships and often skipped meals when she was broke while pursuing her degree.
Her achievements are rare. Women have long struggled for their rights in patriarchal Pakistan, an Islamic republic, and especially in rural areas are often encouraged to marry young and devote themselves entirely to family over career.
“No hardship could break my will and motivation,” she says proudly.
The sacrifices cleared the way for steady work at a Toyota dealership in Multan following graduation, she adds.
Just a year into the job, and promoted to general repairs, Nawaz moves with the ease of a seasoned pro around the dealership’s garage, removing tires from raised vehicles, inspecting engines and handling a variety of tools — a sight that initially jolted some customers.
“I was shocked to see a young girl lifting heavy spare tires and then putting them back on vehicles after repairs,” customer Arshad Ahmad told AFP.
But Nawaz’s drive and expertise has impressed colleagues, who say she can more than hold her own.
“Whatever task we give her she does it like a man with hard work and dedication,” said coworker M. Attaullah.
She has also convinced some of those who doubted her ability to make it in a male-dominated work environment, including members of her own family.
“There is no need in our society for girls to work at workshops, it doesn’t seems nice, but it is her passion,” said her father Muhammad Nawaz.
“She can now set up the machinery and can work properly. I too am very happy.”