In Uganda, Meet the Woman Excelling in a Male-Dominated Industry
Young women in Uganda can face significant challenges as they seek employment outside of the home. Moureen Nakisozi had always dreamed of becoming a welder but struggled to make that dream a reality without the necessary training. After joining a TechnoServe program, she was matched with a mentor and received the business and technical skills she needed to start her welding career.
Moureen Nakisozi grew up in a family of boys 17 miles outside of Kampala, Uganda. As a child, she always loved playing games outside with her brother and was less interested in activities considered “traditional” for girls her age. One day, her brother decided to take a course on welding. Day after day, Moureen watched from afar as he learned techniques to transform large pieces of sheet metal into practical objects, such as gates and doors. Fascinated by his work and excited about following in her brother’s footsteps, Moureen decided that she would become a welder.
A Change of Plans
However, life had other plans. At the age of 16, Moureen dropped out of school. She moved in with her sister and spent her days at home taking care of her sister’s children. In Uganda, more than 75% of the population is under 30, and youth unemployment rates are as high as 63%. Girls, in particular, face two major employability disadvantages, as Uganda has one of the highest school drop-out rates for women in East Africa and one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in sub-Saharan Africa. The result is prevalent poverty among women and girls, who are often forced to raise families without sufficient skills to earn a living.
“I lacked basic needs that my sister couldn’t give me,” Moureen recalls. “I tried looking for jobs, but it was in vain.” She still dreamed of becoming a welder, but her parents lacked the money to pay for her classes, and she was frequently discouraged by friends and relatives, who said welding was only a job for men. Without the necessary marketable skills and support systems to find work outside of the home, Moureen was trapped in a cycle of unpaid work for four years.
Connecting with a Mentor
Then one day, she heard about the Girls’ Apprenticeship Program (GAP), a partnership between TechnoServe and Citi Foundation working to reduce youth unemployment in communities like hers by teaching young women the knowledge and skills to start their own businesses. “I was happy when I got this opportunity because I knew I could work hard to earn some income,” says Moureen.
Initially, she struggled to adjust to the physical difficulty of the training. “It was challenging to handle very heavy machinery,” she says. “We sometimes use a lot of energy. It took me over a month to get used to it, but I’m now used to it and find it normal and easy.”
But running a successful welding business requires more than just technical skills. So the GAP program matched Moureen with a local businesswoman, who mentored her on business skills such as financial literacy, customer service, marketing, and business planning. “I learned decision-making, and I learned that it is important to value customers because they link you to other customers,” Moureen recalls.
More than just business training, Moureen also received important moral support from her mentor, who encouraged her to pursue her calling in a field dominated by men. Newly inspired to succeed, Moureen entered her enterprise ideas in a business plan competition, where she won a prize of $135 and a personal toolbox to help her start her welding business. She is now actively planning to start her own workshop.
Excelling in a Male-Dominated Industry
Not so long ago, Moureen could not have imagined a path out of the difficult situation in which she found herself. But through the opportunity of the GAP program, her natural talent and determination could finally shine through.
It’s an opportunity she wishes for other young women, especially those interested in “untraditional” fields like welding. “Women interested in this sector should be prepared, and most importantly, should have a love for the sector,” says Moureen. “It’s not easy, and it requires a lot of energy and determination.”