Women in male-dominated fields: The bold exploits of Murna



Many women have taken to some manual-intensive jobs said to be exclusive to the male folks. In this report, ELEOJO IDACHABA examines the place of such women with particular reference to a divorced woman who is into what is commonly known as PoP.

The saying that what men can do, women can do even better is no longer a mere aphorism as investigations have revealed that in recent years, a lot of women have found safe vocations in areas hitherto referred to as men’s world. Not too long ago, there was news about a young lady mechanic identified as Juliet who she was spotted under a car around a mechanic shop close to the Force Headquarters in Abuja. The attention drawn to her was such that not too long after, she became a toast for an engineering company with an outlet in Abuja. Today, she is in one of their offices in Lagos.

That’s not all; a number of women have been identified at the steering wheels of vehicles also known as taxis traversing the length and breadth of major streets in the nation’s cities. Many have even ventured into driving articulated vehicles like trucks and trailers as well. The case of some female drivers in the payroll of Dangote Company is no longer news. It was found out that many of them do this out of passion while others do so out of the desire to eke out a living having sought other jobs without success. Yet, others say they want to prove the point that the age of ‘men’s world’ is over and gone for good. Whatever is the reason, the fact remains that today there are many women in erstwhile male-dominated endeavours.

Murna

Murna Joy Michael, a middle-aged woman who prior to this time was a house- help. Life was almost complicated for her as she was married off early in life and had a daughter before the marriage crashed. Speaking with Blueprint Weekend recently, she said there is nothing someone, especially a determined woman, cannot do in order to cut off the cycle of poverty when her background is considered.

While revealing her identity to this reporter, she said: “My name is Murna Joy Michael. I’m from Kaduna state, precisely from Kachia local government area. Presently, I live in Moko by Dutsen-Alhaji in Abuja. I am into what is known as PoP, which is technically known as ‘Plaster of Paris’ for ceilings and other forms of internal decorations for homes and offices using white cements.”

On why she delved into this line of business said to be exclusive to the male folks, she said: “Life is all about challenges; therefore, when you are in that type of situation, you try to encourage yourself by doing something extra-ordinary that can fix your destiny. My story is such that would make someone to give up in life, but I chose to do the opposite. For instance, I got married early in life due to lack of understanding and later divorced while in my village. I then decided to relocate to the city in order to eke out a living. First of all, I was taken to Lagos as a house-help.

Murna’s PoP journey

“It was while I was doing this house-help job that I began to ask myself if I should continue as a house-help forever. Thereafter, the thought of learning a trade came up. Coincidentally, some persons were working on a building within the compound I was serving; so I picked interest in the way they were transforming the ceiling from board to cement; and the way they were working to transform the living room and the kitchen. This was in 2008, when what is today known as PoP was not so common.

“I told my madam about my interest to learn the job and surprisingly she agreed; thereafter, she paid the N80, 000 fee. That was how I started and for three years, I was under the man learning the rudiments of the job until I completed the session. Now, I am on my own, but I need clients.”

On whether she has trained anyone else since she started, she said, “I have trained people especially men. So far, I trained only two girls. When people see me on site, they are always surprised. That is the reason many of them picked interest in learning it. Those who are not interested to learn usually give me money freely while some would choose to buy food for me to encourage me.”

Doing the job said to be a male-dominated, Murna said: “I believe everyone has their own destinies and heart’s desires. For instance, I fell in love with this job right from the first time I saw people doing it and I have continued on it until now.”

 Asked to explain how she climbs a ceiling and probably be suspended in order to work, she said, “It was a gradual thing first from casting in the toilet or kitchen before moving higher up. Usually, I will set up my scaffolding equipment, climb, cut my design and start the work. It’s already part and parcel of me. No member of my family had ever done this before, but do you know that my daughter has also taken after me? In the course of the lockdown occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic, I told her to find an area she could be engaged in and she told me she wanted to learn furniture making. Whenever I tell people that this is what my daughter and I do, they don’t believe it. All I’m praying for is that good jobs would come our ways so that we can continue to prove to the world that women can also excel in male-dominated areas apart from white-collar jobs, so that we can indeed be proud.”

Speaking on the need for women to step out and shape their destiny, she said, “There is nothing a man can give you as a woman that can be comparable to your own handiwork. That is why I am encouraging women out there to think of what to do with their hands and stop over relying on men.

Her appeals

“But I am seriously appealing to the government to consider people like us who have defied sex barriers to do what no one else thinks we can do. It is not good enough to be giving us money, but if there is a possibility of giving us jobs it would help a lot as other persons would equally feed from there. I want to use this opportunity to say that if anyone can consider me and give me any job, I will not disappoint them. As a woman, I understand the language of quality service in everything I do; so I promise that if the government or good-spirited individuals give me any job, they would not regret it. Presently, I don’t have any specific office address where I can be located easily, but I have a registered company called Murna Ceiling Service in Dutse and can be reached through my cell phone number, 08153087574. However, like I said earlier, no one would be disappointed. Nigerians, please help me to excel further in this job.”

Analysts’ views

In the recent time, analysts are of the view that the gender lines are blurring in many occupations that were previously dominated by one sex or the other. And this is a good thing as, according to them, when people pursue careers based on interests and abilities, everyone benefits.

Investigations by Blueprint Weekend, however, have shown that for women in such fields, it is not usually a pleasant story as they face a lot of challenges that are culture-related. These include societal expectations and beliefs about their leadership abilities, pervasive stereotypes such as the negative stigma of being branded as an office/housekeeper or house maid, higher stress and anxiety compared to women in white collar jobs, sometimes, lack of mentoring for proper career development opportunities, pervasive sexual harassment before being granted equal opportunity and many more. As a result of this, report indicates that women now use various mechanisms to cope in such working environments such like deliberately distancing themselves from their female colleagues, acceptance of masculine cultural norms and act like what society calls ‘Tom Boys.’

An activist’s take

While attention is focused globally on women inclusiveness in governance, there are calls by private individuals and non-governmental organisations on government to take a second look at the women with the rare courage to engage in manual jobs said to be reserved for men. According to Mrs. Priye Douglas of ‘High Flying Women’s, a non-governmental organisation based in Port Harcourt, “Whenever a woman steps out of her hiding place to carve a niche for herself in unimaginably unbelievable career, she is uttering unheard language of being assisted in order to succeed. Many times, it is not in the form of granting financial aid; it could be in the form of patronage as a form of encouragement. Experiences have shown that female artisans are largely more reliable than their male counterparts. We have many of such women in furniture making, welding and recently Uber services. We have made presentations to the government severally through the Ministry of Women Affairs and Ministry of Industry to take over the cases of those classes of women. Hopefully, one day, they would do the needful. Through our advocacy, a number of them have been identified by some companies operating here in Port Harcourt. We also thank Rivers state government through the state Ministry of Women Affairs. They have been very supportive.”

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